‘Not Sufficient’: Republicans Blast Biden Admin COVID Origins Report for Hiding Intelligence
A mandatory intelligence report released Friday on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic failed to comply with the law that required it, argued Republican lawmakers. Despite President Biden’s avowed “goal of releasing as much information as possible,” the 10-page document declassified by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) contained only “conclusions by the intelligence community,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) alleged on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.” “We want the intelligence released, not their opinion about the intelligence.”
The ODNI report “outlines the IC’s [intelligence community] understanding of the WIV, its capabilities, and the actions of its personnel leading up to and in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“We passed a law saying, ‘declassify the information you have about the COVID and Wuhan lab’s activities.’ What they did is basically … a paper on what they believe about the intelligence they’ve looked at,” Turner explained. “This is not sufficient, and this is going to set up a battle between the Congress and Director of National Intelligence [DNI].”
In March, the COVID-19 Origin Act of 2023 (S.619) unanimously passed both chambers of Congress, and President Biden signed it into law on March 20.
The act gave the DNI 90 days to “declassify any and all information relating to potential links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origin of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)” and “submit to Congress an unclassified report that contains (A) all of the information … and (B) only such redactions as the Director determines necessary to protect sources and methods.”
In particular, the act required the ODNI report to include:
- “activities performed by the Wuhan Institute of Virology [WIV] with or on behalf of the People's Liberation Army [PLA];
- “coronavirus research or other related activities performed at the Wuhan Institute of Virology prior to the outbreak of COVID-19; and
- “researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology who fell ill in autumn 2019, including for any such researcher--
- “the researcher’s name;
- “the researcher’s symptoms;
- “the date of the onset of the researcher’s symptoms;
- “the researcher’s role at the Wuhan Institute of Virology;
- “whether the researcher was involved with or exposed to coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology;
- “whether the researcher visited a hospital while they were ill; and
- “a description of any other actions taken by the researcher that may suggest they were experiencing a serious illness at the time.”
Indeed, the ODNI report devoted a section to each of these topics (ranging from one paragraph to one-and-a-half pages in length). Regarding WIV’s collaboration with the PLA, it stated, “information available to the IC indicates that some of the research conducted by the PLA and WIV included work with several viruses, including coronaviruses, but no known viruses that could plausibly be a progenitor of SARS-CoV-2.” It did not itemize the projects.
Regarding WIV’s coronavirus research, the report stated, “we continue to have no indication that the WIV’s pre-pandemic research holdings included SARSCoV-2 or a close progenitor, nor any direct evidence that a specific research-related incident occurred involving WIV personnel before the pandemic that could have caused the COVID pandemic.” It did not list the research activities.
Regarding ill researchers, the report stated, “several WIV researchers were ill in Fall 2019 with symptoms; some of their symptoms were consistent with but not diagnostic of COVID-19. The IC continues to assess that this information neither supports nor refutes either hypothesis of the pandemic’s origins.” It did not name the researchers, their symptoms, their dates of symptoms, their roles, their exposure to coronavirus research, their hospital visits, or describe their other actions.
Additionally, the unclassified ODNI report stated that, “a classified annex to this report includes information that was necessary to exclude from the unclassified portion of this report in order to protect sources and methods.”
“Even releasing a classified annex goes against what the law says,” responded Turner. “Giving my committee more intelligence doesn’t give it to the public. And that’s what [the] declassification law was about.”
The ODNI report also missed the deadline required by the law. The act took effect on March 20, which set the 90-day deadline for June 18. When that deadline came and went with no report, Republicans were not pleased. “It’s not a request. It’s not, ‘please.’ It is the law. They have to declassify the information and they have to give a full report,” said Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who sponsored the legislation. “Biden cannot continue to ignore this overwhelming bipartisan consensus,” agreed Select Committee on China Chairman Rep. Mike Gallagher. “Congress must use every tool at its disposal to enforce this law and ensure the president makes this information available to the public.”
Senator Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) saw the noncompliance as one more item in an ongoing pattern. “As we’ve seen nearly every step of the way while trying to uncover the origins of COVID-19 virus, the Biden Administration has failed to be transparent with the American people and members of Congress,” he said. “Today’s release of the declassified documents is late and does not provide the full picture of what our intelligence agencies know.”
The deadline did not sneak up on the administration unawares. Senators Hawley and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) wrote to Biden on June 14, reminding him of the legal requirement for “the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to ‘declassify any and all information’ relating to links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origin of COVID-19.” They also reminded him that the “deadline, June 18, 2023, is fast approaching. Your Administration has not yet provided any indication of when the relevant material will be declassified.”
The Biden administration’s alleged reluctance to comply with the COVID-19 Origin Act contrasts with the statement Biden issued upon signing it. Biden said he was “pleased” to sign the law, saying, “I share the Congress’s goal of releasing as much information as possible about the origin of Coronavirus Disease 2019.” He added that, “we need to get to the bottom of COVID-19’s origins to help ensure we can better prevent future pandemics.” Biden promised that his administration would “declassify and share as much of that information as possible.”
Rep. Greg Murphy (R-N.C.) was not convinced by Biden’s rhetoric. “He got forced to sign it, really,” Murphy said on “Washington Watch,” an apparent reference to the law’s unanimous passage.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins also said the ODNI failed to comply with the law. “Rather than releasing the actual intelligence which the law called for, the office merely released their opinion about the intelligence,” said Perkins. “It’s more of a summary of what they think the intelligence is as opposed to what the intelligence actually was.”
The administration’s foot-dragging noncompliance likely undermines the purpose of the declassification law, which was to satisfy public suspicions and restore trust in government institutions. “I’m a physician. I still practice. I hear these things, ‘well, we don’t trust the government anymore,’” said Murphy.
Murphy blamed the public’s inflamed suspicions on Dr. Anthony Fauci’s authoritarian-style censorship. “The eyes have been squarely on Fauci, on the Wuhan Institute, from Day One — despite all their other stories to make you look elsewhere,” he said. “One thing that really disappeared during COVID is the fact that, you know, physicians and scientists can have differing opinions. But, since Fauci took it over on about Day Five, … It was basically one person and one opinion telling you what, quote, ‘science’ was — in that famous interview, that he was science.”
All throughout the pandemic, “we saw the silencing of differing opinions, said Murphy, and that has continued to be “the case during this entire administration. We saw it with Biden and the IRS and everything else last week.” He added, “I’m sure there were differing opinions with this. But whenever they would come out with a report, it would be a consensus. … That’s what we’re finding out with so many agencies now, not only, you know, in our government, but other watchdog agencies.”
The censorship was not merely internal, Perkins noted. In 2020, if anyone was bold enough to suggest that a lab leak was the most probably explanation for COVID-19, “they were censored by social media” and labeled “conspiracy theorists.” But now the lab leak theory is looking increasingly likely, and more government agencies and media organizations are embracing it. “In my mind, it came from that lab via a leak,” said Murphy. “It was absolutely gain-of-function” research.
Mounting evidence points to this conclusion. Earlier this year, the Department of Energy joined the FBI in concluding a lab leak was the most likely origin for the COVID-19 virus. Two detailed Senate GOP reports released this year (one by Senator Marshall and one by Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)) also found substantial evidence to support the theory. In a separate report released on Substack, evidence came to light that at least three coronavirus researchers at WIV became ill with COVID-like symptoms during the first outbreak, while this Wednesday international press cited a WIV researcher claiming that China deliberately engineered COVID-19 as a bioweapon.
According to an unnamed senior member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, based on information in the ODNI report “the lab leak is more than possible, it becomes probable” — yet ODNI’s terse summary reached the opposite conclusion. The anonymous source said the COVID-19 virus is most likely a combination of the RaTG13 bat virus and a pangolin virus, and that the ODNI’s report “acknowledges the WIV had the RaTG13 virus in its holdings and WIV scientists were studying pangolin samples. The report also acknowledges that WIV researchers have created chimeras through genetic engineering.” Such examples illustrate why Congressional Republicans are demanding the ODNI declassify and release the actual intelligence, not just its opinion about the intelligence.
Some commentators and government officials can see no motive for the Biden administration’s refusal to release COVID origins intelligence besides a cover-up. “So, what were they hiding? Was this all to save face? … What was driving this at the very foundation?” asked Perkins. “Is this the sort of transparency that this administration promised?”
“Two things,” Murphy responded. First, “NIH [the National Institutes of Health] funded this lab. … They went through Eco[Health] Alliance and they paid to fund this lab.” Second, he continued, “Fauci’s not a person who tolerates being questioned very well. … He honestly has destroyed so much trust in medicine from the American public.”
In addition, to circumventing the COVID-19 Origin Act of 2023, the Biden administration’s refusal to release full, declassified intelligence regarding COVID’s origin — and do so on time — has created even more suspicion that the administration has something to hide. Senator Hawley queried earlier this week, “What are you afraid of? Why are you so afraid of letting the public know the truth?”
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.