Health & Fitness

Biden signs legislation to declassify certain intelligence on Covid pandemic origins

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks during a reception celebrating Nowruz in the East Room at the White House in Washington, March 20, 2023.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

President Joe Biden on Monday signed legislation requiring the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to declassify information on any possible links between a lab in China and the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The House and the Senate unanimously passed the legislation earlier this month. The push to make public classified information on the origins of the pandemic comes after the Energy Department concluded with “low confidence” that the virus is likely the result of an accidental laboratory leak in China.

“In implementing this legislation, my Administration will declassify and share as much of that information as possible, consistent with my constitutional authority to protect against the disclosure of information that would harm national security,” Biden said in a statement.

Under the legislation, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines has 90 days to declassify all information on possible links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origins of Covid. The Wuhan Institute of Virology has been a major center of coronavirus research.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has also concluded that the pandemic likely began with a lab incident in Wuhan, China, the agency’s director Christopher Wray told Fox News earlier this month.

“The FBI has for quite some time now assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan,” Wray told Fox News. “Here you are talking about a potential leak from a Chinese government-controlled lab.” 

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The Wall Street Journal first reported the Energy Department’s assessment, citing people who had read a classified report. White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan would not confirm or deny the report, but said Biden had specifically requested that national labs under the Energy Department participate in a review of how the pandemic started.

The pandemic began three years ago in Wuhan, China, though it’s still unknown how Covid spread to people. The intelligence community was divided in a 2021 report ordered by Biden that reviewed information on the pandemic’s origins. The intel agencies agreed that an infected animal and a lab accident were both plausible hypotheses.

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Four unnamed agencies in the 2021 report concluded with low confidence that an infected animal spread the virus to people.

A recent analysis conducted by international scientists found genetic material from racoon dogs in samples from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market that tested positive for Covid. Though the analysis doesn’t prove the racoon dogs were infected with virus, it provides some additional data that is consistent with a possible virus spillover from animals to people.

The scientists pulled the samples from an international database. The samples subsequently disappeared from that database. The World Health Organization on Friday called on Beijing to release those samples.

“These data could have – and should have – been shared three years ago,” said WHO Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We continue to call on China to be transparent in sharing data, and to conduct the necessary investigations and share the results.” 

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