U.S. Analysts Don't Believe COVID Intended as Bioweapon, Will Likely Never Determine Origin

U.S. analysts charged with conducting a review on the origin of COVID-19 don't believe that it was developed as a bioweapon but weren't able to determine where the virus originated, according to a paper issued by the Director of National Intelligence. Additionally, the analysts don't believe they'll ever be able to designate the virus' origin, whether it came from a lab or was spread from animals to humans, the Associated Press reported.

The paper expanded on findings initially released in August from a 90-day review ordered by President Joe Biden. It comes as the world approached two years since the pandemic began, and as China continues to resist pressure from around the world to cooperate with investigations into the virus' origin.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology, which keeps genetic sequences of coronaviruses, became a subject of intense scrutiny as some wondered whether the virus leaked from the lab. Though many experts initially dismissed the theory, Biden ordered the review as the idea of a lab leak gained more traction, the AP reported.

But the paper released by the Director of National Intelligence dashes hopes for a concrete conclusion now or in the future.

"We don't think we're one or two reports away from being able to understand it," said one official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

COVID Origin Elusive
U.S. intelligence agencies say they likely won't ever be able to conclude whether COVID-19 spread by animal-to-human transmission or leaked from a lab. The Director of National Intelligence issued a paper Friday, October 29, that elaborated on findings released in August of a 90-day review ordered by President Joe Biden. Pictured, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines introduces Biden during a visit to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in McLean, Virginia, on July 27, 2021. Susan Walsh/AP Photo

Former President Donald Trump and his supporters long argued that a lab leak was possible as they sought to deflect criticism of his handling of the pandemic.

China remains an exceedingly difficult place for intelligence operations and has fought back against allegations that it mishandled the emergence of the pandemic, which has killed 5 million people worldwide. Senior officials involved in the full report's drafting said they hoped it would better inform the public about the challenges of determining the virus's origins.

The full report notes that the Wuhan Institute of Virology "previously created chimeras, or combinations, of SARS-like coronaviruses, but this information does not provide insight into whether SARS Cov-2 was genetically engineered by the WIV."

Information that lab researchers sought medical treatment for a respiratory illness in November 2019 "is not diagnostic of the pandemic's origins," the report said.

And allegations that China launched the virus as a bioweapon were dismissed because their proponents "do not have direct access to the Wuhan Institute of Virology," are making scientifically invalid claims or are accused of spreading disinformation, the report said.

Four agencies within the intelligence community said with low confidence that the virus was initially transmitted from an animal to a human. A fifth intelligence agency believed with moderate confidence that the first human infection was linked to a lab.

Prior to writing the report, analysts conducted what the report describes as a "Team A/Team B" debate to try to strengthen or weaken each hypothesis.

Confirming with 100 percent certainty the origin of a virus is often not fast, easy or always even possible.

In the case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS — a disease caused by a beta coronavirus, like the current coronavirus — researchers first identified the virus in February 2003. Later that year, scientists discovered the likely intermediary hosts: Himalayan palm civets found at live-animal markets in Guangdong, China. But it wasn't until 2017 that researchers traced the likely original source of the virus to bat caves in China's Yunnan province.

U.S. COVID Origins Report
U.S. analysts don't believe they'll ever be able to designate the origin of COVID-19, whether it came from a lab or was spread from animals to humans. U.S. President Joe Biden meets Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi (not in picture) before their meeting at Palazzo Chigi, on October 29, 2021 in Rome. Antonio Masiello/Getty Images