Biden says he will release the results of an inquiry into the virus’ origin.
President Biden said Thursday he expected to release the results of an intelligence report on the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, even as administration officials said the inquiry was likely to extend beyond the initial 90-day deadline.
Mr. Biden on Wednesday announced that he had ordered the intelligence community to undertake a renewed examination of where the coronavirus came from and said that some intelligence agencies believe it was most likely created naturally, while at least one other favored the theory that it leaked accidentally from a lab in China.
Just before boarding Air Force One for a trip to Ohio, Mr. Biden was asked whether he planned to release the intelligence report on the origins of the coronavirus. “Yes,” Mr. Biden told reporters, “unless there’s something I’m unaware of.”
In a statement on Thursday, Amanda J. Schoch, the spokeswoman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said the intelligence agencies had come together around the two likely scenarios, but there are so far no high-confidence assessments of the virus’ origins.
“The U.S. intelligence community does not know exactly where, when, or how the Covid-19 virus was transmitted initially,” Ms. Schoch said.
While 18 agencies make up the intelligence community, only a handful have been major players in assessing the likely origin of the virus.
Most of the broader intelligence community, including the C.I.A. and the Defense Intelligence Agency, believe there is not yet sufficient information to draw a conclusion, even with low confidence, about the origins.
“The I.C. continues to examine all available evidence, consider different perspectives, and aggressively collect and analyze new information to identify the virus’s origins,” Ms. Schoch said.
Mr. Biden set a 90-day timeline for a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Avril B. Haines. While her office will deliver a report by the deadline, officials said work is likely to continue after that three-month time period.
Some intelligence officials say it is scientists, not spies or analysts, who are likely to draw definitive conclusions on the origins of the virus. Collecting information from China and working with intelligence partners could help that scientific effort, but it is unlikely to uncover some sort of smoking gun.
So far, according to three officials, there has been no intercepted Chinese communications that provide any strong evidence of a lab leak. Collecting so-called signals intelligence — electronic communications or phone calls — is notoriously difficult in China.
The effort to uncover the origins of the coronavirus began more than a year ago during the Trump administration. But some officials were wary of President Donald J. Trump’s motives, arguing that his interest in the origins of the pandemic was either to deflect blame from his administration’s handling of the epidemic or to punish China.
Current officials say the central goal of the new intelligence push is improve preparations for future pandemics. Mr. Biden’s message on Wednesday was calibrated to try not to close the door on future cooperation with China.
White House frustration with China has risen after its announcement this week that Beijing would not participate in additional investigations by the World Health Organization. But the Biden administration is not trying to isolate China, and instead trying to walk a careful line between pressuring Beijing to cooperate and demonstrate that in the absence of that cooperation the United States will intensify its own investigation.
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