COVID-19 likely emerged from laboratory leak, US Energy Department says

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According to a recently updated classified intelligence study, the U.S. Department of Energy has now concluded that a laboratory leak in China most likely caused the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department of Energy stated in the intelligence report that it had "low confidence" that the virus likely spread due to a mishap at a laboratory, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday. The classified intelligence report was provided to the White House and members of Congress.

The analysis widens the gap in opinion inside the U.S. government on whether the COVID-19 pandemic started in China in 2019 as a result of an accidental lab leak or whether it occurred naturally.

The Department of Energy, which was previously undecided on a cause, now aligns with the FBI, which has "moderate confidence" about the lab leak. Meanwhile, four other agencies and the National Intelligence Council think the virus originated through natural transmission from an infected animal, while two other agencies are undecided, according to the WSJ.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN that the intelligence community, comprised of 18 government agencies and organizations, remains divided on the matter.

"Right now, there is not a definitive answer that has emerged from the intelligence community on this question," Sullivan said. "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 added that President Joe Biden has "directed, repeatedly, every element of our intelligence community to put effort and resources behind getting to the bottom of this question."

The intelligence community has noted that a lack of cooperation from Beijing has made it difficult to get to the bottom of the question, CNN reported. The Chinese government has continuously denied that COVID-19 could have come from one of its labs in Wuhan.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Monday at a regular press briefing in Beijing that "origins tracing of COVID-19 is a science matter and shouldn't be politicized," per Bloomberg.

"The conclusion that a lab leak is highly unlikely is a science-based and authoritative conclusion reached by the joint China-WHO mission," Ning said. "It is faithfully reflected in their report, and has been recognized by the world and the science community."

Officials around the world have been working to determine where COVID-19 came from to both hold any responsible parties to account and to understand its inception in order to prevent the next pandemic, ABC News reported.

The National Intelligence Council has said it would be unable to provide a more definitive explanation for the origin of COVID-19 unless new information allows them to "determine the specific pathway for initial natural contact with an animal or to determine that a laboratory in Wuhan was handling SARS-CoV-2 or a close progenitor virus before COVID-19 emerged."

"The [intelligence community] -- and the global scientific community -- lacks clinical samples or a complete understanding of epidemiological data from the earliest COVID-19 cases," the council said in a report. "If we obtain information on the earliest cases that identified a location of interest or occupational exposure, it may alter our evaluation of hypotheses."

The intelligence community has said that it does not believe COVID-19 was genetically engineered or developed by China as a biological weapon.

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