President Biden on Thursday said that he plans to make public an intelligence community investigation of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Yes, that’s unless there’s something I’m unaware of,” Biden hedged a bit to reporters before boarding Air Force One for a trip to Ohio.
Biden ordered a 90-day review by US spy agencies after facing criticism for deferring to the World Health Organization for answers.
Biden said Thursday he doesn’t know whether the virus emerged naturally from animals or if it escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China.
“If I knew that, I wouldn’t ask for a 90-day review,” he said.
In a statement Wednesday, Biden said the US intelligence community is divided on whether the virus emerged naturally or escaped from a Wuhan lab.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre would not commit during a press briefing Wednesday to public release of the 90-day assessment. She said the White House wasn’t ruling anything out, including a “deliberate” release of the virus.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a statement that “two elements” of the intelligence community lean toward the virus emerging naturally, but “one leans more toward” the lab release hypothesis.
The White House would not confirm the agencies involved in the review, but similar three-agency assessments have been done by the CIA, the FBI and the National Security Agency.
A preliminary WHO study controlled by China this year concluded the virus likely emerged naturally, but that report came under widespread bipartisan criticism.
Former President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the WHO last year, arguing the organization credulously accepted early Chinese data on the virus and failed to alert the world before it spread. Biden unconditionally rejoined the WHO.
The lab leak theory had gained traction this week after The Wall Street Journal reported that three employees at the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell so ill that they were hospitalized in November 2019 — just before the first reported COVID-19 cases. The article cited “a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report.”
CNN reported on Tuesday that the Biden administration closed down at least one probe into whether COVID-19 originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Before Biden’s mid-week pivot, the White House insisted repeatedly that the WHO is right organization to investigate COVID-19 origins.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday fended off questions at her daily press briefing about why the US hasn’t done more to get to the bottom of the pandemic’s origins.
A Washington Post reporter asked Psaki, “Wouldn’t there naturally be quite a curiosity within the Biden administration that this could have come from a lab? Nearly 600,000 people have died and the president has shown an enormous amount of empathy for that. But, should this be the cause, it would seem that the United States would want to put some of his intelligence firepower on to that question.”
Psaki said that the WHO would be the entity to investigate pandemic origins, should China decide to be transparent.
“We need access to the underlying data. We need access to the information that the Chinese government has in order to make a determination through the international bodies that would do this investigation. And that’s something we’ve called for many, many times,” Psaki said.
Psaki on Monday said that despite powerful US espionage tools, the US has “no means” to confirm that the lab workers got sick in Wuhan, but that the US wants to find out more from China.
Although the “lab release” theory of COVID-19 once was viewed skeptically by experts, it has increasingly gained acceptance as a plausible explanation.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser and the government’s top infectious disease expert, said this month that he’s “not convinced” the deadly virus developed naturally.
Former CDC Director Robert Redfield said in March that he believes the outbreak started at the Wuhan lab.
“I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory — you know, escaped. Other people don’t believe that. That’s fine,” Redfield said. “Science will eventually figure it out. It’s not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect a laboratory worker.”