President Biden signed a bill Monday that requires the director of national intelligence to declassify information about the origins of the coronavirus and potential links to a lab in central China.
Mr. Biden said he was “pleased” to sign the bill, which breezed through Congress with zero dissenting votes. The proposal aims to shed light on the U.S. government’s struggle in discovering whether the virus that causes COVID-19 slipped from the animal kingdom or leaked from the lab.
“My administration will continue to review all classified information relating to COVID–19’s origins, including potential links to the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” Mr. Biden said. “In implementing this legislation, my administration will declassify and share as much of that information as possible, consistent with my constitutional authority to protect against the disclosure of information that would harm national security.”
Under the bill, intelligence officials are not required to release information that could compromise sources or methods.
Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, authored the COVID-19 Origin Act of 2023 to give the public more insight into the search for the origins of the virus, which killed nearly 7 million people worldwide.
The bill requires Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to declassify and report to Congress within 90 days on possible ties between the virus and the lab in Wuhan, the large metropolis where the pandemic began.
The virus was initially blamed on a wet market in Wuhan.
But the lab-leak theory, which was initially called disinformation by the political left in the U.S. and censored on social media accordingly, gained credence late in the Trump administration and was bolstered by evidence that some workers at the Wuhan lab were hospitalized for flu-like illness before the virus exploded across the city.
The government and outside experts have struggled to come to a firm conclusion, citing, among other things, the lack of cooperation from Beijing.
The Department of Energy recently shifted its position, saying it now concluded with “low confidence” that the coronavirus pandemic most likely resulted from a laboratory leak in China.
Earlier, the FBI concluded with moderate confidence that a lab leak was responsible for the virus’ spread, while other U.S. intelligence agencies have determined with low confidence the virus emerged from natural channels, according to a review that Mr. Biden ordered in 2021.
Mr. Biden on Monday said he intends to keep digging.
“In 2021, I directed the Intelligence Community to use every tool at its disposal to investigate the origin of COVID-19, and that work is ongoing,” he said. “We need to get to the bottom of COVID-19’s origins to help ensure we can better prevent future pandemics.”
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.
• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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