The Pressure Builds to Declassify Information on COVID-19’s Origins
A bill could soon be headed to the president’s desk to compel declassification.
Pressure is mounting for the Biden administration to declassify information related to the origins of COVID-19, a subject that has been a source of political tension and conspiracy theories and divided experts and government officials.
The Senate passed a bill last week by unanimous consent to require the director of national intelligence to declassify information related to the origins of COVID-19, including any potential links to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The Wall Street Journal reported on February 26 that the Energy Department now says the pandemic most likely started from a lab leak. The FBI previously reached the same conclusion with “moderate confidence.” Meanwhile, four other agencies and the National Intelligence Council still believe COVID-19 is the result of natural transmission and two others are undecided, according to the report.
Reps. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., chairman of the Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, introduced companion bills Friday, and the House is scheduled to vote on Friday on the legislation.
When asked about passage of the Senate bill, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean Pierre said she needed to connect with the National Security Council to be able to speak more on it.
“It’s been three years since COVID-19 upended our lives and we’re still asking basic questions about the origins of this virus. That’s unacceptable,” Gallagher said in a statement. “We should not continue to waste precious time waiting for the Chinese Communist Party to suddenly cooperate with U.S. officials and open up access to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. It’s time for Congress to act and force the administration to declassify the relevant intelligence surrounding the pandemic.”
A spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment on the various pieces of legislation.
“Right after taking office, the president declassified and had made public the DNI’s initial findings here about the source of COVID,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said on Thursday. Also, “the intelligence community continues to assess the origins of COVID…Right now, there's just no consensus.”
Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday said the United States has little information on COVID-19’s origins because of obfuscation from the Chinese government, a sentiment many lawmakers share. “We have so few facts that inevitably different agencies are going to arrive at different conclusions,” he continued. “And when an agency slightly adjusts its interpretation as the Department of Energy may have done, that doesn't mean that all of a sudden the government has a firm view. It may be forever before we actually know exactly what happened.”
The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic will have its first hearing on the origins of COVID on Wednesday. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under the Trump administration, is scheduled to testify. So far, no current government officials are listed.
Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, chairman of the pandemic subcommittee and member of the intelligence committee, said on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday “there may come a time” for FBI and Energy Department officials to testify before the COVID committee. “I would hope that they do it willingly.”