The intelligence community has been tasked by President Biden to sleuth out what transpired in Wuhan, China in late-2019 at the root of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the tasking may seem to those unfamiliar with the ways of intelligence tasking as new, one may be assured this question has been on the operating directive of the entire intelligence community since early in the pandemic.

China, for its part, hasn’t done itself any favors with their handling of the international community’s queries and pleas to share all available information on the origins of COVID-19. Indeed, their disinformation machine has on multiple occasions gone into full-gear to point the finger of blame for the pandemic to locales other than China, and has also gone the espionage route to ferret out how other countries efforts to develop vaccines were progressing.

The World and China on Coronavirus

The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) enjoyed partnerships with research entities around the world, as it houses one of China’s BSL-4 labs, like that which is located at Fort Detrick. These included several U.S. universities and research entities including the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

China’s interest in pathogen research is well documented and goes back many years. It is for this reason that the United States had place officers at the Embassy in Beijing tasked with maintaining an eye on the overt research being conducted in China. These officers visited Wuhan in 2018 and noted the WIV biologists were working on how “SARS-like coronaviruses can interact with ACE2, the human receptor identified for SARS-coronavirus.” They also said, “During interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, they noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory.”

In 2017, the NIH published a WIV study on coronavirus research associated with the horseshoe bats.

The country’s interest in acquiring pathogens from abroad and research being conducted abroad is also well documented, as evidenced by the mid-2019 dismissal of Chinese scientist, Xiangguo Qui, from the Canadian National Microbiology Laboratory for stealing pathogens and sending them to China. The stolen pathogens included a henipavirus with a 100% kill rate.

In April 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) published their 120-page joint WHO-China report on the origins of the COVID-19 which posited four pathways to emergence:

  • direct zoonotic spillover; possible-to-likely path;
  • intro thru an intermediate host: very likely;
  • thru cold/ food chain products: possible; and
  • thru lab incident: extremely unlikely.

The report concluded with a call “for a continued scientific and collaborative approach to be taken towards tracing the origins of COVID-19.”

China Writes Different Narratives for COVID-19 Origins

China for its part has pushed forward multiple narratives.

  1. The virus originated in the Wuhan wild animal market
  2. The virus was not associated with research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV)
  3. The virus was imported from abroad
  4. The virus was created at Fort Detrick and imported via visiting U.S. Army soldiers

China’s investment in disinformation concerning COVID-19 included, the May 2020 publication of cartoons lampooning the United States’ December 2019 – April 2020 response to COVID-19 and ridiculing the growing number of deaths in the United States.

Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu has put his finger on the rationale of China’s obfuscation and diversity of causes of origin of the COVID-19 in his May 31 opinion piece written for the Asia Times, when he noted, “Once Beijing has committed itself to a particular position and narrative seen as necessary to save face, backing down is unlikely, even when there is considerable contrary evidence.”

China reacts to COVID-19 tasking

So how did China react to Biden’s tasking of the Intelligence Community?

On June 2, 2021, Chinese official media outlet, Xinhua, published an opinion piece which accuses the U.S. administration of being anti-China and having “crossed the moral bottom line, maliciously concocting conspiracy theories and spreading disinformation.”

University of Berkeley Scientist Xiao Qiang noted in April 2020, while COVID-19 may not have been engineered, is not the same as saying it didn’t come from the lab, a lab which has years of research associated with bat coronavirus in animals.

As has been noted previously, “Until China engages in a more transparent 360-degree review and investigation, the root cause of the global COVID-19 pandemic remains a mystery, shrouded in China’s obfuscation.”




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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of