The director of national intelligence delivered a report to President Biden on Tuesday about the origins of the coronavirus epidemic, according to US officials, but the country’s espionage services have not yet concluded whether the illness was the result of an accidental leak from a lab or whether it was arose naturally in an overflow from animals to humans.
Mr Biden had ordered the country’s intelligence agencies to prepare a report on the origins of the virus amid an intensification of debate over questions about its origins, and in part to give the agencies the chance to give a wealth of data to investigate that had not been fully exploited.
But the study, which examined data collected from a virology research institute in Wuhan, China, the city where the virus first spread, has yet to answer the biggest open question about where it came from. The lack of conclusions underscores the difficulty of establishing the source of the virus, especially given China’s refusal to continue to cooperate in international investigations into the origin of Covid-19.
In the months after the coronavirus pandemic broke out worldwide, intelligence agencies began investigating how it started. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the agencies to investigate the theory that the virus was created in a Chinese lab and accidentally leaked. Mr. Pompeo set up his own research group to study the question.
During the Trump administration, intelligence agencies ruled out theories that the virus was intentionally leaked. But they said they couldn’t draw a conclusion as to which was more likely: an accidental leak from a lab researching coronaviruses or a natural evolution of the virus.
While many scientists were initially skeptical of the lab leak theory, some have been more open to investigating it this year. And some criticized a World Health Organization report in March that found the lab leak theory unlikely.
After that report, officials in the Biden administration became frustrated with a decision by the Chinese government to stop cooperating with further World Health Organization investigations into the origins of the pandemic. In the face of what they termed Chinese intransigence and a divided American intelligence community, Biden’s administration officials then ordered a 90-day assessment of the intelligence, resulting in the report being delivered to the president on Tuesday.
Current and former officials have repeatedly warned that finding the exact origins of the pandemic may be more of a task for scientists than for spies. Led by Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, the agencies have stepped up collaboration with scientists, hoping to better understand the current pandemic and possible future pandemic.
Officials also warned that the 90-day assessment was likely too short to draw any firm conclusions.
The report remains classified for now, and officials declined to discuss the findings. But officials said Ms. Haines’ office would most likely release some information later this week.
“It usually takes a few days, if not longer, to put together an unclassified version,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.