The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that the Energy Department has concluded with “low confidence” that the COVID-19 virus emerged from a laboratory in China.
The newspaper, citing a classified intelligence report, said the Energy Department’s new position adds to divisions within the intelligence community on what was behind the pandemic, which first appeared in Wuhan, China, in late 2019.
Here’s what to know about Energy’s new conclusion, as reported by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times:
‘New intelligence’ contributed to conclusion
The Energy Department’s judgment that a lab mishap was behind the COVID-19 outbreak was based on “new intelligence” and further study, according to the Journal’s reporting.
But some who read the undisclosed intelligence called it “weak,” according to The New York Times, which also reported on the determination. The Energy Department characterized its judgment as being made with “low confidence.”
Exactly what comprises the new intelligence isn’t yet known, but it was notably gathered by the Energy Department’s network of national laboratories, a different intel-gathering method than what was likely relied upon by the FBI, both newspapers reported.
The Energy Department’s conclusion is an update from its previously undecided position.
Energy now squares with FBI
The FBI has previously determined with “moderate confidence” that a lab leak caused the COVID outbreak, according to WSJ.
However, four other agencies and the National Intelligence Council believe with “low confidence” that the pandemic was sparked by natural transmission involving an infected animal, per the report.
Two other agencies, one of which was identified as the CIA, still haven’t drawn a conclusion.
There is agreement across the government that the virus wasn’t the product of a biological weapons program in China — a conspiracy theory that has sometimes been conflated with concerns about a lab leak.
The classified intelligence report cited by The Wall Street Journal was reportedly provided to some congressional lawmakers and the White House.
The position change is noted in a recent update to a 2021 document by Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, per the Journal.
White House still says no ‘definitive answer’
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Sunday responded to the WSJ report, saying the intelligence community hasn’t come up with a “definitive answer” on the question.
“There is a variety of views in the intelligence community. Some elements of the intelligence community have reached conclusions on one side, some on the other. A number of them have said they just don’t have enough information to be sure,” Sullivan said.
“Here’s what I can tell you. President Biden has directed, repeatedly, every element of our intelligence community to put effort and resources behind getting to the bottom of this question … But, right now, there is not a definitive answer that has emerged from the intelligence community on this question.”
GOP calls for action against China
A number of GOP lawmakers quickly jumped on the WSJ report to call for action against the Chinese Communist Party. Others said it proved that suspicions of a lab leak were correct.
“The left spent the past 2yrs trying to censor the truth & cover up for Communist China, but the facts are undeniable,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) tweeted. “The CCP is evil. Its virus killed millions & Xi will stop at nothing to destroy the U.S. It’s time to hold this evil regime accountable.”
Asked whether there should be consequences for Beijing if the U.S. definitively determines a lab leak caused the pandemic, Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) on Sunday said there need to be more public hearings on the matter.
“Look, this is a country that has no problem coming out and lying to the world … I think that we need to make sure every country knows that, and then look at what the consequences could be,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Obviously, millions of deaths, huge economic impacts, and it would once again show that the Chinese Communist Party is not only a menace, but the nature of these regimes is to lie to the world,” the senator said.