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U.S. intelligence agencies split on Covid-19 origins, offer no high-confidence conclusions in new report

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Key Points
  • The U.S. intelligence community said Friday that it is divided over the exact origin of Covid-19.
  • "All agencies assess that two hypotheses are plausible: natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident," the nation's 18 intelligence agencies wrote in an unclassified report.
  • The report, compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, found that the virus was not developed as a biological weapon.
Security personnel stand guard outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan as members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus make a visit to the institute in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on February 3, 2021.
Hector Retamal | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The U.S. intelligence community said that it is divided over the exact origin of Covid-19 in China, a revelation that comes three months after President Joe Biden requested a more in-depth review.

One intelligence agency said it assessed with moderate confidence that the virus infected humans after an incident related to a lab, according to a report released Friday afternoon. Four agencies said they reached low-confidence assessments that the virus had a natural origin.

The report did not name the agencies.

"After examining all available intelligence reporting and other information, though, the IC remains divided on the most likely origin of Covid-19. All agencies assess that two hypotheses are plausible: natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident," the nation's 18 intelligence agencies wrote in the report.

The report, compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, found that the virus was not developed as a biological weapon. The intelligence community also assessed that Chinese officials did not have foreknowledge of the virus before the initial outbreak that triggered a global pandemic.

The report said the intelligence community wouldn't be able to reach a more definitive conclusion unless it receives more information.

Biden, in a statement following the report's release, said the U.S. and its allies would continue to pressure China to reveal more about what happened when Covid first started to spread.

"Critical information about the origins of this pandemic exists in the People's Republic of China, yet from the beginning, government officials in China have worked to prevent international investigators and members of the global public health community from accessing it," Biden said.

"The world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them," the president added.

In May, Biden asked the intelligence community to "redouble their efforts" within 90 days in hopes of finding a "definitive conclusion" about the virus origins.

The nation's intelligence agencies assess that Covid was first exposed to humans in November 2019 near the city of Wuhan in China's Hubei province. The first known cluster of cases was reported in December.

After the first case was reported in the U.S. in January 2020, the virus has since infected more than 38 million Americans and killed more than 630,000, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Globally, more than 215 million people have been infected with the virus and about 4.5 million have died, according to JHU data.

Earlier this week, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told CNBC's "Squawk Box" that it was still unclear whether the virus leaked out of a Wuhan lab.

"The vast evidence from other perspectives says no, this was a naturally occurring virus," Collins said. "Not to say that it could not have been under study secretly at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and got out of there, we don't know about that. But the virus itself does not have the earmarks of having been created intentionally by human work."

Collins added that the World Health Organization's investigation into the origin of the coronavirus has been made harder by China's refusal to participate.

"I think China basically refused to consider another WHO investigation and just said, 'Nope, not interested,'" Collins told "Squawk Box."

In July, China rejected a WHO proposal for a second-phase investigation into the origin of the coronavirus, which would include audits of laboratories and markets in the city of Wuhan.

"We will not accept such an origins-tracing plan, as it, in some aspects, disregards common sense and defies science," Zeng Yixin, vice minister of the National Health Commission, told reporters July 22.

"We hope the WHO would seriously review the considerations and suggestions made by Chinese experts and truly treat the origin tracing of the Covid-19 virus as a scientific matter, and get rid of political interference," Zeng said.

— CNBC's Rich Mendez contributed to this report from New York.