US intelligence agencies are divided over the origin of the virus

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Security guards stand outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan while members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus visit the institute in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei Province, on February 3, 2021.

Hector Retamal | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – U.S. Intelligence said it was divided over the exact origin of Covid-19 in China, a revelation three months after President Joe Biden requested a more in-depth review.

A secret service said it had reasonable confidence that the virus infected people following a lab-related incident, according to a report released Friday afternoon. Four agencies said they had weak assessments that the virus was of natural origin.

The report did not name the agencies.

“However, after reviewing all available intelligence reports and other information, the IC remains divided on the most likely origin of Covid-19. All authorities believe two hypotheses are plausible: natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-related incident. ”The country’s 18 intelligence agencies wrote in the report.

The report, compiled by the Office of the Director of the National Intelligence Service, found that the virus was not designed as a biological weapon. The intelligence agency also found that Chinese officials had no prior knowledge of the virus prior to the first outbreak that sparked a global pandemic.

The report says that if the intelligence services stop receiving more information, they will not be able to come to a more definitive conclusion.

Biden said in a statement following the report’s release the U.S. and its allies would continue to pressure China to reveal more about what happened when Covid first began to spread.

“There is critical information in the People’s Republic of China about the origins of this pandemic, but from the beginning, government officials in China have worked to prevent international investigators and members of the global public health community from accessing it,” Biden said.

“The world deserves answers and I will not rest until we get them,” added the president.

In May, Biden urged intelligence agencies to “redouble their efforts” within 90 days in hopes of finding a “definitive conclusion” about the origin of the virus.

The country’s secret services assume that Covid was exposed for the first time near the city of Wuhan in the Chinese province of Hubei in November 2019. The first known case group was reported in December.

After the first case was reported in the United States in January 2020, the virus has since infected more than 38 million Americans and killed more than 630,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University. According to the JHU, more than 215 million people worldwide have been infected with the virus and around 4.5 million have died.

Earlier this week, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, of CNBC’s “Squawk Box”, said it was still unclear whether the virus leaked from a Wuhan laboratory.

“The extensive evidence from other perspectives says no, this was a naturally occurring virus,” said Collins. “Not to say that it couldn’t have been secretly examined at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and got out of there, we don’t know about it. But the virus itself doesn’t have the characteristics of being deliberately created by human labor.” . “

Collins added that the World Health Organization’s investigation into the origin of the coronavirus was made difficult by China’s refusal to participate.

“I think China basically refused to consider another WHO investigation and just said, ‘No, not interested,'” Collins told Squawk Box.

In July, China rejected a proposal from the WHO for a second phase investigation into the origin of the coronavirus, which would include audits of laboratories and markets in Wuhan city.

“We will not accept such a tracing plan because it disregards common sense and science in some ways,” Zeng Yixin, vice minister of the National Health Commission, told reporters on July 22nd.

“We hope that the WHO will seriously review the deliberations and suggestions of Chinese experts and really treat the tracing of the Covid-19 virus as a scientific matter and remove political interference,” said Zeng.

– CNBC’s Rich Mendez contributed to this report from New York.