The Origin of Covid-19 — The Definitive Conclusion of the U.S. Intelligence Community 90-days Investigation (August 24 2021) [UPDATE — Bat vs Lab goes another Lap]

“I have now asked the Intelligence Community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days.”

Biden (May 26 2021) 

June 3 2021 — The US President Joe Biden has announced an urgent investigation into the origin of the COVID pandemic. What are the competing theories? What do we know about these theories so far? What can the US Intelligence Community learn in the next 90 days. And, last but not least, what is the most likely conclusion of the investigation? Here are my predictions! Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

RELATED POST: COVID-19 — The Boy Who Cried Wolf : Is Pompeo telling the truth about the Wuhan Lab? [UPDATE : A lesson from Richard Feynman (Physics Nobel Prize 1965)]

RELATED POST: The Wuhan Lab – Leak Theory : Did you say ‘Conspiracy Theory’?

“To this day, the PRC continues to reject calls for transparency and withhold information, even as the toll of this pandemic continues to rise. The world deserves answers and I will not rest until we get them.”

President Biden (Aug. 27 2021)

UPDATE (August 28 2021) — After 90 days of redoubled efforts, the US intelligence community has failed to provide “a more definitive explanation” regarding the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Biden blames China for this failure… [Statement by President Joe Biden on the Investigation into the Origins of COVID-⁠19]

“Critical information about the origins of this pandemic exists in the People’s Republic of China, yet from the beginning, government officials in China have worked to prevent international investigators and members of the global public health community from accessing it,” Biden said in a statement.

“To this day, the PRC continues to reject calls for transparency and withhold information, even as the toll of this pandemic continues to rise,” he added.

This is a bit confusing. I thought that the reason the U.S. spends $85 billion annually on its intelligence community is precisely to learn what the other guy does not want to tell you.

Anyway, it is not over yet!

“We will do everything we can to trace the roots of this outbreak that has caused so much pain and death around the world, so that we can take every necessary precaution to prevent it from happening again.”

“The United States will continue working with like-minded partners around the world to press the PRC to fully share information and to cooperate with the World Health Organization’s Phase II evidence-based, expert-led determination into the origins of COVID-19 – including by providing access to all relevant data and evidence. We will also continue to press the PRC to adhere to scientific norms and standards, including sharing information and data from the earliest days of the pandemic, protocols related to biosafety, and information from animal populations. We must have a full and transparent accounting of this global tragedy. Nothing less is acceptable.”

Stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath… This investigation is not going anywhere fast.

END of UPDATE

“After examining all available intelligence reporting and other information, though, the IC remains divided on the most likely origin of COVID-19. All agencies assess that two hypotheses are plausible: natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident.”

ODNI (Aug. 27 2021)

UPDATE (August 27 2021) — Today, the ODNI has issued a summary of assessment on COVID-19 origins.

“The IC assesses that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, probably emerged and infected humans through an initial small-scale exposure that occurred no later than November 2019 with the first known cluster of COVID-19 cases arising in Wuhan, China in December 2019.

In addition, the IC was able to reach broad agreement on several other key issues. We judge the virus was not developed as a biological weapon. Most agencies also assess with low confidence that SARS-CoV-2 probably was not genetically engineered; however, two agencies believe there was not sufficient evidence to make an assessment either way.

Finally, the IC assesses China’s officials did not have foreknowledge of the virus before the initial outbreak of COVID-19 emerged.

After examining all available intelligence reporting and other information, though, the IC remains divided on the most likely origin of COVID-19. All agencies assess that two hypotheses are plausible: natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident.

(…)

The IC judges they will be unable to provide a more definitive explanation for the origin of
COVID-19 unless new information allows them to determine the specific pathway for initial natural contact with an animal or to determine that a laboratory in Wuhan was handling SARSCoV-2 or a close progenitor virus before COVID-19 emerged.

The IC—and the global scientific community—lacks clinical samples or a complete
understanding of epidemiological data from the earliest COVID-19 cases. If we obtain information on the earliest cases that identified a location of interest or occupational exposure, it may alter our evaluation of hypotheses.

China’s cooperation most likely would be needed to reach a conclusive assessment of the origins of COVID-19. Beijing, however, continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information and blame other countries, including the United States. These actions reflect, in part, China’s government’s own uncertainty about where an investigation could lead as well as its frustration the international community is using the issue to exert political pressure on China.”

Stay tuned!

END of UPDATE

“In conclusion, we — the People of the Central Intelligence Agency — have come to the conclusion that we do not have a conclusion.”

Intel Today (June 3 2021)

UPDATE (August 25 2021) — On June 3 2021, Intel Today predicted that the US Intelligence Community would not reach a definitive conclusion on the origin the COVID-90 pandemics.

Yesterday, President Biden was briefed on the classified report from U.S. the intelligence community.

The review into Covid’s origins ordered by the Biden administration 90 days ago is inconclusive, according to reporting by the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.

“The assessment is the result of a 90-day sprint after Biden tasked his intelligence agencies in May to produce a report ‘that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion’ on the origins of a virus that has killed more than 4 million people globally and wrecked national economies. 

But despite analysing a raft of existing intelligence and searching for new clues, intelligence officials fell short of a consensus, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the report is not yet public.” [Washington Post]

US officials blame China for the inconclusiveness of their report.

“It was a deep dive, but you can only go so deep as the situation allows. If China’s not going to give access to certain data sets, you’re never really going to know.” [Wall Street Journal]

Lawmakers are expected to be briefed on the report’s findings as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the intelligence community is preparing an unclassified summary of the report that can be released to the public.

On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki suggested that the unclassified report could come as soon as this week.

The precise origins of COVID-19 — a virus that has killed 4.6 million people worldwide — remain shrouded in mystery. The U.S. spends $85 billion annually on its intelligence community.

END of UPDATE

“It’s basically impossible to have a proper investigation if one of the main parties doesn’t want to cooperate. We need to proceed as if both hypotheses are true.”

Thomas Wright — Brookings Institution senior fellow (Aug. 24 2021)

June 3 2021 — From day one, the Wuhan lab-leak theory was dismissed by the Main Stream Media as a ‘Conspiracy Theory’ that only crackpots would consider plausible.

The claim that COVID-19 is man-made was so ‘outrageous’ that it was simply banned on social media.

Today, the same theory is taken very seriously as top scientists make it clear that this hypothesis is entirely plausible. Facebook has reversed its policy on May 26 2021.

To be sure, there is no direct evidence of a lab leak so far. But, as a wise man pointed out a few days ago, the Occam’s Razor argument — what’s the likeliest explanation, animal or lab? — keeps shifting in the direction of the Wuhan lab-leak theory.

I have tried to keep this post as short as possible. I will write a few updates whenever intelligence develops…

Table of Contents

I — Statement by President Joe Biden

II –Two competing hypotheses

III — Current position of the US Intelligence Community

IV — Three agencies

V — The next 90 days

VI — August 24 2021 — And the conclusion is…

VII — Reception and Political fallout

VIII — The Panda in the Room

“Greater clarity about the origins of this pandemic is necessary and feasible to achieve. We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data. A proper investigation should be transparent, objective, data-driven, inclusive of broad expertise, subject to independent oversight, and responsibly managed to minimize the impact of conflicts of interest. Public health agencies and research laboratories alike need to open their records to the public. Investigators should document the veracity and provenance of data from which analyses are conducted and conclusions drawn, so that analyses are reproducible by independent experts.”

Investigate the origins of COVID-19 — Science (May 14 2021)

I — Statement by President Joe Biden

Back in early 2020, when COVID-19 emerged, I called for the CDC to get access to China to learn about the virus so we could fight it more effectively.

The failure to get our inspectors on the ground in those early months will always hamper any investigation into the origin of COVID-19.
 
Nevertheless, shortly after I became President, in March, I had my National Security Advisor task the Intelligence Community to prepare a report on their most up-to-date analysis of the origins of COVID-19, including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.

I received that report earlier this month, and asked for additional follow-up. As of today, the U.S. Intelligence Community has “coalesced around two likely scenarios” but has not reached a definitive conclusion on this question.

Here is their current position: “while two elements in the IC leans toward the former scenario and one leans more toward the latter – each with low or moderate confidence – the majority of elements do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.”

I have now asked the Intelligence Community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days. As part of that report, I have asked for areas of further inquiry that may be required, including specific questions for China.

I have also asked that this effort include work by our National Labs and other agencies of our government to augment the Intelligence Community’s efforts. And I have asked the Intelligence Community to keep Congress fully apprised of its work.
 
The United States will also keep working with like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence.

The reader has surely noticed a couple of oddities. First, a typo — “two elements in the IC leans” — which clearly reveals that this statement was rushed once the panic began to sink in the White House after top scientists published a letter in Science demanding greater clarity about the origins of this pandemic

And, of course, no one can ignore the fact that this investigation comes with a deadline. As a high ranking FBI agent once told me, when an investigation begins with a deadline, you can be certain that the conclusion has already been written.

“Do You Really Need More Information? The US Intelligence Community invests heavily in improved intelligence collection systems while managers of analysis lament the comparatively small sums devoted to enhancing analytical resources, improving analytical methods, or gaining better understanding of the cognitive processes involved in making analytical judgments.”

Psychology of Intelligence Analysis — Richards J. Heuer (CIA psychologist most known for his work on analysis of competing hypotheses)

II –Two competing hypotheses

According to Biden’s statement, the U.S. Intelligence Community has “coalesced around two likely scenarios.”

RELATED POST; CIA Dr Richards J. Heuer: “Information Collection vs Analytical Methods”

The virus emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.

Hypothesis I — The coronavirus escaped, accidentally or otherwise, from a laboratory in the central Chinese city of Wuhan where the virus was first recorded.

Hypothesis II — The natural origin theory argues the virus spread naturally from animals, without the involvement of any scientists or laboratories.

So far, there is no hard evidence to back either scenario. Hypothesis II appeals to the radical credulous. These folks argue that it is the way pandemics have started in the past (mostly true) and accidents do not happen as virus laboratories are run safely by competent scientists (definitely not true).

And of course, Hypothesis I has all the ingredients that people who thrive on conspiracy theories live for! I can’t wait to see the movie. James Bond fighting the mad scientist doing insane experiments to weaponize a bat virus at the request of an evil dictator… What is there not to love?

Although Biden does not make this point clearly, there is another issue. Is the virus natural or mad-made?

Of course, Hypothesis II implies that the virus is natural. But, even if the virus is natural, Hypothesis I cannot be ruled out. Indeed we know that the Wuhan scientists collected — and experimented on — the closest virus known to Covid-19. On the other hand, if the virus is proved to me man-made, Hypothesis II can be ruled out.

The genome does not show any obvious signs of manipulation. It does not use any well-known viruses as a basic framework, or have the genetic equivalent of bore-holes and cut-marks. These are decent arguments, but they are certainly not overwhelming.

So far, two Nobel Prize winners have spoken on this issue. Dr Luc Montagnier — winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2008 for “discovering” HIV as the cause of the AIDS epidemic — claimed that SARS-CoV-2 is a manipulated virus.

Dr David Baltimore — winner of the 1975 Nobel Prize for Medicine for the discoveries concerning the interaction between tumor viruses and the genetic material of the cell — also believes that the virus is man-made.

At this point in time, there is however no proof that the virus is man-made, we just have probabilities.

Given that the major changes Sars-CoV-2 acquired to become pandemic-ready do not mirror those in any closely related coronavirus, its emergence is certainly a rare event if the virus is natural. That is true, but then again, that is not a proof as rare events do happen. Life seems to be one of them.

I will now make two quick comments that may, or may not, be important to understand the US IC investigation.

Most biologists probably believe that there is no way to prove — beyond arguing probabilities — that the virus is man-made. They may be right. But I have a feeling that physicists are going to teach them a lesson they will never forget…

I also want to make a point that will probably greatly disappoint the conspiracy-minded readers. Even if the virus is proved to be man-made, it does not implies necessarily that it was created for an evil purpose. The roads to hell are paved with good intentions…

Scientists often do research with viruses that includes manipulating them to become more effective, or to infect other species – even humans. The justification for this is to learn about viral behaviour, and track how a pandemic threat might evolve.

This is called “gain-of-function” research, and lots of people think it’s a bad idea. Let me rephrase that last sentence. This kind of research is simply insane.

It is like playing Belgian Roulette, a version of the infamous Russian Roulette but with a minor difference. In the Belgian version of the game, there are 6 bullets in the barrel of the gun.

“From our perspective, we just don’t know where, when and how the coronavirus was transmitted initially.”

Avril Haines — Director of US intelligence

III — Current position of the US Intelligence Community

In his extremely unusual statement, President Biden has revealed that the US IC is pretty much clueless about the origin of the pandemic.

“while two elements in the IC leans [sic] toward the former scenario and one leans more toward the latter – each with low or moderate confidence – the majority of elements do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.”

In 2020, the National Intelligence Council — which collates information from the entire intelligence community — produced two reports assessing US intelligence on the origins of Covid. The US IC added a third “scrub” of the intelligence in 2021.

And the bottom line is this: 16 months after the outbreak of the pandemic, American spies just don’t know where, when and how the coronavirus was transmitted initially.

The only thing the CIA knows for sure is something we all know. The Chinese leadership has not been forthcoming in working with the international community.

That is a bit of an understatement as the Chinese have erased all records of their research on the most closely related virus.

So ask yourself a simple question. If the CIA is clueless after 16 months, what difference are the next 90 days going to make?

Obviously, 90 days is not sufficient for the Intelligence Community to reach any solid determination.

Let me repeat. When an investigation begins with a deadline, you can be certain that the conclusion has already been written.

“…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. So we’re doing everything we can using all the sources available to all of us on this panel to try to get to the bottom of it.” — CIA Director William Burn

IV — Three agencies

President Biden mentions 3 agencies but he does not name them. The US IC has 18 intelligence agencies, as well as the ODNI. So, which ones is Biden talking about?

These 3 U.S. intelligence agencies are likely to be the CIA, the NSA and the DIA. I would expect CIA in favor of the man-made virus and the Lab-leak theory while NSA & DIA are probably leaning toward a natural origin.

In late April 2020, the US intelligence community put out a rare public statement affirming that it “also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the Covid-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified.”

On March 27, 2020, the Defense Intelligence Agency — which is home to one of the intelligence community’s most robust scientific cells — concluded that it was possible that the virus had emerged “accidentally” due to “unsafe laboratory practices.”

And of course, the US Intelligence Community has been relying very heavily on NSA intercepts to try to figure out the origins of the pandemic. Nothing ever came out..

What about State? Biden’s administration had shut down a US state department investigation — set up by President Trump — into the lab-leak theory. So, it is unlikely that this agency is one of the three mentioned by Biden.

“When I first saw the furin cleavage site in the viral sequence, with its arginine codons, I said to my wife it was the smoking gun for the origin of the virus. These features make a powerful challenge to the idea of a natural origin for SARS2.”

David Baltimore — Virologist and former president of the California Institute of Technology

1975 Nobel Prize for his work with viruses

V — The next 90 days

The conclusion of this investigation will rely on 4 categories of knowledge: Sciences, Information (OSINT), classified Intelligence and possibly new Findings.

V-1 Sciences — President Joe Biden’s 90-day “redoubled” effort is intended in part to elevate scientific analysis. What can be expected?

Studying the structure of the virus could determine if it escaped from a lab or originated naturally in the wild.

A White House official said that the effort will bring in the National Labs — a collection of 17 elite research facilities under the Energy Department — because of their ability to crunch massive amounts of data.” What those “massive amounts of data” contain remains unclear.

V- 2 Information — The virus was first recorded in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) has been studying coronaviruses in bats for over a decade.

The laboratory is located just a few kilometres from the Huanan wet market where an early cluster of infections — although not the first — emerged.

V- 3 Intelligence — A classified US intelligence report claims that three researchers at the Wuhan laboratory were treated in hospital in November 2019, just before the virus began infecting humans in the city. Who is patient ZERO?

V- 4 Findings — Supporters of the natural origin hypothesis say Covid-19 emerged in bats and then jumped to humans, most likely through another animal, or “intermediary host”.

So far, scientists have not found a virus in either bats or another animal that matches the genetic make-up of Covid-19, casting doubt over the theory.

If, three months from now — 19 months after the outbreak of this pandemic — neither the original bat population, nor the intermediate species to which SARS2 might have jumped, has been identified, then we will know that the likelihood of the natural emergence theory is about nil.

“The community as a whole is far away from reaching anything that we could call even a halfway firm conclusion. The fact that many of the agencies involved have not reached a consensus even for a ‘low confidence’ judgment tells you they’re a long way away from anything conclusive.”

Paul Pillar — Former senior CIA official

VI — August 24 2021 — And the conclusion is…

Did you actually believe that the ‘redoubled’ effort would turn up any new revelations about the virus’s origin. Seriously?

The Biden administration is entirely defined by the previous administration. Their modus operandi is easily summarized.

“Since we cannot trust anything under Donald Trump, it undertakes an internal review that reissues the same decisions just to put a seal of authority on it.”

And so, after a few paragraphs of the unnecessary preamble, the US IC (August 24 2021) report states:

“In conclusion, we — the People of the Central Intelligence Agencyhave come to the conclusion that we do not have a conclusion.”

A people always ends by resembling its shadow… Go back to your hobbies. There is baseball on TV!

“The Biden administration has now studied the mountain of disturbing evidence that we were confronted with in the last few months of the Trump administration. It is jaw dropping. And as they have noted, a great deal more needs to be assessed.”

David Asher, who led a state department investigation into the origins of Covid. (May 31 2021)

VII — Reception and Political fallout

On May 26 2021, Biden finally gave credence to the obvious possibility that the virus had leaked from a lab — a notion widely slammed as a conspiracy theory when Donald Trump first made the claim.

The question is why? For sure, politics played its role as always. But Biden was also reacting to reality.

The recent Wall Street Journal story — regarding three Wuhan staff hospitalized in November 2019 — certainly got the attention of the president.

But the driving factor was the decision of prominent virologists to speak out.

“Even those of us working the issue inside the government were not well aware of how much scientific opinion was on our side because scientists were generally not speaking up, but you have had certain dams break over the past few months,” said Feith, referring to developments including the letter and the WHO investigation.

Let us make this very clear. Biden’s statement is highly unusual. Never before, a president has revealed how clueless US Intelligence agencies are.

Mathew Burrows, a former senior intelligence official, said he could not remember a president making such a statement, saying that they have historically not wanted to be viewed as trying to force a conclusion.

Did you really expect Joe Biden to admit that Trump had been right all along? Did you seriously expect Joe Biden to hand the presidency to Mike Pompeo?

“But these days the consensus doesn’t consense quite as well as it used to. Now the media is filled with disturbing stories suggesting that Covid might have come — not from “populism” at all, but from a laboratory screw-up in Wuhan, China. You can feel the moral convulsions beginning as the question sets in: What if science itself is in some way culpable for all this?”

If the Wuhan lab-leak hypothesis is true, expect a political earthquake –Thomas Frank

VIII — The Panda in the Room

The Chinese government’s lack of transparency and the restricted sharing of data have undoubtedly hindered the world intelligence community’s ability to thoroughly investigate the lab-leak theory. 

The Chinese government’s people are no idiots. Far from it. If they lie, there must be a very serious reason for their lies.

The wet-market has always been a red herring. The earliest known person with symptoms was later discovered to have fallen ill on December 1st 2019, and that person did not have visible connections with the later wet market cluster. [Note]

From January 10 to February 18 2020, China was celebrating the Lunar New Year Spring Festival. The 2020 Chinese New Year overlapped with university students’ winter break.

This event was without a doubt the largest annual human migration in the world, about 3 billion trips by the China’s government estimates.

So, let us summarize what we know.

This pandemic started near the Wuhan laborary, which is known to have collected the closest virus of Covid-19.

We also know that the Wuhan laboratory scientists experimented on this virus — thanks to money wired from the US almost certainly with a wink from the CIA — since at least 2016 in conditions that can only be described as totally inadequate.

From the outset, the virus was perfectly ready to attack human cells, something that never happened before.

And the breakout of the pandemic occurred at the best possible time for this virus to spread around the world before anyone could react.

And yet, no one knows anything about how it began…. The CIA does not know because the Chinese Intelligence did not know…

But the truth is obvious. A lone panda decided to make a statement. Bamboo!

Batman (Val Kilmer) — You have a thing for bats?

Psychiatrist (Nicole Kidman) — That is a Rorschach… A inkblot. People see what they want.

Batman Forever-The Rorschach test

“This may be the great scientific meta-experiment of the 21st century. Could a world full of scientists do all kinds of reckless recombinant things with viral diseases for many years and successfully avoid a serious outbreak? The hypothesis was that, yes, it was doable. The risk was worth taking. There would be no pandemic.” — Nicholson Baker

REFERENCES

Statement by President Joe Biden on the Investigation into the Origins of COVID-19 — May 26 2021

Covid origin: Why the Wuhan lab-leak theory is being taken seriously — BBC (May 28 2021)

New Covid-19 origination intelligence push aimed at elevating scientific analysis — CNN (May 29 2021)

How Biden came around to the Wuhan lab-leak theory — Financial Times (May 31 2021)

NOTES

Symptoms of three more laboratory-confirmed cases began on December 10 2019. These patients are known because they became hospitalized and thus sampled. Two of these three had no direct exposure to the Wuhan Seafood Wholesale Market.

=

The Origin of Covid-19 — The conclusion of the ODNI [August 24 2021]

The Origin of Covid-19 — The Definitive Conclusion of the U.S. Intelligence Community 90-days Investigation (August 24 2021) [UPDATE — US I.C. Review is Inconclusive]

The Origin of Covid-19 — The Definitive Conclusion of the U.S. Intelligence Community 90-days Investigation (August 24 2021) [UPDATE — ODNI summary of assessment on COVID-19 origins]

The Origin of Covid-19 — The Definitive Conclusion of the U.S. Intelligence Community 90-days Investigation (August 24 2021) [UPDATE — Bat vs Lab goes another Lap]

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