As widely expected, the Intelligence Community (IC) assessment of Covid-19 origins fails to conclusively answer much of anything.
On some points in the assessment, such as whether Covid-19 was genetically engineered, there is broad disagreement with scientists who say the evidence shows man's intervention.
The assessment also gives China the benefit of the doubt, guessing that Covid-19 was not developed by the Communist Chinese as part of a weapons program and that the Communist Chinese had no advance knowledge of the disaster.
Sources say that early in the pandemic, government scientists who examined the genetics of the virus concluded Covid-19 was genetically engineered, but they were not authorized to announce those findings.
Meantime, questions about whether it originated in the Wuhan, China biolab; whose scientists had received funding and partnered with Dr. Anthony Fauci's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and other components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH); were falsely termed "debunked conspiracy theories" and censored on social media and on the Internet. When President Trump raised the possibility, the media falsely claimed the idea had been debunked.
A World Health Organization (WHO) team sent to investigate in China included a controversial scientist with a conflict of interest. Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance was also part of the U.S.-Chinese partnerships on coronavirus research and "gain-of-function" studies funded by U.S. tax money and approved by Fauci.
The WHO team initially concluded the virus did not come from the Wuhan lab. But amid growing controversy, WHO officials and others expressed the need to look further.
As more scientists spoke out to validate the "lab origin" belief, it was widely acknowledged that it had been a mistake to say the idea was disproven or debunked.
After Joe Biden took office, he asked for an assessment from the Intelligence Community, which has been known for markedly wrong intelligence assessments on important issues in recent years.
The following is the Unclassified Summary of the report.
Summary of Assessment on Covid-19 Origins
The IC assesses that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, probably emerged and infected humans through an initial small-scale exposure that occurred no later than November 2019 with the first known cluster of COVID-19 cases arising in Wuhan, China in December 2019. In addition, the IC was able to reach broad agreement on several other key issues. We judge the virus was not developed as a biological weapon. Most agencies also assess with low confidence that SARS-CoV-2 probably was not genetically engineered; however, two agencies believe there was not sufficient evidence to make an assessment either way. Finally, the IC assesses China’s officials did not have foreknowledge of the virus before the initial outbreak of COVID-19 emerged.
After examining all available intelligence reporting and other information, though, the IC remains divided on the most likely origin of COVID-19. All agencies assess that two hypotheses are plausible: natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident.
- Four IC elements and the National Intelligence Council assess with low confidence that the initial SARS-CoV-2 infection was most likely caused by natural exposure to an animal infected with it or a close progenitor virus—a virus that probably would be more than 99 percent similar to SARS-CoV-2. These analysts give weight to China’s officials’ lack of foreknowledge, the numerous vectors for natural exposure, and other factors.
- One IC element assesses with moderate confidence that the first human infection with SARS-CoV-2 most likely was the result of a laboratory-associated incident, probably involving experimentation, animal handling, or sampling by the Wuhan Institute of Virology. These analysts give weight to the inherently risky nature of work on coronaviruses.
- Analysts at three IC elements remain unable to coalesce around either explanation without additional information, with some analysts favoring natural origin, others a laboratory origin, and some seeing the hypotheses as equally likely.
- Variations in analytic views largely stem from differences in how agencies weigh intelligence reporting and scientific publications, and intelligence and scientific gaps.The IC judges they will be unable to provide a more definitive explanation for the origin of COVID-19 unless new information allows them to determine the specific pathway for initial natural contact with an animal or to determine that a laboratory in Wuhan was handling SARS- CoV-2 or a close progenitor virus before COVID-19 emerged.
The IC—and the global scientific community—lacks clinical samples or a complete understanding of epidemiological data from the earliest COVID-19 cases. If we obtain information on the earliest cases that identified a location of interest or occupational exposure, it may alter our evaluation of hypotheses.
China’s cooperation most likely would be needed to reach a conclusive assessment of the origins of COVID-19. Beijing, however, continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information and blame other countries, including the United States. These actions reflect, in part, China’s government’s own uncertainty about where an investigation could lead as well as its frustration the international community is using the issue to exert political pressure on China.