In a rare statement, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said Thursday that the US intelligence community “concurs with the wide scientific consensus” that the novel coronavirus was “not man-made or genetically modified.”
The ODNI said it would “continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence” to determine whether the outbreak first began through contact with infected animals – or whether it could have been “the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”
Earlier in the day, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released a statement saying that the US intelligence community “concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified.”
The rather vague statement comes on the same day a report in the New York Times suggested Trump administration figures are pressuring US intelligence to “hunt for evidence” that the virus came from a Chinese lab. The president has apparently sought to publicly shift the blame for the pandemic squarely onto Beijing in recent weeks, likely in an effort to redirect criticism of his administration’s handling of the US outbreak, ahead of the presidential election in November.
The US has become the worst-affected country from the pandemic, with over one million confirmed cases of the disease and more than 61,200 deaths nationwide.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said earlier this month that while it was not possible to determine the precise source, all available evidence suggests that it had its origin in animals. So far, this also appears to be the overriding theory among the world’s scientists.
US “will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan,” the ODNI added.
Trump scoffed at the statement when asked about it at the press event, but the ODNI is currently run by his confidant Ambassador Rick Grenell, pending the Senate confirmation of another ally, Congressman John Ratcliffe.
The US president has repeatedly blamed China for the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing that while Beijing locked down Wuhan and the surrounding province, it allowed Chinese nationals to travel abroad, spreading the virus.
The first recorded US cases were among the nationals evacuated from Wuhan in January, but the virus rapidly spread despite a national emergency declaration and draconian lockdowns. More than a million Americans have been infected as of this week, with more than 61,000 fatalities attributed to the virus.
Trump’s finger-pointing at China follows criticism from the Democrats, who have embraced the lockdowns but blame the president for both the deaths and the economic destruction the virus has wrought on the US, with more than 30 million Americans filing for unemployment so far.
CHINA FIRES BACK
Beijing has called on Washington to address the concerns of its own citizens about the US response to the Covid-19 pandemic, while condemning American politicians for shifting blame for the crisis squarely onto China’s shoulders.
Asked to comment on a series of American media reports on the US government’s slow and often inept response to the health crisis on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang relayed some of the questions raised by the reporting, asking whether Washington may have swept information about the virus under the rug.
“Recently there have been many voices in the United States that question and worry about whether the US government has responded to the epidemic in a timely and effective manner,” Geng said, adding that he hopes the US will soon address these questions.
The spokesman’s comments come as US officials and lawmakers step up a rhetorical assault on Beijing, with both major parties issuing talking points to members instructing them to shift public discussion about the virus to attacks on China. US President Donald Trump has also taken to slamming Beijing in recent weeks, increasingly accusing the country of “covering up” its coronavirus outbreak with help from the World Health Organization (WHO), while also refusing to dismiss rumors that the pathogen may have escaped from a Chinese laboratory.
Insisting that any effort to pin responsibility on his country would fail, Geng said both the US and China had been “victims” of the virus, dubbing it a “common enemy of mankind.”
“Why do some political forces in the United States always do everything possible to attack and discredit China through the epidemic situation?” the spokesman asked, adding later in the briefing that “some politicians are politically manipulating the origin of the virus to attack and discredit other countries, and their attempts will not succeed.”
As the blame game grinds on, the state of Missouri has moved ahead with a lawsuit against China – including national, provincial and city governments, among other Chinese entities – accusing the nation of “causing a global pandemic” and “enormous death, suffering, and economic losses,” seeking billions in restitution payments. Actually proving its far-reaching case is another matter, however, as no compelling evidence of a Chinese “cover-up” has yet emerged, while Beijing maintains it provided the international community with information on the virus as soon as it was available.