Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that he did not know for sure if the coronavirus pandemic began through an accidental leak from a lab in Wuhan, though he defended the theory as plausible and argued that all of the available evidence indicated COVID-19 originated in China.
Pompeo said that we “still don’t know the answer” about where specifically in Wuhan the coronavirus outbreak started during a Tuesday radio interview with conservative host Hugh Hewitt because the “Chinese Communist Party has now, for over a year, refused to allow anybody to get access to the information they need to figure that out.”
“I remember initially when I began to talk about the fact that this might well have come from the Wuhan Institute of Virology laboratory, it was ruled as impossible,” Pompeo said. “It is not impossible that that is what happened, and the world must continue to demand that we understand what took place here … to make sure that something like this never happens again.”
When asked if he was certain the pandemic began in China, the secretary of state said that “the Chinese Communist Party has offered not one, not two, but at least three alternative theories for where this began” and “they continue to attempt to obfuscate,” but “everything that we have seen indicates that this began not only inside of China but at Hubei province, Wuhan.”
Pompeo had said in early May that “there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan” and that “these are not the first times that we’ve had a world exposed to viruses as a result of failures in a Chinese lab.”
The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, called on Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe to provide details about the origins of the coronavirus in China, including intelligence community information related to whether COVID-19 may have escaped from the Wuhan lab.
Nunes asked Ratcliffe to provide the intelligence with a classified notification, including “an explanation of significant changes in Intelligence Community analysis, or the evolution of such analysis, related to the origin of SARS-COV-2, research activities in Wuhan labs, efforts by China to block international investigations of a possible lab leak, and actions taken by Chinese authorities that increased COVID-19 worldwide lethality and economic disruptions.” The California Republican said that “we’ve seen indicators that COVID-19 may have stemmed from dangerous research at laboratories in Wuhan, China.”
Then-White House deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, who resigned his post last week in the wake of rioters storming the U.S. Capitol, said in late December that “there is a growing body of evidence to say that a laboratory leak or accident is very much a credible possibility” and “even establishment figures in Beijing have openly dismissed the wet market story.” Pottinger was apparently referring to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a biosafety level 4 lab in China that researches infectious diseases, including bat coronaviruses. Questions remain about whether the virus escaped from a lab through an accidental infection or if it got its start in nature by jumping from an animal to a human.
The World Health Organization said this week that a long-awaited WHO investigative team would finally be headed to China.
Pompeo said Tuesday that “I hope, but I’m not optimistic, that they will actually let them do the work that needs to be done: see records, see the lab, see the original work that was done, talk to, interview all of the people, not with minders around, but in a situation where those people would be free to speak their mind.”
WHO Executive Director Dr. Michael Ryan said at a Monday press conference that “understanding the origin of disease is not about finding somebody to blame” and that “it is about finding the scientific answers about that very important interface, the interface between the animal kingdom and the human kingdom.”
When asked if China owes the world reparations, Pompeo said, “The reality is that the world has seen what authoritarian regimes do. They’ve seen the enormous death. They’ve seen the massive destruction of wealth. There will be hundreds and hundreds of thousands more people [continuing] to live in poverty as a direct result of the economic challenges that the Wuhan virus has foisted upon the world. I think the world will respond to this in a way that recognizes what the Chinese Communist Party did by delaying their activation of the promises that they had made to the World Health Organization, and there will be costs that are attached to that as a direct result of the things that the Chinese Communist Party did.”
Last month, Pompeo demanded the Chinese Communist Party release Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, who was sentenced to four years in prison in December for her reporting on the ground in Wuhan amid the coronavirus outbreak in early 2020.
China has thwarted investigations into the origins of the virus that has turned into the pandemic killing 1.95 million people around the world, including more than 379,000 in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University. The Chinese Communist Party has denied it originated in China, and its diplomats spread baseless conspiracy theories about it being caused by the U.S. military.
In 2018, U.S. Embassy officials in China raised concerns about biosecurity at the Wuhan lab. One “sensitive but unclassified” State Department cable warned about a “serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory.”
In May of last year, a senior intelligence official told the Washington Examiner that a majority of the intelligence community’s spy agencies believed the coronavirus likely originated with an accidental lab escape in Wuhan. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence weighed in last spring, noting that “the Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified.”