Trump officials are pushing spy agencies to pursue 'unsubstantiated' conspiracy theory
AFP photo of Donald Trump.

As critical as President Donald Trump has become of the Chinese government’s initial response to coronavirus, he has something in common with Chinese officials: Trump, at first, failed to take the COVID-19 threat seriously. Exactly how COVID-19 started has been debated by health experts; a conspiracy theory on the far right claims that the deadly virus originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, China. And according to a New York Times article published on April 30, “senior Trump Administration officials” have “pushed American spy agencies to hunt for evidence to support” that “unsubstantiated theory.”

Times reporters Mark Mazzetti, Julian E. Barnes, Edward Wong and Adam Goldman explain, “The effort comes as President Trump escalates a public campaign to blame China for the pandemic. Some intelligence analysts are concerned that the pressure from (Trump) Administration officials will distort assessments about the virus and that they could be used as a political weapon in an intensifying battle with China over a disease that has infected more than three million people across the globe.”

The Times journalists, note, however, that “most intelligence agencies remain skeptical that conclusive evidence of a link to a lab can be found, and scientists who have studied the genetics of the coronavirus say that the overwhelming probability is that it leapt from animal to human in a non-laboratory setting.”

According to the four Times reporters, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (a former CIA director) has “taken the lead” in pursuing the conspiracy theory — which many scientists have been critical of. In a report published in Nature Medicine in March, five scientists asserted, “We do not believe any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.”

Mazzetti, Barnes, Wong and Goldman report that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) “has yet to unearth any data beyond circumstantial evidence to bolster the lab theory, according to current and former government officials — and the agency has told policymakers it lacks enough information to either affirm or refute it. Only getting access to the lab itself and the virus samples it contains could provide definitive proof if it exists, the officials said.”