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The Office of the Director of National Intelligence confirmed on-record for the first time Thursday that the U.S. intelligence community is investigating whether the coronavirus outbreak, which has wreaked havoc across the globe, started as the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan, China.
“The entire Intelligence Community has been consistently providing critical support to U.S. policymakers and those responding to the COVID-19 virus, which originated in China. The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified,” a statement from the office of acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell said.
“As we do in all crises, the Community’s experts respond by surging resources and producing critical intelligence on issues vital to U.S. national security. The IC will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan,” the statement said.
Fox News first reported earlier this month that there is increasing confidence that the outbreak likely escaped from the lab, not as a bioweapon but as part of a Chinese effort to show that its efforts to identify and combat viruses are equal or greater than those of the U.S. This would be at odds with claims the outbreak originated at a wet market nearby.
Fox News also reported previously that a full-scale investigation was underway, with intelligence operatives said to be gathering information about the laboratory and the initial outbreak of the virus. Intelligence analysts are piecing together a timeline of what the government knew and “creating an accurate picture of what happened,” sources said.
Once that investigation is complete -- something that is expected to happen in the near-term -- the findings will be presented to the Trump administration. At that point, White House policymakers and President Trump will use the findings to determine how to hold the country accountable for the pandemic.
Senior intelligence sources told Fox News that as of now, the investigation may continue for days, weeks or even months. They add there are very stringent requirements in place that must be met before investigators can present their findings to the Trump administration with confidence.
The ODNI statement was the first on-record comment from the office confirming the probe.
U.S. officials and the intelligence community have confirmed to Fox News that they have taken the possibility of the coronavirus being man-made or engineered inside China as some sort of bioweapon off the table and have ruled it out at this point.
Sources point to the structure of the virus, in saying the genome mapping specifically shows it was not genetically altered. The sources believe the initial transmission of the virus was a naturally occurring strain that was being studied there -- and then went into the population in Wuhan.
US officials are 100 percent confident China went to great lengths to cover up after the virus was out, the sources said.
Additionally, the sources believe that the World Health Organization -- which the president paused funding to this week over its role in the crisis -- was either complicit in the coverup, or looked the other way.
The president hinted at an investigation earlier this month when he told Fox News’ John Roberts: "More and more we're hearing the story ... we are doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation."
There have been more than 3 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus across the globe, and more than 227,000 deaths.
Fox News' Bret Baier and Chad Pergram contributed to this report.