The United States government continues to investigate whether the coronavirus originated in a Chinese laboratory, not a wet market, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
An intelligence official familiar with the government analysis said a theory for US intelligence officials investigating the genesis of the strand of Covid-19 at the center of the current deadly pandemic is that the virus originated in a laboratory in China and was accidentally released to the public.
Other sources told CNN that the US intelligence hasn’t been able to corroborate the theory, but is trying to discern whether someone was infected in the lab through an accident or poor handling of materials and may have then infected others.
The US does not believe the virus was associated with bioweapons research and noted that the intelligence community is also exploring a range of other theories regarding the origin of the virus, as would typically be the case for high-profile incidents, according to the intelligence source.
US intelligence is reviewing sensitive intelligence collection aimed at China, according to the intelligence source, as they pursue the theory.
What the officials say: Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Mark Milley acknowledged this week that US intelligence is taking “a hard look” at the question.
“I would just say, at this point, it’s inconclusive although the weight of evidence seems to indicate natural. But we don’t know for certain,” Milley told reporters on Tuesday.
Asked about the intelligence, which was first reported by Yahoo and Fox News, US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that the US is “doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation that happened” but refused to discuss what he had been told about the findings.
When asked about those cables, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — who has called the coronavirus the Wuhan Virus — did not dismiss them, or say that they show any legitimate linkage to Covid-19.
“The Chinese Communist Party didn’t give Americans access when we needed it in that most timely point at the very beginning,” Pompeo said this week. “Then we know they have this lab. We know about the wet markets. We know that the virus itself did originate in Wuhan. So all those things come together. There’s still a lot we don’t know, and this is what the President was talking about today. We need to know answers to these things.”
Background to the theory: The theory is at the forefront for Trump administration officials who believe that China is at fault for the virus’s spread due to Beijing’s initial efforts to cover up its severity.
The theory has been denied by the Chinese government and many outside experts have also cast doubt on the idea, CNN has previously reported.
One official called the way China has dealt with the virus “completely reprehensible” — and are determined to build a fuller picture of how it originated.
Some of the officials said the US intends for China to pay a price, but recognize that they have to be careful not to inflict a cost on Beijing before the pandemic is under control, and until they have more information about its creation.
Past concerns: The Washington Post reported on State Department cables from 2018 demonstrating concerns about the safety and the management of the Wuhan Institute of Virology biolab.