The Covid-19 pandemic most likely originated from a laboratory leak, according to a classified intelligence report from the U.S. Energy Department.
The report, which was included in an update to a 2021 document by Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines’s office, was recently provided to the White House and other lawmakers. Sources told the Wall Street Journal that the updated assessment from the Energy Department is the result of new intelligence.
The Energy Department, which oversees a network of U.S. national laboratories, made its judgment with “low confidence,” the Wall Street Journal reported. The assessment marks a change from 2021, when the department was undecided on how the virus originated.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan responded to the report on Sunday during an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union.
“Here’s what I can tell you. President Biden has directed, repeatedly, every element of our intelligence community to put effort and resources behind getting to the bottom of this question,” Sullivan said. “If we gain any further insight or information, we will share it with Congress, and we will share it with the American people. But right now, there is not a definitive answer that has emerged from the intelligence community on this question.”
A declassified intelligence report released in November 2021 previously revealed that the FBI concluded with “moderate confidence” that the pandemic began with a “laboratory accident” following a 90-day review ordered by President Biden.
The FBI still holds this view, according to the report, while four other agencies and the National Intelligence Council assess with “low confidence” the pandemic was likely caused by natural transmission from an infected animal. Two other agencies, including the CIA, are undecided.
Several virology labs are located in Wuhan, where the pandemic began, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where bat coronaviruses were studied.
U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal that while the Energy Department and FBI agree that an unintended lab leak was likely the cause of the pandemic, both agencies made their assessment for different reasons.
While many officials once dismissed the lab-leak theory, instead claiming an outbreak at a seafood market in Wuhan, China, was the source of the virus, some scientists and officials now believe the outbreak was just an example of community spread and not where Covid-19 originated, according to the report.
A team of experts from ten countries released a report on behalf of the WHO in March 2021 saying the virus was likely spread from an animal to humans, calling a theory that the virus was released in a lab accident “extremely unlikely.” The researchers said they would not recommend further investigation.
However, Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO food safety and animal diseases expert who led the organization’s investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus, said in a Danish documentary months later that that Chinese colleagues influenced the presentation of the team’s findings.
“In the beginning, they didn’t want anything about the lab [in the report], because it was impossible, so there was no need to waste time on that,” Ben Embarek said. “We insisted on including it, because it was part of the whole issue about where the virus originated.”
The Wall Street Journal report comes one month after House Republicans formed a Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic to investigate the origins of Covid-19 and other aspects of the pandemic.