The United States Energy Department is the second government agency to conclude that the COVID-19 pandemic did not likely emerge through natural transmission.
According to updated 2021 classified documents recently released to members of Congress and the White House, the U.S. Energy Department now believes the SARS-CoV-2 virus was likely leaked due to a mishap at a Chinese Laboratory, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Sources told the WSJ that the Energy Department concluded with 'low confidence' after new intelligence emerged about the virus’s origins. This updated information — based on further review of scientific studies, new intelligence, and consultation with non-government experts — was added to the 2021 report by Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines’s office earlier this year.
In the early version of the report, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) concluded with 'moderate confidence' that COVID-19 was likely the result of a lab leak.
However, the WSJ says the National Intelligence Council and four other government agencies — which officials declined to identify — still conclude with 'low confidence' that the pandemic resulted from natural transmission.
Meanwhile, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and another unnamed agency remain undecided about the pandemic’s origins.
The documents also describe how the various agencies arrived at their differing conclusions about how COVID-19 emerged, noting the Energy Department and the FBI made their determinations for different reasons. In addition, the report reiterates that the pandemic was not the result of a Chinese bioweapons program.
The Energy Department’s conclusion follows a long-standing debate among scientists, government officials, and the public about the pandemic’s origins — a disease that has resulted in approximately 6.8 million deaths worldwide.
While some believe the virus initially spread to humans from animals at a food market or another location in Wuhan, China, others claim SARS-CoV-2 came from research conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Still, the WSJ says that because the Energy Department oversees a network of national laboratories in the U.S., the agency’s new stance on the pandemic’s origins is significant. Their conclusion also comes when some lawmakers are pushing the Biden administration for more answers and conducting their own investigations on the origins of COVID-19.
The newspaper notes that officials have not said whether the government will release an unclassified version of the updated documents.
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