American spy officials said Wednesday that the intelligence community is still unsure how the coronavirus first spread to human populations, though they are confident that the Chinese government has not been transparent about the matter.
“The intelligence community does not know exactly where, when or how COVID-19 virus was transmitted initially,” Avril Haines, the director for national intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee during a hearing on global national security threats.
She had been asked by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the vice-chairman of the Senate panel, about the possibility that the virus emerged from a leak in a laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Haines said that the intelligence committee has focused on two theories about the origins of the virus.
“These scenarios are it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals, or it was a lab accident,” Haines said.
William Burns, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said that the spy agency is using all of its source capabilities to “try to get to the bottom of” the virus’s origin story.
He also added that the Chinese government has withheld information from the World Health Organization and other researchers that could shed light on how the virus first jumped to humans.
“The one thing that’s clear to us and to our analysts is that the Chinese leadership has not been fully forthcoming or fully transparent in working with the WHO or in providing the kind of original complete data that would help answer those questions,” Burns testified.
A team of scientists visited China in February as part of a WHO mission to investigate the origins of the coronavirus. The health agency released a report last month that said that the virus most likely infected humans after jumping from an animal species. WHO said that the least likely explanation was that the virus resulted from a leak in the Wuhan lab.
The WHO investigation has come under intense scrutiny, with its critics saying that it operated under the tight control of Chinese government officials.
Peter Daszak, who was the lone American scientist on the WHO team, acknowledged in an interview with “60 Minutes” that officials from China’s foreign ministry took part in meetings they had with scientists from the Wuhan lab.
Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, said on Feb. 13 that the Biden administration had “deep concerns” that China had not provided raw data to the WHO team for its investigation.