July 13, 2024

Declassified COVID-19 Origins Report: US Government Agencies Diverge, Debating Genetic Engineering as a Possibility

White House COVID Chief Medial Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci participates in a briefing Thursday
White House COVID Chief Medial Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci participates in a briefing Thursday

The United States on Friday night released a declassified report on the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, providing insights into the activities of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and its personnel leading up to and during the early days of the pandemic.

The report highlights that natural exposures to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident remain plausible hypotheses for the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic. The National Intelligence Council and four other IC agencies lean toward natural exposure, while the Department of Energy and the Federal Bureau of Investigation believes a laboratory incident is the most likely cause.

The Director of National Intelligence released the report as mandated by a law President Joseph R. Biden Jr. signed in March.

The report, which is a response to the COVID-19 Origin Act of 2023, outlines the findings of the US Intelligence Community (IC) regarding potential links between the WIV and the virus’s origin.

The report emphasizes that it does not address the merits of specific hypotheses regarding the pandemic’s origins, nor does it delve into the activities of other biological facilities in Wuhan apart from the WIV. However, it provides assessments and information based on the IC’s understanding of the WIV and its capabilities.

According to the report, the IC’s analysis indicates that natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident remain plausible hypotheses to explain the first human infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The National Intelligence Council and four other IC agencies assess that the initial human disease was most likely caused by natural exposure to an infected animal carrying a virus closely related to SARS-CoV-2. On the other hand, the Department of Energy and the Federal Bureau of Investigation assesses that a laboratory-associated incident was the most likely cause, albeit for different reasons. Due to conflicting reporting and significant assumptions, the Central Intelligence Agency and another agency cannot determine the precise origin.

According to assessments from almost all IC agencies, the report also highlights that SARS-CoV-2 was not genetically engineered and not developed as a biological weapon. Some agencies are still determining whether the virus was laboratory-adapted. The report further clarifies that the information in the classified annex, which was excluded from the declassified portion to protect sources and methods, aligns with the assessments provided in the report.

Regarding the WIV’s activities, the report notes that while it is a civilian research institute independent of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), WIV personnel have collaborated with PLA-associated scientists on public health-related research and biosafety projects. The report indicates that the WIV conducted research projects to enhance China’s understanding of pathogens and early disease warning capabilities for the military. However, there is no evidence that the WIV possessed SARS-CoV-2 or a close progenitor before the pandemic. The WIV’s extensive research on coronaviruses, including genetic analysis and animal sampling, did not include SARS-CoV-2 or a direct progenitor.

The report acknowledges that the WIV has one of the world’s largest repositories of bat samples, enabling its coronavirus research and public health support. It highlights the identification of the bat coronavirus RaTG13 in 2013, which shares 96.2 percent similarity with the COVID-19 virus. However, neither RaTG13 nor another closely related virus, BANAL-52, are considered direct progenitors of SARS-CoV-2.

The report also mentions that genetic engineering work on coronaviruses has been conducted at the WIV, including creating illusions through genetic engineering techniques. However, no information suggests that the WIV genetically engineered SARS-CoV-2, a close progenitor or a closely related backbone virus, could be the source of the pandemic.

Biosafety concerns at the WIV are addressed in the report, indicating that some researchers at the institute did not consistently use adequate biosafety precautions when handling SARS-like coronaviruses before the pandemic. The WIV has been working to improve biosafety conditions and training, although there is no specific incident that directly triggered the pandemic. The report highlights a need for more trained personnel and equipment updates identified during WIV’s high-containment laboratories inspections.

The report also mentions that several WIV researchers fell mildly ill in the fall of 2019, with symptoms consistent with colds or allergies rather than COVID-19. These researchers likely underwent regular health exams as part of their duties, and the WIV maintains the laboratory personnel’s blood samples and health records. Blood samples from WIV researchers by China’s National Security Commission tested negative for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.

The declassified report provides an overview of the IC’s assessments and understanding of the WIV’s activities and personnel leading up to the Covid-19 pandemic. While it does not definitively determine the virus’s origins, it presents multiple plausible hypotheses. It underscores the need for further investigation and cooperation in uncovering the truth behind the pandemic’s origins.

Here are five takeaways from the report:

  1. Plausible hypotheses: The report highlights that natural exposures to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident remain plausible hypotheses for the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic. The National Intelligence Council and four other IC agencies lean toward natural exposure, while the Department of Energy and the Federal Bureau of Investigation believes a laboratory incident is the most likely cause.
  2. No evidence of genetic engineering: According to assessments from almost all IC agencies, SARS-CoV-2 was not genetically engineered or developed as a biological weapon. The report indicates that there is no information suggesting the WIV genetically engineered the virus or a closely related backbone virus that could be the source of the pandemic.
  3. Collaboration with PLA: The report acknowledges that WIV personnel have worked with scientists associated with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on public health-related research and biosecurity projects. Although the WIV is independent of the PLA, this collaboration indicates a connection between the institute and the military in specific research areas.
  4. Extensive coronavirus research: Before the pandemic, the WIV conducted extensive research on coronaviruses, including genetic analysis and animal sampling. The institute maintained one of the world’s largest bat sample repositories, supporting its coronavirus research and public health efforts. However, there is no evidence that the WIV possessed SARS-CoV-2 or a close progenitor before the pandemic.
  5. Biosafety concerns: The report highlights that some WIV researchers did not consistently follow adequate biosafety precautions when handling SARS-like coronaviruses before the pandemic. While the WIV had been working to improve biosafety conditions and training, there were concerns about the shortage of trained personnel and the need for equipment updates in the high-containment laboratories.
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