President Joe Biden's team has shut down a US State Department effort launched late in the Trump administration to prove the coronavirus originated in a Chinese lab, citing over concerns about the quality of its work, reports CNN.
The existence of the State Department inquiry and its termination this spring by the Biden administration – neither of which has been previously reported – comes to light amid renewed interest in whether the virus could have leaked out of a Wuhan lab with links to the Chinese military. The Biden administration is also facing scrutiny of its own efforts to determine if the Chinese government was responsible for the virus.
Those involved in the previously undisclosed inquiry, which was launched last fall by allies of then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, say it was an honest effort to probe what many initially dismissed: that China's biological weapons program could have had a greater role in the pandemic's origin in Wuhan, according to two additional sources. But the inquiry quickly became mired in internal discord amid concerns that it was part of a broader politicised effort by the Trump administration to blame China and cherry-pick facts to prove a theory.
The decision to terminate the inquiry, which was run primarily out of the State Department's arms control and verification bureau, was made after Biden officials were briefed on the team's draft findings in February and March of this year, a State Department spokesperson said. Questions were raised about the legitimacy of the findings and the project was deemed to be an ineffective use of resources, explained a source familiar with the decision.
Sources involved in the Trump-era inquiry rejected criticisms over the quality of their work and told CNN their objective had been to examine scientific research and information from the US intelligence community which backed the lab leak theory and shone more light on how it could have emerged in the lab.
Though Biden officials shut down this particular inquiry, they remain skeptical of Beijing's role in limiting investigators from accessing information that may be pertinent to the origins of the virus. US intelligence agencies continue to examine the question of whether the virus emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals or if it could have been the result of a laboratory accident.
One US intelligence report, which CNN and the Wall Street Journal recently reported on, found that several researchers at China's Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill in November 2019 and had to be hospitalised, a new detail which has fuelled the continued debate about the virus's origin. The exact nature of their symptoms remain unclear.