Biden signs bill declassifying US intel on Covid origin

A newly enacted law will still allow for redactions to keep most highly classified information under wraps

US President Joe Biden has signed a bill that directs the federal government to declassify material related to the genesis of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the White House suggesting “potential links” between the virus and a high-security research lab in China.

Biden put his name to the legislation on Monday night, after it breezed through both chambers of Congress without opposition earlier this month. The law requires the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to release information on the origins of the health crisis, and states that a declassified report must be forwarded to lawmakers within 90 days.

“We need to get to the bottom of Covid-19’s origins to help ensure we can better prevent future pandemics,” the president said in a statement, adding that his office would “continue to review all classified information” related to the pandemic, including any “potential links to the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” a major Chinese laboratory.

However, while Biden noted that the intelligence community would share “as much of that information as possible,” he also invoked his power to “protect against the disclosure of information that would harm national security,” indicating some records would have to remain secret. Until confirming that the president had signed the bill on Monday, the White House refused to reveal whether Biden supported the measure.

A number of senior officials have suggested Covid-19 may have originated due to a leak from the laboratory in Wuhan, China, with FBI Director Christopher Wray recently saying the virus “most likely” emerged from the facility. Though he cited no publicly available evidence, his comments followed reports that the Department of Energy had also changed its position on the origins question, now supporting the lab leak theory, but only with “low confidence.”

At least four other US federal agencies and a “national intelligence panel” have judged that the pandemic likely spread from animals to humans by natural means, while two remain undecided, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Beijing has repeatedly denied claims that the virus escaped from the biosafety level 4 lab – which stores the most lethal pathogens under strict security protocols – rejecting the theory as a way to smear China’s image abroad. Foreign Ministry officials have accused Washington of “spreading myths” about the pandemic, and recently called on the World Health Organization to launch a new origins probe in the US mirroring similar investigations conducted in China.

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