A committee of the US House of Representatives released two completely different reports today assessing the performance of US intelligence agencies in the early part of the pandemic. While neither offers much new information, one focuses on how agencies tracked the early days of the outbreak in Wuhan, China, while the other focuses on the contentious debate surrounding the origin of the pandemic coronavirus.
The report, released by the Democratic majority, states that the various branches of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Intelligence, known as the Intelligence Community (IC) SARS-CoV-2. In a summary of the report, President Adam Schiff (D-CA) praises the little-known unit of the Department of Defense, the National Center for Medical Intelligence, for its “admirable work” that sounded early alarms.
But Schiff claims that the IC “as a whole is not spinning fast enough to train its unique entities on this deadly set of problems.” The report also concludes that former President Donald Trump did not properly respond to increasingly loud warnings in January and February 2020, despite the president’s claims that the IC was “talking about the Virus.” [sic] in a non-threatening way, or indeed, in a way.
Thomas Bollyky, an attorney who runs the global health program at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the report is “important for diagnosing how the United States can be better next time.” “Amid the recent flood of governmental and non-governmental post-COVID reports, this report does something different: It provides a focused description and assessment of the intelligence community’s role in identifying and responding specifically to these and future biological threats.”
Democrats avoided the focus of the Republicans’ report, the source of the epidemic. The report outlines a confidential document that House minority members hope will be made public at the next Congress. (Republicans will take over the House next month, but Democrats will hold a majority in the Senate.) The report supports the idea that the outbreak originated from a lab in Wuhan that specializes in studying bat coronaviruses. The report also suggests that SARS-CoV-2 did not arise naturally, but instead was bioengineered. “The committee has reason to believe that the IC has downplayed the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 is linked to China’s biological weapons program, based in part on input from outside experts,” write its authors.
But this contradicts the declassified version of an assessment of origin scenarios conducted by the IC at the behest of President Joe Biden. The report, published in August 2021, concluded that “the virus was not developed as a biological weapon.”
Gigi Kwik Gronvall, a biosecurity researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, says the minority report is “highly motivated by politics” and none of its details contradict the growing evidence that the virus first appeared in a Wuhan market and possibly sold infected. animals. “The focus on bioweapons is mind-blowing,” Gronvall says.
The majority and minority report have some things in common: Both cover largely familiar areas and rely heavily on media reports, and both complain that IC leaders are not responding to some of their requests.
But their key findings differ significantly. Here are a few key points from each:
The majority report accuses the IC of not taking viral threats seriously enough, noting that a former official at the National Security Council told the committee “the steady drumming of viral threats” “doesn’t qualify as a tough national security issue for tough guys.” The report says that public health organizations and the IC “often have no natural collaborators.” And he highlights a “highly flawed policy process” in the way the IC communicated with the White House in the early days of the pandemic.
The minority report criticizes the IC’s origin assessment for not paying enough attention to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and its biological weapons program. It highlights a book published by the PLA’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences, The Unnatural Origin of SARS and New Artificially Humanized Virus Species as Genetic Weapons, emphasizing that the IC evaluation does not refer to this. The report also cites an article published in October. ProPublica and Show Fair this lab supports the leak theory. This article was linked to the publication of another minority report from a bipartisan Senate health committee investigating the origin of the epidemic. This story has been harshly criticized for containing factual errors and controversial translations of Chinese documents allegedly involving a biosecurity incident at the Wuhan lab in November 2019. ProPublicaThe editor published a defense of the story a month later, but critics claim it has serious flaws.
Representatives James Comer (R-KY) and James Jordan (R-OH) said yesterday they plan to step up the House Oversight Committee’s ongoing efforts to investigate the origin of the outbreak. “Increasing evidence suggests that COVID-19 likely originated in the Wuhan Laboratory and that the Chinese Communist Party was covering it up,” they claimed. They added that they identified 40 scientists and public health officials that the panel plans to interview next year when Parliament changes party control.