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FBI boss says COVID-19 'most likely' escaped from lab
Latest claim comes days after Dept of Energy waved finger in China's direction
Days after it emerged that the US Department of Energy deemed the COVID-19 pandemic to have sprung from a lab incident, FBI director Chris Wray says that the bureau agrees.
Without China's complete cooperation – easier said than done – the virus's true origin will remain impossible to lock down, but qualified (and less qualified) theories have proliferated since the outbreak at the end of 2019.
On Sunday The Wall Street Journal revealed that the Energy Department had shared a classified intel report with the White House and key Congress members concluding that COVID-19 "likely arose from a laboratory leak."
It's been a popular theory among armchair commentators since the beginning. The outbreak started in Wuhan, China. There's a Wuhan Institute of Virology. QED. An argument against that conspiracy theory can be found, as one example, here in the peer-reviewed journal of America's National Academy of Sciences.
At this point you might be wondering what interest the US Dept of Energy has in such matters, but the agency's remit is wider than its name suggests. As well as overseeing Uncle Sam's nuclear weapons program, some of its national labs also undertake advanced biological research similar to that performed in Wuhan.
But the conclusion is far from conclusive, as it were. Although apparently the result of fresh intelligence, the department's judgment had been made with "low confidence," sources say, and some US agencies lean toward a "natural transmission" explanation while others remain undecided for a lack of solid evidence.
However, the FBI has believed that the virus leaked from a lab since 2021, a view it holds with "moderate confidence." Speaking to Fox News yesterday, director Chris Wray doubled down when asked about the Energy Department report:
The FBI has for quite some time now assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan. Let me step back for a second. The FBI has folks, agents, professionals, analysts, virologists, microbiologists etc. who focus specifically on the dangers of biological threats, which include things like novel viruses like COVID, and the concerns that in the wrong hands – some bad guys, a hostile nation state, a terrorist, a criminal – the threats that those could pose.
Here you are talking about a potential leak from a Chinese government-controlled lab that killed millions of Americans and that's precisely what that capability was designed for. I should add that our work related to this continues, and there aren't a whole lot of details that I can share that aren't classified.
I will just make the observation that the Chinese government, it seems to me, has been doing its best to try to thwart and obfuscate the work here, the work that we're doing, the work that our US government and close foreign partners are doing. And that's unfortunate for everybody.
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It's incendiary stuff at a time when US relations with China are at a 40-year low. The Middle Kingdom responded predictably, accusing Washington of "political manipulation." Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said: "The conclusions they have reached have no credibility to speak of."
The most widely accepted theory is one of natural transmission, and Professor David Robertson, head of viral genomics and bioinformatics at University of Glasgow, told the BBC that the "bat soup" school of thought was still more likely than a lab incident.
"There's been an accumulation of evidence (what we know about the viruses biology, the close variants circulating in bats and locations of early human cases) that firmly points to a natural origin centered on the Huanan market in Wuhan city," he said.
No matter the origin, COVID-19 has killed almost 7 million people worldwide, left supply chains in tatters, ruined economies, and brought globalization to its knees. China, like many other nations, has also endured multiple lockdowns to try to minimize the spread.
As China and the US square up over the Ukraine-Russia conflict, the Terrible Twenties look set to become the worst decade in recent memory. Comments like this from the FBI et al do little to ease tensions. ®