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Political Editors / June 24, 2021

In Brief: Will We Ever Know COVID-19’s Origin?

That’s what the head of U.S. intelligence says, but that just means the fix is in.

“Nearly a month into the review, it appears that the intelligence community is no closer to settling on one explanation of how the deadly virus originated.” So said Yahoo News after an extensive interview with Avril Haines, the U.S. director of national intelligence. Of the interview, National Review’s Jim Geraghty warns, “Almost nothing she said was particularly encouraging.”

“We’re hoping to find a smoking gun,” she said, but “it’s challenging to do that.” She added that “it might happen, but it might not.”

She also said: “I don’t know between these two plausible theories which one is the right answer. But I’ve listened to the analysts, and I really see why it is that they perceive these two theories as being in contest with each other and why it’s very challenging for them to assess one over the other.”

This sounds like the fix is in. Moreover, as Geraghty puts it:

If, after a 90-day review, specifically in response to a directive from the president, the U.S. intelligence community’s answer is, “Well, we just don’t know how this pandemic started,” it will be not just a colossal disappointment; it will also set off a million conspiracy theories about coverups.

The U.S. intelligence community has access to all kinds of information that we mere laymen don’t — signals intercepts of every kind from the NSA, satellite photos and footage, information from allied intelligence services such as the “Five Eyes,” and who knows, hopefully at least one human source in the Chinese government. There’s that rumor of a high-level defector, although some unnamed U.S. official told the Daily Beast that’s not true — but governments aren’t usually eager to confirm rumors of major-league defections. (If that denial is accurate, that raises the question of just where Dong Jingwei, vice minister of the Ministry of State Security, currently is.) At minimum, the U.S. intelligence community should be able to determine if anyone of significance within the Chinese government secretly feared or believed that the pandemic was indeed the result of a lab leak. Between the early lying, the delayed release of key information to the WHO, the taking down of previously accessible databases of virus information, the refusal to allow a WHO team to visit for a year, the refusal to turn over raw data on the first COVID-19 patients, and the suppression of academic research into the virus’s origin, Lord knows the Chinese government has been acting like it’s guilty from the start.

Why does all this matter?

There is no bigger question facing the world right now than how this awful pandemic got started. Sure, thanks to vaccinations, the pandemic’s effect on American life is getting smaller each day. But this progress comes after more than 617,000 Americans succumbed to the virus, at least $16 trillion in economic losses, a lost year of schooling for almost all of America’s kids, the health effects of the “long-haulers,” and a million other disruptions and tribulations in the lives of ordinary people, all around the globe. We’re almost at 3.9 million deaths worldwide, and have more than 179 million cases worldwide. There’s also a good chance that all of these official figures underestimate the true toll in lives lost.

No one wants to go through this again, which means we have to know how it started. A “We just can’t figure it out” from the part of the U.S. government that is specifically assigned to protect us and and find out what other countries are hiding isn’t going to cut it.

No, but with the world increasingly bowing to China, Geraghty’s exactly right to assert, “There are a lot of people who would prefer ‘We’ll never know’ to ‘Yes, at least 4 million people worldwide are dead because of negligence and recklessness in the top virology lab in China.’ Because if it’s that latter scenario, then the rest of us will have to do something about it.”

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