Washington: Senior Biden administration officials overseeing an intelligence who were not aagreeing with the lab origin of the coronavirus has not believed it to be as true as the possibility of the natural origin of it.
Still, more than halfway into President Joe Biden’s renewed 90-day push to find answers, the intelligence community remains firmly divided over whether the virus leaked from the Wuhan lab or jumped naturally from animals to humans in the wild, multiple sources familiar.
Little new evidence has emerged to move the needle in one direction or another, these people said. But the fact that the lab leak theory is being seriously considered by top Biden officials is noteworthy and comes amid a growing openness to the idea even though most scientists who study coronaviruses and who have investigated the origins of the pandemic say the evidence strongly supports a natural origin.
Current intelligence reinforces the belief that the virus most likely originated naturally, from animal-human contact and was not deliberately engineered, the sources said. But that does not preclude the possibility that the virus was the result of an accidental leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where coronavirus research was being conducted on bats — although many scientists familiar with the research say such a leak is unlikely.
On Thursday, the director-general of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it had been “premature” to dismiss the possibility that a lab leak had spawned the pandemic and urged China to provide “direct information on what the situation of these labs was before and at the start of the pandemic.”
Also on Thursday, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson released a statement saying that “since the beginning of the epidemic, China has taken a scientific, professional, serious and responsible attitude in tracing the origins of the virus.”
As more US officials have come to see the lab leak theory as credible, their tone toward Beijing has also become firmer. Days after Biden announced the renewed probe, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the administration had been pressuring Chinese officials through diplomatic channels to allow international investigators full access to the data China collected in the early days of the outbreak.
For their part, scientists who have found strong genetic evidence that the virus came from an animal say they also would like access to what China knows about the beginnings of the pandemic, saying they can’t make their case without access to early samples.
As the review has progressed, however, the White House has begun making public threats as well.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan warned Beijing of potential consequences last month, telling Fox News that China will face “isolation in the international community” if it does not cooperate with probes moving forward. He told CNN’s State of the Union that same day that “if it turns out that China refuses to live up to its international obligations, we will have to consider our responses at that point.”
A source familiar with the ongoing review said that several top administration officials, including Sullivan, view the accidental lab leak theory as equally plausible to the natural origins theory. Intelligence agencies that were skeptical of the lab leak theory a year ago, like the CIA, also now view it as a credible line of inquiry, this person said.
“There has been a shift in their point of view,” this person added.
But officials emphasized that no conclusions have been reached, and Sullivan has been highly cautious in reserving judgment until the review is complete.