February 26. 2024. 6:22

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FBI director endorses theory Covid-19 virus may have leaked from Chinese lab

Christopher Wray, the FBI director, has weighed in on the debate over the origins of the Covid-19 virus, using an appearance on Fox News to endorse the theory that the virus potentially originated from a leak in a Chinese laboratory.

“The FBI has for quite some time now assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan,” Wray told Fox News’ Brett Baier, adding that the assessment was based on research the agency’s analysts, including scientists, had conducted and that “our work related to this continues”.

Wray’s high-profile public comment highlights the divide within the US intelligence community about the origins of the pandemic, with some federal agencies, including the FBI and the Department of Energy, concluding that the Covid-19 virus likely originated from a lab leak in China, while others have concluded that it first spread from infected animals to humans.

Wray’s public endorsement of the lab leak theory runs counter to the conclusions of several prominent scientific studies, as well as the assessments of some other US intelligence agencies. Wray did not explain the evidence that had informed the FBI’s conclusion. “There’s not a whole lot of details I can share that aren’t classified,” he said.

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The Central Intelligence Agency and another prominent US federal agency still remain undecided about the origins of Covid-19, while the National Intelligence Council and four other agencies have concluded that the virus originated in animals, the Wall Street Journal reported this week.

The energy department also concluded in a classified intelligence report that Covid-19 most likely resulted from a laboratory leak, but made this assessment with “low confidence”, while the FBI reached the same conclusion in 2021 with “moderate confidence”, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“While I believe the ‘lab leak’ theory a real possibility, I should point out that the [energy department’s] assessment has ‘low confidence’ in that assessment and their assessment did not change the minds of any of the other agencies,” Dr Filippa Lentzos, a reader in science and international security at King’s College London, previously told the Guardian.

Push back

Some scientists who have studied the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic have pushed back against the endorsement of the lab leak theory by US agencies. Scientists have also noted that, unlike peer-reviewed scientific studies, the US intelligence assessments being debated do not provide public transparency about how they reached their conclusions or the evidence they accumulated.

“Two prior studies – one of which I co-authored – demonstrate clearly using multiple lines of evidence that the pandemic emerged into the human population at least twice over an approximately two-week period at or immediately upstream of Huanan market in association with the live animal trade,” Angie Rasmussen, a professor with the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, told the Guardian this week.

Wray’s public comments come at a time of heightened tension between the US and China, after the discovery of a Chinese spy balloon sparked an international controversy, and was used by both Republicans and Democrats to criticize the leadership of the opposing party.

China’s Communist party government put on show its sensitivity about Covid’s origin, with state-run media outlet the Global Times issuing a warning to Elon Musk not to risk his relationship with China, after he sent tweets discussing the Department of Energy report on the lab leak theory.

CNBC reported that the Global Times used its social media pages to warn Musk not to “break the pot”. “‘Breaking the pot after eating’ is Chinese [for] biting the hand that feeds you”,” wrote CNBC correspondent Eunice Yoon.

Tesla, Musk’s company, has a huge factory building electric cars in Shanghai, both for the domestic Chinese market – the second-largest outlet for its vehicles – and for export to other countries. — Guardian