A whistleblower has claimed that members of the CIA’s COVID-19 Discovery Team were offered monetary incentives to change their stance on the theory that the virus originated in a lab in Wuhan, China.
The whistleblower, a high-ranking CIA officer, revealed this information to the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. According to a letter sent by these committees to CIA Director William Burns, six out of seven members of the COVID Discovery Team believed that COVID-19 most likely leaked from a lab in Wuhan. However, the most senior member of the team was the lone analyst who believed that the virus originated naturally from animals.
These allegations have come to light amidst ongoing investigations into the origins of the pandemic. In May 2021, President Biden instructed the U.S. intelligence community to conduct a three-month probe into the origins of the virus. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) later reported that it was unlikely to reach a conclusion, with various agencies divided over whether the virus originated from a lab or from animals. The CIA was amongst the agencies that had not reached a conclusion.
In February 2023, an update to the DNI’s declassified summary indicated that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) now favored the lab leak theory, joining the FBI. The DOE’s analysis was conducted by “Z Division”, an intelligence arm at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory specializing in foreign “Weapons of Mass Destruction” assessments.
In April 2023, Senate Republicans released a report concluding that the virus most likely originated from one or two lab leaks.
In March 2023, Congress passed the COVID-19 Origin Act of 2023, directing the DNI to declassify all information relating to potential links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origin of the virus. The DNI responded with a 10-page document outlining its understanding of the institute, its capabilities, and the actions of its personnel. However, this response was deemed insufficient by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Turner.
The committees are now trying to obtain further information via congressional subpoena. They have requested that the CIA hand over documents regarding the establishment of the COVID Discovery Team, internal and external communication, intra-agency communications, and pay history. The CIA has until September 26 to comply.
CIA Spokeswoman Tammy Kupperman Thorp has denied the whistleblower’s allegations, stating that the CIA does not pay analysts to reach specific conclusions.