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Biden briefed on intelligence community’s COVID-19 origins assessment

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President Joe Biden speaks about the situation in Afghanistan from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh/AP

Biden briefed on intelligence community’s COVID-19 origins assessment

August 25, 11:53 AM August 25, 11:53 AM

President Joe Biden has been briefed on the classified assessment by the intelligence community of COVID-19’s origins following a 90-day review ordered at his behest, and the White House says that an unclassified summary of the findings on the debate over a natural origin versus a Wuhan lab leak is expected to be made public “soon.”

A White House official told the Washington Examiner, “The President was briefed on the classified report. We look forward to having an unclassified summary of key judgments to share soon.”

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House Foreign Affairs Committee Republicans concluded early this month that the evidence points to COVID-19 emerging from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in late August or early September 2019, with China covering it up for months.

In early February, WHO team leader Peter Ben Embarek said the possibility the coronavirus escaped from the Wuhan lab didn’t merit further inquiry, saying a jump from animals to humans was most likely, and an accidental release was “extremely unlikely.” But days later, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reversed that, saying, “All hypotheses remain open and require further study.”

The WHO-China report was widely considered a failure, partly due to the lack of access to key data and Chinese influence over the investigation, and Embarek has admitted that the Chinese government applied pressure on the report’s conclusions.

Last month, Tedros said there was a “premature push” to dismiss the lab theory, but the Chinese government shot down the suggestion of a second investigation.

The new U.S. intelligence assessment “didn’t yield a definitive conclusion … in part because of the lack of detailed information from China,” the Wall Street Journal reported, citing two senior U.S. officials. One official told the outlet: “It was a deep dive, but you can only go so deep as the situation allows. If China’s not going to give access to certain data sets, you’re never really going to know.”

The Washington Post reported that “intelligence officials fell short of a consensus” according to U.S. officials, with one official contending to the outlet that the intelligence community is “not necessarily best equipped to solve this problem,” because while spy agencies are “positioned to collect on a range of foreign actors,” this official believed this was fundamentally a scientific conundrum.

The ODNI said in May that the intelligence community “has coalesced around two likely scenarios: either it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals or it was a laboratory accident” and that “while two elements of the IC lean toward the former scenario and one leans more toward the latter — each with low or moderate confidence — the majority of elements within the IC do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.”

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Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines gave an interview to Yahoo News in June, in which she said that “we’re hoping to find a smoking gun” but that “it’s challenging to do that,” and “it might happen, but it might not.”

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