President Biden on Wednesday said that as U.S. intelligence officials have “coalesced around two likely scenarios” for how COVID-19 originated, he has tasked the intelligence community with redoubling their investigative efforts to bring the U.S. closer to a “definitive conclusion” within 90 days.
The president noted that when the virus first emerged he called on the CDC, as a presidential candidate, to “get access to China to learn about the virus so we could fight it more effectively.”
“The failure to get our inspectors on the ground in those early months will always hamper any investigation into the origin of COVID-19,” Biden said in a statement on Wednesday.
He said he had his national security advisor direct the intelligence community to prepare a report on their most up-to-date analysis of the origins of COVID-19 in March, “including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.”
Biden said he had received the report earlier this month and asked for “additional follow-up.”
“As of today, the U.S. Intelligence Community has ‘coalesced around two likely scenarios’ but has not reached a definitive conclusion on this question,” Biden said. “Here is their current position: ‘while two elements in the IC leans toward the former scenario and one leans more toward the latter – each with low or moderate confidence – the majority of elements do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.’”
He continued: “I have now asked the Intelligence Community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days. As part of that report, I have asked for areas of further inquiry that may be required, including specific questions for China.”
The president said he has also asked that the investigations include work by “our National Labs and other agencies of our government to augment the Intelligence Community’s efforts” and said he has asked the intelligence community to keep Congress “fully apprised of its work.”
“The United States will also keep working with like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence,” Biden said.
Biden’s comments follow media reports that his administration ended a Trump-era State Department effort to investigate the possibility that COVID-19 originated in a lab-leak in Wuhan, China over concerns about methodology.
Biden’s team shut down the inquiry, which was launched last fall at the request of then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, after receiving briefings on the team’s initial findings in February and March, according to CNN.
The president’s directive also comes one day after White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the U.S. would defer to the World Health Organization (WHO) when it comes to further investigation into the origins of COVID-19, despite the agency’s repeated failure to give credence to the lab-leak theory.
During a White House press briefing, Psaki was asked what role the Biden administration believes U.S. scientists or CDC scientists should play in any future investigations. Psaki said the WHO “would be the body that would be overseeing a transparent, independent phase 2 investigation.”
“That’s something we have strongly supported,” Psaki said. “That would require China finally stepping up and allowing access needed to determine the origins.
“Of course the United States would be supportive of that second stage of the investigation, but it would be led by an international body,” she added.
“So the U.S. wouldn’t take a leading role essentially?” a reporter asked.
“The WHO, which we rejoined when the president took office, is the body that we have been pressing and is the appropriate body for moving this investigation forward,” Psaki said.
The WHO initially declared the lab-leak theory “extremely unlikely,” though the WHO chief, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in April that the research team’s probe into whether the virus might have escaped following a laboratory incident was not “extensive enough” and requires more investigation.
Meanwhile, Psaki said this week that the Biden administration has expressed both publicly and privately that the Chinese government was “not transparent from the beginning.”
House Republicans sent a letter to President Biden last week calling for an investigation and highlighting past examples of diseases leaking from Chinese labs.
“International efforts to discover the true source of the virus, however, have been stymied by a lack of cooperation from the People’s Republic of China,” House Republicans said. “Nevertheless, significant circumstantial evidence raises serious concerns that the COVID-19 outbreak may have been a leak.”