WASHINGTON – President Biden’s call for a 90-day sprint to understand the origins of the coronavirus pandemic came after intelligence officials told the White House they had a series of as yet unexamined evidence that required additional computer analyzes that could shed light on the mystery. to senior administration officials.
Officials declined to describe the new evidence. But the revelation that they hope to apply an extraordinary amount of computing power to the question of whether the virus was accidentally leaked from a Chinese lab suggests the government may not have exhausted its Chinese communications databases, the workers’ movement of the laboratory and the pattern. of the outbreak of the disease in Wuhan City.
In addition to gathering scientific resources, Mr. Biden’s drive is intended to encourage U.S. allies and intelligence agencies to undermine existing information (such as interceptions, witnesses, or biological evidence), as well as to search new intelligence to determine whether the Chinese government covered up a leak accident.
Biden pledged Thursday to make the results of the review public, but added a warning: “unless there is something unknown.”
His call to study has both national and international political ramifications. He motivated his critics to argue that the president had rejected the possibility of the lab being the source until the Chinese government this week rejected the possibility of further research by the World Health Organization. And, according to administration officials, the White House hopes that the American allies will contribute more strongly to a serious exploration of a theory that, until now, they considered unlikely and, in the worst case, a conspiracy theory.
So far, the effort to gather evidence of intercepted communications in China, a remarkably difficult target to penetrate, has yielded little. Current and former intelligence officials say they firmly doubt anyone will find an email, text message or document showing evidence of a lab accident.
An Allied nation reported that three workers at the Wuhan Virology Laboratory were hospitalized with severe symptoms in the fall of 2019. Information about sick workers is considered important, but officials warned it was not evidence that it had captured the virus. in the lab: maybe they took him there.
The White House hopes allies and partners will be able to leverage its human source networks to find additional information about what happened inside the lab. Although the United States has rebuilt its own sources in China, it has not yet fully recovered from the elimination of its network in the country a decade ago. As a result, getting allies to put pressure on their informants about what happened at the Wuhan Institute of Virology will be a key part of intelligence.
The investigation has not reached a dead end, a senior Biden administration official said. Officials do not describe the type of computational analysis they want to do.
Administration and intelligence officials say the job of scientists and spies will be both to try to unravel how the pandemic unfolded. The Biden administration has been working to improve its scientific experience in the National Intelligence Council. Senior officials have informed intelligence agencies that their science-oriented divisions, which have been working on the issue for months, will play a prominent role in the revitalized investigation.
The new research will also take advantage of national laboratories and other federal government scientific resources that had not previously been directly involved in the intelligence effort, the senior administration official said.
Mr Biden’s announcement that he would require a report from the intelligence community had elements of display. As for domestic politics, he tries to take the lead on an issue that Republicans have focused on for a long time. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who has long argued that the coronavirus may have accidentally emerged from Wuhan’s lab, said Mr. Biden’s order was “better late than never, but far from adequate.”
And on an international front, Mr. Biden called on Chinese recalcitrance to cooperate in investigations both to pressure Beijing to reverse course, but also to push allies to focus their own intelligence efforts on examining the theory that the coronavirus may have been accidentally leaked from the laboratory.
Like scientists and the general public, the intelligence community remains uncertain about the origins of the coronavirus. No definitive intelligence has emerged and some current and former officials expressed caution that much more can be gathered in 90 days. While the Office of the Director of National Intelligence will deliver a report before the end of the summer, the investigation is likely to need to be expanded.
On Wednesday, General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told reporters that he had not seen any conclusive evidence on the cause of the pandemic, but supported the effort to dig deeper. “The amount of death, pain and suffering experienced in this pandemic is enormous,” he said. “We need to know the origin, how this happened.”
The effort to discover the origins of the coronavirus began more than a year ago, during the Trump administration. But some officials distrusted President Donald J. Trump’s motives, arguing that his interest in the origins of the pandemic was either to divert guilt from government management by her or to punish China.
Current officials say the central goal of the new intelligence boost is to improve preparations for future pandemics. As a result, Biden’s message this week was calibrated to leave open the possibility of future cooperation with China.
The White House’s frustration with China has increased following this week’s announcement that Beijing would not participate in additional World Health Organization investigations. A Biden administration official said that if the new investigation did not respond, it would be because China had not been transparent.
But the administration is not trying to isolate China, but is trying to follow a careful line between pressuring Beijing to cooperate and showing that, in its absence, the United States will intensify its own investigation.
Administration officials also believe that the new research and Chinese obstruction of the World Health Organization will create the opportunity for intensified intelligence cooperation with allies.
An ally said the Allies have provided information since the beginning of the pandemic. But some, including the British intelligence services, have been skeptical about laboratory leak theory. Others, including Australia, have been more open.
As members of the so-called Five Eyes association, Britain and Australia already share general information with the United States. But the new intelligence review, coupled with growing frustration over China’s lack of cooperation with the World Health Organization, could prompt allies to focus more on the issue of laboratory leakage.
A British official declined to comment. The Australian government’s request for comment was not returned immediately.
In his announcement Wednesday, Mr Biden said two intelligence agencies believed the virus was likely to occur naturally, while at least one other was in favor of the theory that it was accidentally leaked from a laboratory of China. No president had much confidence in his assessments.
In a statement Thursday, Amanda J. Schoch, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said intelligence agencies had teamed up around the two likely scenarios, but so far there were no highly reliable assessments of the origins of the virus. .
“The U.S. intelligence community doesn’t know exactly where, when or how the Covid-19 virus was initially transmitted,” Ms. Schoch.
Although 18 agencies make up the intelligence community, only a handful have been the main actors in assessing the likely origins of the virus. Most of the wider intelligence community, including the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, believe that there is still not enough information to draw a conclusion, even with little confidence, about the origins.
The intelligence community “continues to examine all available evidence, consider different perspectives, and aggressively collect and analyze new information to identify the origins of the virus,” Ms. Schoch.
Eric Schmitt contributed to the reports.