Mr. Biden instructed national security adviser Jake Sullivan to follow up, which he did in a meeting with intelligence officials in early March. The White House ordered a written assessment from intelligence officials. Delivered to Mr. Biden in May, the assessment showed one intelligence agency leaning toward the hypothesis that the virus leaked out of a lab and two intelligence agencies leaning toward the view that it arose naturally—all with low or moderate confidence. Most agencies said there wasn’t enough evidence to render a judgment.
The National Security Agency, the officials said, will look for clues in its vast stores of intercepted foreign electronic communications, most of which aren’t analyzed in real time. The effort is being aided by experts from government labs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and other parts of the Department of Health and Human Services. Experts outside the government are being consulted, as are allied intelligence agencies.
One outcome, Mr. Biden said in a May statement when he announced the review, could be a list of specific questions that the U.S. would put to China as well as recommendations on what additional inquiries might be needed.
Given the possibility that the intelligence review might be inconclusive, there are already calls by leading lawmakers, some experts outside government and a grass-roots group of people affected by Covid-19 for an independent national commission.
The dramatic ramp up comes at an awkward time, however. Early adopters of China’s vaccines have seen dramatic surges in COVID-19 cases—despite high vaccination rates—and are now backing away from the country’s offerings.
In Bahrain, for instance, officials are now offering high-risk people who have already received two doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine a third vaccine dose—but one made by Pfizer-BioNTech. The apparent vote of no confidence by officials is striking: Bahrain was one of the first countries to back and rollout Sinopharm’s vaccine, and it has had a highly successful vaccination campaign. Nearly 58 percent of the Persian Gulf country has received at least one dose of a vaccine, and most of the vaccines given in Bahrain are from Sinopharm. But the country is now seeing its worst wave of COVID-19 yet and the government has recently issued a two-week lockdown to try to get transmission under control.
The Seychelles went through a similar struggle. The archipelago saw a dramatic spike in cases in mid-May, despite having around 70 percent of its population vaccinated with at least one dose. Like Bahrain, the Seychelles had largely relied on the Sinopharm vaccine.
Dubai, which has also relied on Sinopharm’s vaccine, is now quietly offering residents who have been fully vaccinated with the Sinopharm vaccine the opportunity to get re-vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to The Wall Street Journal.