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Analysis: Spies vs. scientists on Covid's origin

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That was the conclusion of a preliminary World Health Organization review of the virus’s origins released in March. It laid out four possible origin theories and argued the most likely was some form of animal-to-human transmission and that the virus is naturally occurring.
Many questions remain, but the introduction of the virus from a laboratory was “an extremely unlikely pathway,” according to the report. That’s not definitive proof, but it certainly poured cold water on the theory that the virus was the result of some kind of Chinese research gone awry.
The intelligence: Spies aren’t as sure.
“It is absolutely accurate the intelligence community does not know exactly where, when or how Covid-19 virus was transmitted initially,” US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican, after he laid out the theories that either the virus was somehow transmitted from bats to humans or, also plausible, he argued, was that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology had an experiment go wrong.
The lab theory. Rubio’s question was in the same vein as a statement by then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the final days of the Trump administration that there was evidence researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology had been sick in the fall of 2019 with Covid-like symptoms and that the lab in Wuhan, where coronavirus had been studied in bats, had a history of military research.
Responding to Rubio, Haines didn’t refer to one theory as more likely than another, but said intelligence agencies have “coalesced around two alternative theories: These scenarios are and emerge naturally from human contact with infected animals or it was a laboratory accident.”
Not trusting China. CIA Director William Burns wanted to add that China could be hiding something.
“One thing that’s clear to us and to our analysts is that the Chinese leadership has not been fully forthcoming or fully transparent.” But they’re trying to get to the bottom of it.
National Security Agency director and head of US Cyber Command Gen. Paul Nakasone noted that US cyber agencies are aiding the effort and continue to gather and analyze information around the virus’s origins. But he went out of his way to highlight that intelligence agencies are working with partners in the “interagency and academia,” which presumably means scientists and experts.
About that WHO study. The official US government stance has never been in conjunction with the WHO study, which was conducted by 17 Chinese experts working with 17 international experts with a UN panel observing. The US joined with a number of other developed countries to raise concerns about the WHO-convened study and to argue for the establishment of a more open system to study future outbreaks.
There are some scientists who believe the lab theory. Dr. Robert Redfield, a former head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who led the center during the first year of the outbreak as a member of the Trump administration, told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta in March that his personal opinion, one he admitted is not shared by everyone, is that the virus originated in a lab.
Comic-book theory of Covid. Scientists who study viruses in the field are extremely skeptical of this view.
“That’s the way it would be in a movie or some sort of a thriller or a comic book,” Robert Garry, of Tulane, told CNN’s Maggie Fox after Redfield shared his views. Garry helped write a study published in March of last year that showed the virus arose naturally.
“Science will eventually figure it out,” Redfield said.
That’s right. It won’t be US intelligence agencies that determine where the virus came from. But there is definitely a feeling in the US intelligence community that China isn’t trying very hard to get to the bottom of it.
Will we ever know the truth? “The Chinese have NO interest in learning the truth, so it’s hard to spy on them and find out what the truth is,” a source familiar with the intelligence told CNN’s Zachary Cohen and Alex Marquardt in March, adding that there’s evidence the wet market in Wuhan may not have been where the virus was first transmitted.
Chinese officials have misled on the subject. One diplomat, in March of 2020, accused the US government of somehow sending the virus to Wuhan.
Publicly, the Biden administration, like the Trump administration before it, has criticized China for not being more open about the virus as it was first spreading in 2019 and 2020.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked by NBC’s Chuck Todd if he could guarantee that we will ultimately understand how the virus originated.
“I think we have to, because we need to do that precisely so we fully understand what happened in order to have the best shot possible at preventing it from happening again,” Blinken said.
Liberty vs. public health. Watch this video: Republican Rep. Jim Jordan was ready to spar with Dr. Anthony Fauci about Covid restrictions, arguing that Americans have endured an abrogation of their freedom, liberty and rights.
Uncharacteristically, Fauci seemed to get a bit angry.
“We’re not talking about liberties. We’re talking about a pandemic that has claimed 560,000 Americans,” Fauci said.
Jordan interrupted him to say he understands that, but it’s also “pretty serious when businesses have been shut down, people can’t go to church, people can’t assemble in their own homes with their friends, with their families, people can’t go to a loved one’s funeral, people can’t get to their government, petition their representative to redress their grievances. I also understand the First Amendment is pretty important and it’s been a year — I want to know when Americans will get those First Amendment liberties back.”
It devolved from there. Jordan wanted a specific number of vaccinations that would lead to the end of restrictions. Fauci did not exactly offer one, but said that as vaccinations occur, infections will decrease.
Progressives and Democrats differ on some major policies.
Democratic leaders and even elder progressives have broken in recent days with some of the more radical ideas percolating among liberals on Capitol Hill.
Not ready for no more police. As Minnesota deals with another dead Black man, shot by police, Daunte White, and also with the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin for the killing of George Floyd, the Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib argued that the entire notions of policing and incarceration and militarization should end.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent and progressive leader, would not go there with her during an appearance Wednesday on CNN. He called for immediate and “major, major” police reform, but not the end of police.
Not ready to expand the Supreme Court. Progressive lawmakers in the House and Senate do agree that the Supreme Court should be expanded as a counter to the conservative majority likely to run that institution for decades. Lawmakers introduced legislation to expand the size of the court.
The proposal has almost no chance of passing the Senate, so a vote in the House would be symbolic. Even still, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she has no plans to allow a vote on it. Rather, she’s waiting for a commission supported by President Biden to study the issue.
Not ready to retire. A lot of Democrats want liberal Justice Steven Breyer to retire now so a Biden-appointed justice can replace him. Here’s a great story by CNN’s Joan Biskupic on the history of pressuring justices into retirement.
Related: A new book suggests that then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell denied Pelosi’s request for the body of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to lie in state in the Rotunda in the Capitol.
The Trump test. Finally, Democrats aren’t the only ones with rifts. Chris Cillizza writes about the political price Rep. Liz Cheney has paid for being one of the very few Republican lawmakers to unequivocally break with former President Donald Trump. He argues that it shows she’s figured out something about how toxic Trump is with the general electorate that other Republicans apparently have not.
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