FBI Director Chris Wray said Tuesday that Beijing has stymied efforts by the U.S. and others to investigate the origins of the coronavirus.
In an interview with Fox News, Wray said the FBI believes that Covid probably originated from a “potential lab incident” in Wuhan but that the Chinese government has essentially interfered with the its ongoing probe.
“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 told Fox News host Bret Baier.
“I will just make the observation that the Chinese government, it seems to me, has been doing its best to try to thwart and obfuscate the work here, the work that we’re doing, the work that our U.S. government and close foreign partners are doing, and that’s unfortunate for everybody,” he added.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The U.S. Energy Department has concluded with “low confidence” that the Covid pandemic “likely” originated from a laboratory leak in Wuhan, according to a classified report delivered to key lawmakers on the House and Senate Intelligence committees.
The lawmakers were briefed on the report last month by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, two sources said Sunday. The news was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Baier noted that the Energy Department had cited the FBI’s earlier findings in its report.
A report on the origins of Covid, commissioned by President Joe Biden and released by the National Intelligence Director’s Office in August 2021, showed that one U.S. intelligence agency had assessed with moderate confidence that the virus infected humans after a lab-associated incident; four other agencies assessed with low confidence that the virus emerged naturally. The report did not name the agencies, but intelligence officials have said the FBI was the agency with moderate confidence.
Sources have said the CIA is one of two intelligence agencies that are undecided about the virus’s origins.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning, said earlier Tuesday that China has “always been open and transparent” about Covid. Mao later pushed back at Wray’s remarks during a news briefing on Wednesday.
“Based on the poor track record of the U.S. intelligence agencies in forgery and deception, the conclusions they draw have no credibility whatsoever,” Mao said. “The U.S. side’s rehashing of the lab leak theory will not discredit China but will only further undermine its own credibility. We urge the U.S. side to respect science and facts, stop politicizing the issue of Covid traceability, stop engaging in political traceability and intelligence traceability, and stop interfering with and undermining the international community’s unity against the epidemic and global scientific cooperation on traceability.”
Mao previously criticized the Energy Department assessment, pointing to a 2021 report by a World Health Organization mission to Wuhan that found it “extremely unlikely” that the virus originated in a lab. The U.S. and other countries have criticized the report, saying China withheld data.
Wray touted the work of FBI investigators in the Fox News interview, noting that they include virologists and microbiologists.
He said that “there’s not a whole lot of details I can share that aren’t classified” and that “our work related to this continues.”
The Energy Department’s classified report maintains the consensus that Covid was not the result of a Chinese bioweapon, a U.S. official said. In its assessment, the Energy Department also described the “likely” laboratory-related leak as an “accident,” the official added.
The Energy Department is one of 18 government departments and agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community.
A spokesperson said in a statement over the weekend that the Energy Department “continues to support the thorough, careful, and objective work of our intelligence professionals in investigating the origins of COVID-19, as the President directed.”
Lawmakers said Tuesday it was important to find out the origins of the virus.
“The main reason to understand where this pandemic came from is so that we can prevent a future pandemic from happening. It’s not to play gotcha,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., who chairs a select committee on China. “But [China] needs to be held accountable for their cover-up.”
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said that “China obviously is very threatened by this” but that “the lab leak story is not anti-Chinese.”
“It’s just — you’re trying to get to the bottom of it so you can prevent the next one,” he said.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said confirmation of the lab leak theory would “have an impact” on U.S. policy.
“There has been an attempt to discredit that theory of origin, which I’ve never understood. To me we should want to know where the origin was. And we should also protest to the country, China in this case, that trying to cover this up, because that delayed our ability to respond to the pandemic,” she said.