U.S. Intelligence Officials Confirm They're Investigating Wuhan Lab Leak As Possible Coronavirus Source

United States intelligence officials confirmed on Thursday that they were looking into the possibility that the novel coronavirus leaked from a lab in Wuhan, confirming Newsweek's reporting on the subject.

In a statement, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence maintained previous assertions regarding the absence of human intervention in the virus' emergence but said further examination was necessary to make conclusions about where and how it first surfaced.

"The entire Intelligence Community has been consistently providing critical support to U.S. policymakers and those responding to the COVID-19 virus," the office's statement said. "The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified."

U.S. intelligence has proposed different theories about the novel coronavirus' origins since January, when the World Health Organization declared an international public health emergency in response to the pandemic. At the time, there were few cases identified outside of China, and most assessments indicated initial transmissions stemmed from an outdoor seafood market in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province.

As Newsweek reported earlier this week, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency originally proposed "that the outbreak probably occurred naturally," but amended its findings at the end of March, suggesting that the virus could have been accidentally released from a laboratory at Wuhan Virology Institute. The updated report reiterated that no evidence pointed to the intentional release of SARS-CoV-2, nor did it indicate that the virus "was created as a biological weapon."

In comments issued to Newsweek on April 24, an U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) official said the March findings held true one month later.

"The IC has not changed its assessment regarding the origin of the COVID virus," the official said. "We are actively and vigorously tracking down every piece of information we get on this topic and we are writing frequently to update policymakers. The IC has not collectively agreed on any one theory."

China has pushed back against claims the virus may have originated inside Wuhan's virology lab, which say lenient safety protocols could have been responsible for the pathogen's inadvertent release. However, Thursday's statement from the national intelligence office noted that research is still ongoing.

Wuhan Institute of Virology
The laboratory at Wuhan Institute of Virology is pictured on April 17. United States intelligence officials said Thursday that investigation is still underway to determine if the new coronavirus was "the result of an accident" inside the lab. HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images

"As we do in all crises, the Community's experts respond by surging resources and producing critical intelligence on issues vital to U.S. national security," it read. "The IC will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan."

Since cases of the new coronavirus were first identified in Wuhan last December, the virus has spread to 187 countries, with more than 3.2 million diagnoses, 229,000 deaths and 1 million recoveries confirmed, according to Johns Hopkins University's tracker.

The U.S. became the outbreak's global epicenter in March and has now reported the highest incidence of infections and related fatalities in the world. As of Thursday afternoon, more than 1 million people have contracted the illness in the U.S., and at least 61,000 have died.