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Wray publicly comments on the FBI's position on COVID's origins, adding political fire

In an appearance on Fox News, FBI Director Christopher Wray reiterates the agency's position about the origins of COVID and a potential lab leak. The assessment is not new, but it's far from universal.
Carolyn Kaster
/
AP
In an appearance on Fox News, FBI Director Christopher Wray reiterates the agency's position about the origins of COVID and a potential lab leak. The assessment is not new, but it's far from universal.

FBI Director Christopher Wray has told Fox News that the bureau's ongoing investigation into the origins of COVID-19 suggests the virus was unleashed after a potential lab incident in Wuhan, China. The FBI's assessment is not the consensus among intelligence and scientific communities.

"The FBI has for quite some time now assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan," Wray said, adding later in the interview that the FBI's work on the matter continues.

"I will just make the observation that the Chinese government seems to me has been doing its best to try to thwart and obfuscate the work here ... and that's unfortunate for everybody."

The assessment is not new. The bureau previously concluded with moderate confidence that COVID first emerged accidentally from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which worked on coronaviruses.

And the FBI's assessment is far from universal. Four other U.S. intelligence agencies as well as the National Intelligence Council say, with low confidence, that COVID emerged through natural transmission.

Nevertheless, Wray's remarks are the first in public by a senior law enforcement official following the Energy Department's classified report, published by the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, saying the pandemic was likely caused by a lab leak in China. That assessment was reportedly "low confidence."

Concerns about the origins of COVID come as tensions rise between the U.S. and China

Eight U.S. government agencies are investigating the source of COVID-19, and they remain very divided on the issue. None of them is certain about the cause. Four lean toward natural causes. Two haven't taken a position.

Meanwhile, the evidence produced by the greater scientific community points overwhelmingly to a natural cause, via exposure to an infected animal.

The resurrection of the debate over COVID's origins comes at a fraught time for Sino-U.S. relations.

The two sides have clashed over China's use of alleged spy balloons over the U.S.; its policy toward Russia and Ukraine; its belligerence toward Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province; and the apparent dangers of TikTok.

On Tuesday, in a rare show of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill focused on threats they believe are posed by the Chinese government in a series of hearings culminating with one held by the newly created House Select Committee on strategic competition between the U.S. and the Chinese Communist Party.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Washington desk