Biden signs bill to declassify intelligence about coronavirus origins

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks during a reception celebrating Nowruz in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 20, 2023. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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President Biden on Monday signed a bill into law that directs the federal government to declassify certain information about the origin of the coronavirus, three years after the virus caused a global pandemic that has killed millions of people worldwide.

"I share the Congress's goal of releasing as much information as possible about the origin" of the coronavirus, Biden said in a statement after the signing, adding, "We need to get to the bottom of COVID-19's origins to help ensure we can better prevent future pandemics."

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The bill requires the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to declassify all information relating to potential links between China's Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origin of the coronavirus, with redactions only to prevent harm to national security.

The declassified information must be released within 90 days of the bill being signed into law, although the language in the bill does not establish a mechanism for enforcement. Among other details, the information would include the names, symptoms and roles of any researchers who fell ill at the Wuhan institute in fall 2019, according to the text of the bill.

The theory that the coronavirus, which causes covid-19, may have escaped from the Wuhan institute has been a subject of debate since early in the pandemic.

Biden noted that he had directed the intelligence community in 2021, shortly after he took office, to "use every tool at its disposal" to investigate the origin of the coronavirus and that the work is ongoing.

In a rare show of bipartisanship this month, the House voted 419-0 in favor of the bill, which had already passed the Senate by unanimous consent.

"This is strong on symbolic value," Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said then, adding that the measure does allow Biden "wide discretion" to withhold information to protect sources and keep methods secret.

The information Americans would see would not be the raw transcripts of intercepted phone calls, Himes said, but rather the finished intelligence reports.

"There are clearly thousands of pages of raw intelligence," Himes said, but as far as the actual information that would be declassified, "I think we're probably talking hundreds of pages."

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio) told Fox News last week that he hoped the rare show of overwhelming bipartisanship would convince Biden to sign the bill into law.

"We've seen the intelligence," Turner said. "The American public deserves to. There's more information the government knows, and the American public and certainly the world needs to know."

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The Washington Post's Mariana Alfaro contributed to this report.

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