Spy chiefs face calls to release data on Covid origins amid FBI theory virus leaked from Chinese lab
British spy chiefs faced calls yesterday to release intelligence on the origins of Covid-19 and end a ‘conspiracy of silence’ on the matter in the UK.
It came after FBI director Christopher Wray confirmed that the bureau believed the global pandemic ‘most likely’ originated in a Chinese government-controlled laboratory.
‘The FBI has for quite some time now assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident,’ he said yesterday.
It was the first public confirmation of the American agency’s judgment on how the virus emerged.
Yesterday Tory MP Bob Seely asked why British intelligence on the matter could not similarly be published.
He suggested there was a ‘conspiracy of silence’ on the issue in Britain, amid fears that the latest evidence is being ignored in order not to upset Beijing, with diplomatic relations on a knife edge over the war in Ukraine.
Questions: Scientists at work in the Wuhan Institute of Virology laboratory in central China
FBI director Christopher Wray confirmed that the bureau believed the global pandemic ‘most likely’ originated in a Chinese government-controlled laboratory
‘This is a highly significant intervention,’ said Mr Seely. ‘I find it extraordinary that we are so nervous of causing offence to a communist dictatorship that we have not sought to get to the truth on this.
‘In Britain we seem to be disinterested in the origins of Covid. There seems to be a conspiracy of silence on the matter. It’s one of the most serious events to happen in the last decade yet there appears to be an utter absence of interest in establishing the truth here.’
He added: ‘Now the head of the FBI has said what their analysis is, which is a good idea. What is the reason that we cannot do the same?
‘Whether it be someone from MI5 or MI6 or whether it be a minister, it is important that there is some transparency and I think it would be valuable to set out some of the intelligence on what they believe happened.
‘Otherwise what is to stop it happening again if bio-security is so lax in an advanced country like China that a lab leak could cause this?’
Tory MP Alicia Kearns, chairman of the foreign affairs committee, said British intelligence assessments on the origins of the pandemic should be published if firm conclusions had been reached.
‘I remember many of us back in 2020 talking about the fact that we suspected this was manmade and there may be an element of state involvement and we were treated with ridicule – it was made out we were something like conspiracy theorists,’ she added.
‘If we have the proof, the intelligence here to back up what the Americans are saying, we have a duty to make that clear what the origins of this virus was. We have a duty to be transparent.’
A growing number of experts believe the deadly strain came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (pictured) which was conducting research into coronaviruses, but the intelligence community in the US remains divided on the issue
Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, former commander of the UK’s Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regiment, has also said Britain should demand a full, transparent probe into the origins of Covid-19.
Mr Wray said details of the FBI’s investigation were classified but indicated the work of its specialist team focusing on biological threats had pointed to a lab leak.
‘You’re talking about a potential leak from a Chinese government-controlled lab that killed millions of Americans and that’s precisely what that capability was designed for,’ he added.
‘The Chinese government, it seems to me, has been doing its best to try to thwart and obfuscate the work here. The work that our US government and close foreign partners are doing. And that’s unfortunate for everybody.’
His statement came a day after the US ambassador to China called for the country to ‘be more honest’ about Covid’s origins.
Earlier this week the US Energy Department similarly concluded the outbreak was most likely to have started with a laboratory leak, although it said it had made its judgment with ‘low confidence’ and that it did not believe Covid-19 was part of a Chinese biological weapons programme.
A growing number of experts believe the deadly strain came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was conducting research into coronaviruses, but the intelligence community in the US remains divided on the issue.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence in the US issued a 2021 report that revealed the National Intelligence Council – and four unnamed agencies – assessed with ‘low confidence’ that the initial Covid-19 infection ‘was most likely caused by natural exposure to an animal infected with it or a close progenitor virus’.
Beijing rejected Mr Wray’s claims yesterday as smears. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said: ‘The conclusions they have reached have no credibility.’
A joint China-World Health Organisation investigation in 2021 called the lab leak theory ‘extremely unlikely’. But the WHO investigation was heavily criticised and its director-general has since called for a new inquiry, saying: ‘All hypotheses remain open and require further study.’
Asked if the Government shared the US view that Covid began with a Chinese lab leak, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said yesterday there had not been a ‘formal finding’ from the US government.
He added: ‘The UK supports the WHO’s studies into the origins of Covid 19 which should include field research in China. We want to see a robust, transparent and science-led review.
‘The WHO has been to China. We think there are still questions which need to be answered about the origin and spread of Covid-19, not least so we can ensure we are better prepared for future pandemics.’