On April 30, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued the following US Intelligence Community statement:
“The entire Intelligence Community has been consistently providing critical support to US policymakers and those responding to the COVID-19 virus, which originated in China. The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified.”
There is no justification for making such a statement without providing the evidence to support it and while so much information about the origin of COVID-19 remains unknown.
The US intelligence community has only very limited knowledge about what coronaviruses China has in its laboratories and what experiments Chinese scientists have been conducting on those coronaviruses.
Case in point, “The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2,” the single, most-widely cited article used by media and some scientists as proof that COVID-19 is a naturally-occurring outbreak that “jumped” from animals to humans in the Wuhan Seafood Market, identified a bat coronavirus RaTG13 as the closest relative to and the likely evolutionary pathway of COVID-19, being 96 percent identical to it.
We don’t know, because the US intelligence community has not released the evidence supporting its statement, but it appears that the “scientific consensus” to which they refer is based on the conclusions of that single article.
RaTG13 was isolated by Chinese scientists from bats in July 2013 in Yunnan Province, nearly 1,000 miles from Wuhan.
Oddly, RaTG13 was not sequenced until January 2020 and was unknown to the scientific community before then.
Also isolated in July 2013 in Yunnan Province is the bat coronavirus strain BtCoV/4991 (GenBank KP876546), which was partially sequenced in 2016.
In a February 6, 2020 article, scientists at the State Key Laboratory of Virology, Modern Virology Research Center, College of Life Sciences, Wuhan University wrote that the partial sequence of bat coronavirus strain BtCoV/4991 was 98.7 per cent identical to COVID-19, more than RaTG13.
Yet, the full sequence of BtCoV/4991, if it exists, remains unpublished.
China is hiding a lot.
Since the outbreak began, China has flooded the scientific literature with subtle and sometimes not so subtle messages supporting its narrative that COVID-19 is a naturally-occurring mutation that “jumped” from animals to humans in the Wuhan Seafood Market.
That argument has been buttressed by a relatively small group of Western scientists, who may have a vested interest in one particular outcome and wish to limit the debate.
Make no mistake, huge amounts of research cash could be in jeopardy, if it is shown that COVID-19 resulted from a laboratory leak, or worse, if it was man-made.
The US intelligence community, therefore, may be a clueless or willing victim of herd mentality driven by Chinese propaganda, the media and a handful of, perhaps, biased experts.
Unless the US intelligence community can explain the origin of the PRRAR amino acid structure, unique to COVID-19 and not present in any of the identified close relatives like RaTG13, a structure related to a “gain of function” leading to enhanced transmissibility, there is no reason at this stage to dismiss prematurely a bioengineering explanation for the origin of COVID-19.
The US intelligence community statement brought us no closer to the truth and may have unnecessarily handed China a huge propaganda victory, while simultaneously making it less likely that Beijing will be inclined to open its research records for international inspection.
This column was originally published at WION.
The views expressed in CCNS member articles are not necessarily the views or positions of the entire CCNS. They are the views of the authors, who are members of the CCNS.