Lab leak ‘most likely’ led to Covid pandemic, FBI director says

Christopher Wray publicly discusses FBI’s classified assessment on pandemic origins for first time

Namita Singh
Wednesday 01 March 2023 15:26 GMT
Lab leak likely origin of Covid-19, US Department of Energy says

FBI director Christopher Wray has said a laboratory leak in Wuhan, China, was “most likely” behind the Covid pandemic.

This is the first time Mr Wray has publicly discussed the agency’s classified assessment of the pandemic’s origins.

There has been much speculation about the origins of the coronavirus ever since it was first detected in 2019. The most prominent theories have been that the virus had either jumped to humans from animals or had spread as the result of an unintended lab leak.

The latter theory has proved to be controversial as China has denied it and blamed the US for politicising the issue and has been met with accusations of not being transparent with international agencies seeking to investigate the origins of the virus.

“The FBI has for quite some time now assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan,” Mr Wray said in comments to Fox News on Tuesday.

“Here you are talking about a potential leak from a Chinese government-controlled lab,” he said.

“I will just make the observation that the Chinese government, it seems to me, has been doing its best to try to thwart and obfuscate the work here. The work that we’re doing, the work that our US government and close foreign partners are doing. And that’s unfortunate for everybody,” he said.

Mr Wray said he couldn’t share details of the agency’s assessment because they were classified.

His comments followed a Wall Street Journal report on Sunday that said the FBI had concluded in 2021 with “moderate confidence” that the pandemic was likely the result of an unintended lab leak and still holds this view.

The US Energy Department also had a “low confidence” assessment that the pandemic occurred after an accidental lab leak in China, the report said.

Meanwhile, four other agencies, along with a national intelligence panel, still judge that the pandemic was likely the result of a natural transmission, while two are undecided, the report added.

The four agencies were not identified by officials.

The report said the CIA and another unidentified agency were undecided between the lab leak and natural transmission theories.

The FBI and Energy Department’s assessments have been shared with the White House and some lawmakers.

Earlier on Monday, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the US government had not reached a definitive conclusion and consensus on the pandemic’s origins.

The comments came as the US envoy to China demanded Beijing be “more honest” about the origins of Covid for the two nations to be able to work together.

Speaking at a US Chamber of Commerce event on Monday, Nicholas Burns said the country needs to “be more honest about what happened three years ago in Wuhan with the origin of the Covid-19 crisis”.

China’s foreign ministry pushed back saying Beijing had been “open and transparent” in the search for the origins.

The country had “shared the most data and research results on virus tracing and made important contributions to global virus tracing research,” foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning Mao told reporters at a daily briefing.

“Politicising the issue of virus tracing will not smear China but will only damage the US’s own credibility,” Mr Mao said.

The call for honesty and China’s defence have come amid continued tension between the US and China after the former shot down an alleged Chinese “spy” balloon earlier this month.

Additional reporting from agencies

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