Intel officials write classified report as they near end of 90-day Covid investigation
Sources close to the initial report say that after three months of reviewing raw data and intelligence, the intelligence community is still divided on two theories – one suggesting the virus originated from a laboratory in Wuhan, China. , and the other suggesting that it jumped naturally to humans from animals, the sources said. The report as it stands now contains “nothing too upsetting,” said a source.
It is possible that the draft report will undergo significant revisions during the remaining review process. Biden also instructed the intelligence community to declassify the report as much as possible, a process currently underway as it undergoes initial reviews.
The inability of the intelligence community to present a theory with great confidence after three months of intense work underscores how difficult it is to probe the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The NSC did not return requests for comment.
Intelligence officials have also taken a fresh look at signals intelligence, such as intercepted communications and satellite imagery, which could provide clues.
But ultimately, China’s refusal to share information since the early days of the outbreak and the country’s lack of transparency were a major obstacle, and officials had been largely pessimistic about the discovery of a smoking weapon for the 90-day surge.
The report – which was written without any Chinese input – is currently being reviewed by the intelligence community and outside experts for comment before being finalized later this month, the three sources said. Once the classified version is finalized, an unclassified version will also be developed so that the Biden administration can share something with the public, a source explained.
Officials told CNN that the Biden administration had considered launching another investigation if it proved inconclusive, but it is not clear whether a decision was made to reopen the investigation after the publication. of the 90-day report.
Last month, a bipartisan group of lawmakers made it clear they wanted Biden to continue investigating the question of origins until the intelligence community reaches a high trust rating, even if it takes more than 90 days.
But some fear that the political debate over the origins of Covid and China’s refusal to share relevant information means the United States may never come to a definitive conclusion on this front, two sources said.
“The failure of our inspectors on the ground in these first few months will always hamper any investigation into the origin of Covid-19,” Biden said when he announced he had launched the investigation, noting that he previously called on the CDC to access China to learn more about the virus in order to fight it more effectively.
Gathering intelligence on the extent of Chinese actions that may have inhibited the World Health Organization or other investigations into the origins was one of the two main goals of the Biden administration’s 90-day review earlier this summer, according to an assignment note sent to relevant agencies that was obtained by CNN.
But unlike the question of whether the coronavirus first emerged naturally through human contact with animals in the wild or in markets, or through a laboratory accident, intelligence officials believe there is enough evidence to suggest convincingly prove that the Chinese government’s initial handling of the outbreak, and efforts to suppress relevant information in the months that followed, significantly limited all efforts to examine the true origins of the pandemic, according to a source close to the results.
Despite a near consensus among these officials on the impact of China’s actions, it is unclear how far the Biden administration will go to publicly call on Beijing once its ongoing 90-day review is complete or how those findings will be taken into account. account in the report version. which is made public, the source said.
“What they post will be interesting… but how far is Biden willing to go? If he tries these coercive measures on origins, what impact will that have on other issues?” a former U.S. official familiar with intelligence related to the origins investigation told CNN.
Biden’s launch of the investigation came after a US intelligence report found that several researchers at the Chinese Institute of Virology in Wuhan fell ill with an infection or unidentified disease in November 2019 and had to be hospitalized – a new detail that has fueled new public pressure on Biden to delve deeper into the origin of the virus.
White House officials have said shedding light on the origin of the pandemic would help prevent another, and after unsuccessful efforts by the World Health Organization (WHO) to investigate the matter, the Biden administration orchestrated its own efforts.
In July, the White House said it was “deeply disappointed” when China rejected the WHO’s plan for a second phase investigation into the origin of the coronavirus. And after the first WHO investigation, the White House criticized their findings because of limited access to “complete and original data and samples.”