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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laid harsh blame on China on Sunday for engaging in what he called a “classic Communist disinformation effort” and for working “to make sure the world didn’t learn in a timely fashion” about the coronavirus outbreak.
Pompeo told ABC’s “This Week” that the Chinese government “created enormous risk” by downplaying the outbreak and working to silence medical professionals and reporters as part of a campaign to limit the spread of the information about the contagion.
The COVID-19 outbreak was first reported late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
“We can confirm that the Chinese Communist Party did all that it could to make sure that the world didn't learn in a timely fashion about what was taking place,” Pompeo said. “President Trump has been very clear. We're going to hold those responsible accountable, and we'll do so on a timeline that is our own.”
Pompeo said there was “enormous evidence” that the novel coronavirus originated in a lab in Wuhan, but did not go into specifics on his claim.
“Instead, China behaved like authoritarian regimes do, attempted to conceal and hide and confuse,” he said. “These are the kind of things that have now presented this enormous crisis, an enormous loss of life and tremendous economic cost, all across the globe.”
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence confirmed for the first time last Thursday that the U.S. intelligence community is investigating whether the coronavirus outbreak, which has wreaked havoc across the globe, started as the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan, China.
Fox News first reported earlier this month that there is increasing confidence that the outbreak likely escaped from the lab, not as a bioweapon but as part of a Chinese effort to show that its efforts to identify and combat viruses are equal or greater than those of the U.S. This would be at odds with claims the outbreak originated at a wet market nearby.
A research dossier compiled by the so-called “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance, that reportedly concludes China intentionally hid or destroyed evidence of the coronavirus pandemic, is consistent with U.S. findings about the origins of the outbreak so far, senior U.S. officials told Fox News on Saturday.
The 15-page document from the intelligence agencies of the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand, was obtained by Australia's Saturday Telegraph newspaper and finds that China's secrecy amounted to an “assault on international transparency."
The dossier, which is likely to further increase pressure on the Chinese government to explain its actions and early statements, points to the initial denial by the government that the virus could be transmitted between humans, the silencing of doctors, destruction of evidence, and a refusal to provide samples to scientists working on a vaccine.
A senior intelligence source told Fox News on Saturday that most, as many as 70-75 percent, of the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies believe it came from a laboratory, but the remaining agencies cannot yet agree as there is not a “smoking gun.”
The source said that the agencies have come down to two potential origins for the accident - animal-human transmission, or a mistake in the lab, but there is evidence of both options with most leaning toward the laboratory explanation -- although both scenarios are attributable to mistakes.
Meanwhile, no public evidence has yet been presented to definitively point to the lab scenario, and Defense sources who have spoken to Fox News say it is being viewed as simply one of two theories about how the outbreak began.
Fox News’ Adam Shaw, Gillian Turner and John Roberts contributed to this report.