The U.S. Department of Energy said it believes that the COVID-19 pandemic most likely originated from a laboratory leak, according to an updated classified intelligence report obtained by The Wall Street Journal.
The department’s conclusion is part of an update to a 2021 report by the office of Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, according to the Journal, which first reported on the update Sunday. CNN later confirmed the Journal’s report.
The Energy Department was previously undecided on the coronavirus’ origin, and reportedly made its latest conclusion with “low confidence.” Such an assessment usually means the information gathered is not reliable enough to make a more robust judgment.
The report allegedly lays bare the spectrum of conclusions made by eight different parts of the intelligence community tasked with investigating the virus’ origin. The Energy Department’s finding aligns with that of the FBI, which claimed in 2021 with “moderate confidence” that the virus likely started due to a lab leak in Wuhan, China. Two agencies, including the CIA, are still undecided in their conclusions.
The remaining four agencies and a national intelligence panel said they believe the pandemic likely began via natural transmission from animal to human. Research released last year gave more evidence that SARS-CoV-2 originated at a seafood market in Wuhan and likely spilled to people from infection-susceptible wildlife being sold.
“All this evidence tells us the same thing: It points right to this particular market in the middle of Wuhan,” Kristian Andersen, an immunologist who co-authored one of the studies, told The Associated Press in July. “I was quite convinced of the lab leak myself until we dove into this very carefully and looked at it much closer.”
The Energy Department’s support for the lab leak theory is reportedly in response to new intelligence, however the Journal reports that U.S. officials declined to give details on said intelligence. The agency’s conclusion is considered significant given its scientific competence and management of U.S. national laboratories.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan declined to confirm or deny the Journal’s story on the Energy Department’s finding. He said that President Joe Biden requested the department’s national labs “be brought into this assessment because he wants to put every tool at use to be able to figure out what happened here.”
There are “a variety of views in the intelligence community,” Sullivan told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “And if we gain any further insight or information, we will share it with Congress, and we will share it with the American people. But right now, there is not a definitive answer that has emerged from the intelligence community on this question.”
According to the original declassified October 2021 U.S. intelligence report ― commissioned after Biden earlier that year ordered the intelligence community to increase efforts to investigate the virus’ origins ― COVID-19 first circulated in Wuhan no later than November 2019 before rapidly spreading into a pandemic and killing millions.
The intelligence community collectively said in the report that COVID-19 was not the result of a Chinese biological-weapons program, but scientists and officials still debate over whether the pandemic began due to animal transmission in a Wuhan market or due to a lab leak in the city that’s home to China’s expansive coronavirus research.
China has placed limits on investigations by the World Health Organization, which in June recommended a deeper probe into whether the pandemic was caused by a lab accident. The nation has denounced claims that the virus may have leaked from one of its labs.
The Energy Department’s assessment was given to Congress as Republican lawmakers, having control over the House, push to further probe the lab leak theory while accusing the Biden administration of playing down the possibility.
“We need to do extensive hearings,”Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) told NBC’s “Meet the Press” in response to the Journal’s story. “I hope our Democratic colleagues in the Congress can support that. I know the Republicans in the House are certainly supportive of that.”