The U.S. intelligence community is carrying out a full-scale investigation into the theory that the novel coronavirus first detected in China in late 2019 may have originated in a Wuhan government lab through an accidental escape or inadvertent infection, according to a new report.
U.S. spies are looking for evidence related to the early COVID-19 outbreak and its possible lab release, with a special focus on the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which researches infectious diseases, including coronaviruses from bats. Analysts are said to be working to determine what the ruling Chinese Communist Party knew and when it knew it in order for the purposes of “creating an accurate picture of what happened,” according to sources cited in a Friday report by Fox News.
The report said the inquiry was expected to finish shortly, and that its conclusions would then be presented to President Trump so that the administration could figure out the true depth of China’s role in what has become a global pandemic. Intelligence officials told Fox News that at this time they have ruled out the coronavirus being some sort of genetically-engineered Chinese bioweapon. Instead, sources said the virus was likely a natural strain being studied at the lab before making its way into the Wuhan population.
Fox News reported U.S. officials are certain the Chinese government went all-out in an effort to conceal the viral outbreak and cited sources who expressed confidence that the World Health Organization either played a role in a cover-up or looked the other way.
Earlier on Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed the U.S. government was taking seriously the possibility that the coronavirus escaped from a Wuhan bio lab.
“We don’t know the answer to the question about the precise origination point, but we do know this: We know that the first sightings of this occurred within miles of the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” Pompeo said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. “We know that this: the history of the facility, the first [Biosafety Level Four] lab, where there’s high-end virus research being conducted, took place at that site. We know that the Chinese Communist Party, when it began to evaluate what to do inside of Wuhan, considered whether the WIV was, in fact, the place where this came from.”
Pompeo also stressed, “most importantly” that “they’ve not permitted the world’s scientists to go into that laboratory to evaluate what took place there, what’s happening there even as we speak.” The secretary of state further noted: “We still have not had Western access to that facility so that we can properly evaluate what really has taken off all across the world and how that began.”
Defense Secretary Mark Esper also weighed in Thursday, confirming that the military was looking into the different coronavirus origin theories.
“This is something we’ve been watching closely now for some time. The results are inconclusive, if you will,” Esper said on NBC’s TODAY show. “We do know one thing: if the Chinese government, the [Chinese Communist] Party, had been more transparent earlier, it would’ve helped us in terms of staying ahead of this virus.” The defense secretary suggested that “a majority of the views right now is that it was natural, that it was organic, but I think we need to continue to work this.”
Esper added, “They’ve been misleading us … from the early days of this virus, so I don’t have much faith that they’re even be truthful with us now.”
Earlier this week, Fox News reported there is “increasing confidence” within the U.S. government that China blamed a wet market in Wuhan to deflect how the novel coronavirus originated in the nearby government lab. The report said the virus was first transmitted from bat to human, and “patient zero” was a lab employee who was accidentally infected before spreading the disease outside the lab.
During a White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing on Wednesday, Trump neither confirmed nor denied the reporting, but noted that “more and more we’re hearing the story — and we’ll see.” The president added that “we are doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation that happened.”
When pressed about whether he had raised Chinese lab security in his recent call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump dodged.
“I don’t want to discuss what I talked to him about the laboratory,” Trump said.
The WHO concluded the COVID-19 virus first appeared in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province, at the end of 2019, and an investigative report in February found “early cases identified in Wuhan are believed to have acquired infection from a zoonotic source” in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. Gao Fu, the director of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, claimed, “The origin of the new coronavirus is the wildlife sold illegally in a Wuhan seafood market.”
A Washington Post piece this week reported that two years ago, U.S. embassy officials in China raised concerns about biosecurity at the Wuhan lab.
One “sensitive but unclassified” State Department cable warned in 2018 about a “serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory” located just miles from the Wuhan wet market, to which most, but not all, of the earliest COVID-19 cases were traced.