The US is said to have untapped intelligence on the origins of the virus

WASHINGTON – After President Biden’s call for a 90-day sprint to understand the origins of the coronovirus pandemic, intelligence officials told the White House they had a body of still-unexpected evidence that required additional computer analysis that would Could throw light on the mystery. To senior administration officials.

Officials declined to describe the new evidence. But the revelation that they are hoping to apply an extraordinary amount of computer power to the question of whether the virus was accidentally leaked from a Chinese lab suggests the government has released its database of Chinese communications, lab staff The movement and pattern of will not have ended. About the outbreak of this disease around the city of Wuhan.

In addition to streamlining scientific resources, Mr. Biden’s push is aimed at helping US allies and intelligence agencies seek new intelligence from existing information – such as intercepts, witnesses or biological evidence – as well as to determine whether Chinese The government has covered an accident. the leak.

Mr Biden committed to making the results of the review public on Thursday, but added a caveat: “Unless there is something I am unaware of.”

His call for study has both domestic and international political implications. This has led his critics to argue that the president had dismissed the possibility that the lab originated until the Chinese government this week refused to allow further investigations by the World Health Organization. . And, administration officials said, the White House expects US allies to contribute more vigorously to the serious exploration of a theory that, until now, they had considered unlikely at best, and a conspiracy theory at worst.

So far, attempts to glean evidence from intercepted communications within China, a notoriously difficult target to penetrate, have met with little. Current and former intelligence officials say they are highly skeptical that anyone will receive an email or text message or a document that shows evidence of a laboratory accident.

An affiliated nation reported that in the autumn of 2019, three workers at the Wuhan Virological Laboratory were hospitalized with severe flu-like symptoms. Information about sick workers is considered important, but officials cautioned that it was not evidence that they had caught the virus. They might have brought it there – in the lab.

The White House is hoping that allies and allies can tap their network of human sources to obtain additional information about what happened inside the laboratory. While the United States is rebuilding its own sources in China, it has still not fully recovered from the abolition of its network inside the country a decade ago. As a result, pressure by allies to their informants that what happened inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology will be an important part of advancing intelligence.

A senior Biden administration official said the investigation was not yet over. Officials will not describe the kind of computational analysis they want to do.

Administration and intelligence officials say it will be as much a job of scientists as trying to figure out how the pandemic was spread. The Biden administration is working to improve its scientific expertise at the National Intelligence Council. Senior officials have told detective agencies that their science-oriented departments, which have been working on the issue for months, will play a major role in the reopened probe.

The senior administration official said the new investigation would also exploit the federal government’s national laboratories and other scientific resources that were not previously directly involved in intelligence efforts.

Mr Biden’s announcement that he would need a report from the intelligence community had elements of pretense. In the context of domestic politics, he is trying to take the initiative on an issue on which Republicans have been focusing for a long time. Arkansas senator Tom Cotton, who has long argued that coronoviruses may have emerged from the Wuhan lab by mistake, was Mr. Biden’s order “Better late than ever, but far from enough.”

And on an international front, Mr. Biden called on Beijing to push for a reverse course, but to focus its own intelligence efforts on colleagues to investigate the theory that coronavirus may have accidentally leaked from the laboratory Has called on the Chinese rebellion to cooperate in the investigation on both.

Like scientists and the wider public, the intelligence community remains uncertain about the origin of coronaviruses. No definitive intelligence has been revealed, and some current and former officials have warned that much can be gathered in 90 days. While the office of the Director of National Intelligence will give a report before the end of the summer, the investigation will most likely have to be escalated.

On Wednesday, General Mark A Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters he saw no conclusive evidence about the cause of the pandemic, but supported the effort to take a deeper look. “The amount of death, pain and suffering experienced in this epidemic is enormous,” he said. “We need to know the origin, how it happened.”

Attempts to uncover the origins of the coronavirus began more than a year ago, during the Trump administration. But some officials President Donald J. Trump’s intentions, arguing that his interest in the origins of the pandemic was either to divert blame or punish China from his administration’s handling of it.

Current officials say the central goal of the new intelligence push is to improve preparedness for future epidemics. As a result, Mr. Biden’s message was calibrated this week to leave open the possibility of future cooperation with China.

The White House’s frustration with China has increased since China’s announcement this week that Beijing would not participate in additional investigations by the World Health Organization. An official of the Biden administration said that if the new inquiry did not yield a response, it would be because China was not transparent.

But the administration is not trying to isolate China, and instead attempts to tread a cautionary line between cooperating with Beijing and demonstrating that in his absence, the United States will intensify its investigation. Has been doing.

Administration officials also believe that the new investigation by the World Health Organization and the Chinese hurdle will create an opportunity to increase intelligence cooperation with allies.

An official said that allies have been giving information since the beginning of the epidemic. But some, including the British intelligence services, are skeptical of the lab leak theory. Others, including Australia, are more open to this.

As members of the so-called Five Eyes partnership, Britain and Australia already share intelligence widely with the United States. But the new intelligence review, coupled with growing frustration with China’s failure to cooperate with the World Health Organization, could prompt allies to focus more on the question of the lab leak.

A British official declined to comment. A request for comment from the Australian Government was not immediately returned.

In his announcement on WednesdayMr Biden said the two intelligence agencies believed the virus to be most likely naturally, while at least one other supported the theory that it was accidentally leaked from a laboratory in China. No one was more confident of his assessment, the president said.

In a statement on Thursday, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Amanda J. Schoch said intelligence agencies had come together around two possible scenarios, but there was no high-confidence assessment of the virus’s origin yet. .

“The US intelligence community does not know exactly where, when or how the COVID-19 virus started,” Ms Skoch said.

While the 18 agencies make up the intelligence community, only a handful have been major players in assessing the potential origin of the virus. Most of the broader intelligence community, including the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, believe that there is not yet enough information to draw conclusions, even with little confidence about the origins.

The “intelligence community” continues to examine all available evidence, consider various perspectives, and aggressively collect and analyze new information to identify the origin of the virus, Ms. Scorch said.

Eric Smith Contributed reporting.

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