The Biden administration terminated a State Department-led investigation into whether the coronavirus might have escaped from a Wuhan lab.
In detail: The State Department’s arms control and verification bureau began investigated the lab leak theory in the fall of 2020 and whether it was linked to the Chinese military, CNN first reported.
Sources said the effort was meant to determine if China’s biological weapons program played a role in the pandemic.
Officials who took part in the investigation claimed they looked at publicly available and classified data to probe the lab leak theory but also if the biological weapons program is tied to the virus.
Why did they close it down? The administration shut it down after officials saw the draft findings earlier this year in February and March, according to a spokesperson for the State Department. They reportedly concluded that based on the data provided by the research team, there is not enough information prepared by the team led by then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to support claims of a connection between the Chinese military and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The administration believed that some of the data gathered by the team at the State Department were included to bolster claims that the virus came from a lab in China. They eventually decided that the probe is not worth the resources and ended it, a source familiar with the decision-making process explained.
Worth noting: At one point, before the probe was closed, senior officials at the department who were not involved in the investigation demanded an outside group to look at the findings. The scientists discovered that the evidence was “inconclusive and misguided,” sources told CNN.
Opponents of the probe claimed that those who were part of it largely hid the investigation and their findings from the rest of the department.
“The way they did their work was suspicious as hell,” said one former official at the department with the effort. “They basically conducted it in secret, cutting out the State Department’s technical experts and the Intelligence Community, and then trying to brief certain senior officials in the interagency on their ‘tentative conclusions’ even before they’d let the department leaders they worked for know an investigation was underway at all.”
“It smelled like they were just fishing to justify pre-determined conclusions and cut out experts who could critique their ‘science,'” the official continued. “The reason for all this became clear when real scientists finally got a chance to see their analysis, and [the inquiry’s] ‘statistical’ case fell apart.”
Proponents argued that the investigation was justified because a potential link between the pandemic and the military has not been disproven. They also pointed to the State Department’s assessment of countries’ compliance with arms control treaties, sources said.
“Our scientific consulting process involved dissenting perspectives on purpose. It was a meeting with deliberative disagreement,” said an individual who took part in the probe.
“There was a total misunderstanding of the entire process. We used experts and one specific team of experts but there was no consensus in the IC. The IC was saying this is a public health issue and this has nothing to do with biological weapons. Well, we said, how do we know that?” another former official said.
How we got here: The news about the existence of the probe comes shortly after a U.S. report found that three researchers at the Wuhan lab got sick before the first reported case of coronavirus in Wuhan. They had Covid-like symptoms and even required hospitalization.
China denied that the workers had the virus.
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