The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee called on the Trump administration’s spy chief to provide details about the origins of the coronavirus in China, including intelligence community information related to whether COVID-19 may have escaped from a lab in Wuhan.
Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, sent a two-page letter to Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe on Friday, which was obtained by the Washington Examiner, saying the Republicans on his panel “have conducted a long-standing investigation into the rise of China as our foremost national security threat,” and “as part of that probe, we are investigating the outbreak of the coronavirus.”
With less than two weeks left in the Trump administration, Nunes asked Ratcliffe to provide the intelligence with a classified notification on Chinese virology research, including “an explanation of significant changes in Intelligence Community analysis, or the evolution of such analysis, related to the origin of SARS-COV-2, research activities in Wuhan labs, efforts by China to block international investigations of a possible lab leak, and actions taken by Chinese authorities that increased COVID-19 worldwide lethality and economic disruptions.” The congressman also asked Ratcliffe for an “assessment of Chinese adherence to international agreements that require disclosure and cooperation in the event of a viral outbreak such as COVID-19.”
Additionally, Nunes asked the intelligence community to provide an “exact timeline” of research specific to coronaviruses at the Wuhan lab, as well as a “counterintelligence assessment” detailing all United States engagement with the Wuhan lab on coronaviruses, including U.S.-sponsored research and funding, any technology transfers, and information on which outside groups coordinated with the lab.
“Among the various theories of the pandemic’s origins, we’ve seen indicators that COVID-19 may have stemmed from dangerous research at laboratories in Wuhan, China,” Republican congressman wrote, pointing to recent reports, including remarks from now-former White House deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger.
Pottinger served on the National Security Council from 2017 until resigning his post last week in the wake of rioters storming the U.S. Capitol as lawmakers affirmed President-elect Joe Biden's victory. In late December, he said that “there is a growing body of evidence to say that a laboratory leak or accident is very much a credible possibility” and “even establishment figures in Beijing have openly dismissed the wet market story.” Pottinger was apparently referring to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a biosafety level 4 lab in China that researches infectious diseases, including bat coronaviruses. Questions remain about whether the virus escaped from a lab through an accidental infection or if it got its start in nature by jumping from an animal to a human.
“I don’t know of anybody in the federal government with access to all of the information that does not believe that this is a plausible scenario — if not the most plausible scenario,” an administration official told the Washington Examiner when speaking of the Wuhan lab escape hypothesis last week.
China has done its utmost to thwart investigations into the origins of the virus that has turned into the pandemic killing 1.93 million people around the world, including more than 373,000 in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University. The Chinese Communist Party has denied it originated in China and spread baseless conspiracy theories about it being caused by the U.S. military.
“There are enough reports out there, there is enough of what we are hearing, the people we’re interviewing, that we believe there is much more to the Wuhan lab,” Nunes said during an appearance on Fox News's Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo, adding that “we believe that the IC possibly has information that I think the American people need to see,” and “hopefully John Ratcliffe can get as much as he possibly can out in the next 10 days.”
Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, who caused a stir in February when he suggested the Wuhan lab as a possible origin, told the Washington Examiner on Tuesday that “the Chinese Communist Party has thwarted investigations into the coronavirus’s origins,” but “circumstantial evidence points to the Wuhan lab, where accidental release remains the most likely scenario — but we cannot rule out other origins, including a natural transmission.”
In 2018, U.S. Embassy officials in China raised concerns about biosecurity at the Wuhan lab. One “sensitive but unclassified” State Department cable warned about a “serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory.”
The letter from Nunes noted that the Wuhan lab “has a history of mismanagement, poor safety practices, laboratory outbreaks, dangerous ‘gain of function’ research, and other questionable activities.” Nunes told Ratcliffe he would like him to make this a “priority” for the spy agencies “given the great variance in explanations for COVID-19 origins and Chinese behavior that we are receiving from government, scientific, and media sources.”
GOP Rep. Michael McCaul, ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released a report in September on the coronavirus, concluding that “the CCP’s lies, cover-up, and oppression of whistleblowers cost thousands of Chinese citizens and hundreds of thousands of others around the world their lives.” McCaul’s spokeswoman told the Washington Examiner last week that the committee also wanted to see what evidence the Trump administration possesses about the coronavirus origins.
In May of last year, a senior intelligence official told the Washington Examiner that a majority of the intelligence community's spy agencies believed the coronavirus likely originated with an accidental lab escape in Wuhan. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence weighed in last spring, noting that “the Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified.” The statement said the spy community had not yet reached a conclusion on how the coronavirus first originated in China.
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