The Energy Department has reversed its previous position and has used new research to conclude that the Covid-19 virus most likely leaked from a Chinese research lab.
The new conclusion was issued in an update to a 2021 document prepared by Director of National Intelligence and was recently provided to White Houselawmakers, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.
The Energy Department has now therefore joined the FBI in saying the virus likely spread from a lab in Wuhan. However, four other agencies are still said to favor the ‘natural spillover’ theory that the virus escaped via an animal at a nearby meat market. Two agencies, one of which is the CIA, are yet to declare a definitive position.
The Energy Department’s change of tune is important because the agency is known for its expertise and oversees various US laboratories, some of which carry out biological research.
The FBI concluded in 2021 that the virus leaked from a lab and said it did so with ‘moderate confidence’. The Energy Department has switched its position and done so with ‘low confidence’, the WSJ reported.
US officials told the publication that although both departments are in agreement, they formed their conclusions for different reasons.
The FBI also has expertise in disease and virology as it hires microbiologists and immunologists and part of its efforts to protect the country against bioterrorism and weapons.
The government officials who revealed the Energy Department’s change of stance would not comment on what new intelligence it based its conclusion on.
White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan told CNN on Sunday that there was still ‘no definitive answer’.
‘Here’s what I can tell you. President Biden has directed, repeatedly, every element of our intelligence community to put effort and resources behind getting to the bottom of this question,’ he said.
‘If we gain any further insight or information, we will share it with Congress, and we will share it with the American people. But right now, there is not a definitive answer that has emerged from the intelligence community on this question.’
It comes after in January the US Office of Inspector General openly criticized the National Institutes of Health for failing to properly keep up with US-funded virus experiments in China in the run up to the outbreak.
The federal audit looked at three taxpayer-funded research grants awarded to EcoHealth Alliance, run by British scientist Peter Daszak, between 2014 and 2021.
It found the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and EcoHealth failed to ‘understand the nature of the research conducted, identify potential problem areas, and take corrective action’.
‘With improved oversight, NIH may have been able to take more timely corrective actions to mitigate the inherent risks associated with this type of research,’ the report added.
While the lab leak theory was initially dismissed as conspiracy and xenophobic, a growing number of scientists have come around to the idea the virus may have escaped during an accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).
The research facility is less than 10 miles from an animal slaughter market where the first series of human cases were clustered. Some experts also claim Covid’s unique spike protein, which it uses to infect people, shows hallmarks of engineering.
But others have deemed those scenarios unlikely and say that there is some indirect evidence that Covid did jump from animals at the Huanan Seafood Market, where animals known to harbor Covid including raccoon dogs, hedgehogs, rats and squirrels, were kept in squalid conditions.
Direct evidence for a natural or man-made origin has not been publicized.