President Joe Biden’s instructions to the US intelligence community to redouble its efforts in investigating the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic came on the heels of intelligence officials informing the White House that they possessed unreviewed evidence necessitating greater computer analysis that could potentially provide answers, The New York Times reported Thursday.
The paper cited senior administration officials, who opted not to detail the new evidence or the computational analysis to be done. The disclosure raises the question of whether the government fully examined existing intelligence and public health information in seeking out the virus’s emergence. It also comes as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued an unusual public statement Thursday on the status of its intelligence gathering into the genesis of the pandemic, publicizing divisions within the intelligence community about whether the virus escaped from a lab in China or occurred naturally.
ODNI spokesperson Amanda Schoch reiterated what Biden had said Wednesday, that there is a difference of opinion among various intelligence agencies and their degrees of confidence in the theories. Administration officials told the Times that the White House wants US allies to participate more strongly in investigating the possibility that the virus originated in a Chinese lab, a scenario that had previously been considered less likely. The probe has not hit a dead end, a senior Biden administration official told the paper, adding that it will now draw on federal scientific resources, including the national labs, that had not previously been tapped for it.
Biden’s mandate on Wednesday came the same week as news of a US intelligence report that found several researchers at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology had fallen ill in November 2019 and had to be hospitalized, a new detail about the severity of their symptoms that could fuel further the debate about the origins of the pandemic, according to two people briefed on the intelligence. A State Department fact sheet released by the Trump administration in January said the researchers had gotten sick in autumn 2019 but did not go as far as to say they had been hospitalized. China reported to the World Health Organization that the first patient with Covid-like symptoms was recorded in Wuhan on December 8, 2019. A Biden administration official told the Times that if the new investigation did not produce explanations, it would be due to China’s obfuscation. Current officials told the Times that the main focus of the new inquiry is to increase pandemic preparedness going forward, and administration officials think that the new intelligence effort, combined with China misleading the WHO, will provide a chance for greater intelligence sharing and teamwork.