(CNSNews.com) – Eight Republican senators are pressing Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to make available detailed information on the individual intelligence agencies’ assessments on the origins of COVID-19, contending that the intelligence community has not been transparent on an issue of enormous public importance.
“The COVID-19 origins investigation has been obfuscated by the Chinese Communist government’s lack of cooperation,” the senators wrote to Haines. “We and the American public expect better behavior from our own government.”
The letter follows FBI Director Christopher Wray’s first public confirmation that the agency he leads believes the most likely origin of the pandemic was “a potential lab incident in Wuhan,” the Chinese city where the outbreak was first detected in late 2019.
Wray made the disclosure after the Wall Street Journal reported that one of the other agencies tasked by President Biden to investigate the origins of COVID-19, the Department of Energy, had shifted from being undecided on the issue to assessing that an accidental leak from a Wuhan lab was the most likely cause.
Until now, all that most Americans have had to go on was an unclassified summary issued by Haines’ Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in the summer of 2021, stating that the intelligence community “remains divided” between the “lab-leak” hypothesis, and the theory of natural animal-to-human transmission.
The brief summary, which came after a 90-day Intelligence Community (IC) assignment ordered by Biden, did not identify which agencies held what view on the matter.
It said only that the National Intelligence Council and four agencies supported the natural transmission origin (with “low confidence”), one agency favored the lab-leak theory (with “moderate confidence”), and three others remained undecided.
That lack of detail is among the concerns aired by Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kansas) and his colleagues in their letter to Haines.
“The ODNI has failed to be transparent with Congress and the American people by standardizing agency conclusions and thereby ignoring the breadth of scientific and other expertise in each agency,” they wrote.
“[D]id ODNI assign equal weight to IC assessments or did ODNI weigh assessments accordingly when considering the unique expertise in the Federal Bureau of Investigation as both an investigative and intelligence agency, which employs law enforcement special agents and bioforensic scientists, among other experts[?]”
Joining Marshall, a physician, in signing the letter were GOP Sens. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Mike Braun (Ind.), Susan Collins (Me.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Rick Scott (Fla.), and Roger Wicker (Miss.)
The senators asked Haines to provide – by March 20 – detailed information of each agency’s individual assessment, to enable Congress “to review the independent evaluations without filters, ambiguity or interpretations.”
They asked for descriptions of the credentials and expertise of the individuals involved in the ODNI’s synthesis of the agencies’ assessments, including consultants, contractors, and political appointees.
The senators also requested information on how input from non-intelligence agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was obtained and included in the analysis.
“It is time for the administration to declassify the assessments, make the information available to the public, and start rebuilding the public’s trust through transparency.”
The Senate last week passed by unanimous consent a bill requiring the ODNI to “declassify all information relating to potential links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origin of COVID-19.”
‘All hypotheses … remain on the table’
The news of the DOE and FBI assessments has stoked fresh interest in long-simmering questions about the source of the coronavirus outbreak that became a once-in-a century pandemic, blamed for more than 6.87 million deaths – including more than 1.12 million American deaths – and gigantic costs to the global economy.
China has throughout denied the lab-leak possibility, describing it as “a false claim concocted by anti-China forces for political purposes.”
It regularly points to the conclusions of a World Health Organization (WHO)-convened expert team which after visiting Wuhan said in early 2021 that a lab origin was “extremely unlikely.”
The WHO later set up a Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) to continue the investigations, although China has effectively refused to cooperate.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday the agency has not abandoned plans to identify the source of the pandemic, and that “all hypotheses on the origins of the virus remain on the table.”
“WHO continues to call for China to be transparent in sharing data and to conduct the necessary investigations and share the results,” he told reporters in Geneva, adding that he had communicated with “high-level Chinese leaders on multiple occasions, as recently as just a few weeks ago.”
Tedros also voiced concern that what he called “the continued politicization of the origins research has turned what should be a purely scientific process into a geopolitical football, which only makes the task of identifying the origins more difficult, and that makes the world less safe.”
China’s foreign ministry on Monday repeated its talking points on the issue:
--China has cooperated “since day one” and has “shared more data and research findings than any other country.”
--The U.S. has ignored the “science-based conclusions” of the WHO expert group that visited in early 2021 and keeps “pressurizing WHO into repeatedly demanding origins-tracing in China.”
--The U.S. has been spreading “myths” like the lab-leak theory with no supporting evidence.
--The U.S. has never invited WHO experts to visit its own military biolabs, but “turned a blind eye to the world’s concerns.”
“We hope the WHO secretariat will take a science-based, objective and just position, not let politicization get in the way, and carry out the origins-tracing study in the U.S., among other countries,” said ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning.