The intelligence community will conduct further investigation into whether the Covid-19 virus emerged from human contact with an animal or leaked from a Chinese lab.
WASHINGTON (CN) — President Joe Biden said Wednesday that U.S. intelligence officials will brief him within 90 days on what they believe is the source of the novel coronavirus that has killed 3.5 million people around the world, including nearly 600,000 Americans.
As the virus arrived in Washington state in March 2020, Biden called for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get into China while campaigning for the presidency. When he was inaugurated, he tasked National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan with getting the intelligence community to investigate how the pandemic began.
That investigation included ferreting out whether Covid-19 had “emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident,” Biden said.
“As of today, the U.S. intelligence community has ‘coalesced around two likely scenarios’ but has not reached a definitive conclusion on this question,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “Here is their current position: ‘while two elements in the IC leans toward the former scenario and one leans more toward the latter – each with low or moderate confidence – the majority of elements do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.’”
The president said he is now asking U.S. intelligence officials to “redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion,” and wants a report on their findings in 90 days. The report will include specific questions for Chinese officials. Congress will be kept apprised of the investigation’s developments.
“The United States will also keep working with like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence,” Biden said.
Howard Forman, a practicing diagnostic radiologist who teaches at Yale University, told Courthouse News in an email that the questions presented in the investigation weren’t the only ones being asked by observers around the world. For example, he noted there is still a shroud of uncertainty around when the virus started to spread.
“When did the Chinese first know that there might be a problem? When did they notify their own public health authorities? When did they notify others? When did the halt travel?” Forman wrote. “Was the lab doing experiments that increased the likelihood of a leak? Of virulence? Of infectiousness?”
He added, “While it is easy to look at this as an exercise in casting blame, there is much that we can learn that might help us avoid having this happen again in the future.”
Last year, the international community largely doubted former President Donald Trump’s assertions that the Covid-19 virus leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China, where it was first detected in December 2019.
A May 2020 internal memo from the German Defense Ministry reportedly describes Trump’s claims as “a calculated attempt to distract” from Washington’s own failures to contain the virus, which has killed over 590,000 Americans, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker.
Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House’s principal deputy press secretary, told reporters during a press briefing Wednesday that the Biden administration will let the intelligence community’s investigation play out before deciding on next steps.
“This is something that the president has been working on for some time,” Jean-Pierre said. “And this is something that the president called out back in early 2020. This is an issue that has been on top of mind and that he wanted to dig into and make sure that we really get to the bottom of how we got here.”
Jean-Pierre’s briefing was the first time in American history a gay woman has taken reporters’ questions from behind the podium in the White House press briefing room.