Biden signs bill requiring declassification of COVID origins information
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON, March 20 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday signed a bill that requires declassification of information related to the origins of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the White House said.
Biden said he shared Congress’ goal of releasing as much information as possible about the origin of COVID-19.
“In implementing this legislation, my administration will declassify and share as much of that information as possible, consistent with my constitutional authority to protect against the disclosure of information that would harm national security,” Biden said in a statement.
The bill sailed through the Senate and House of Representatives without opposition before being sent to the White House.
Washington has been conducting a highly politicized debate about the origins of the coronavirus pandemic almost since the first human cases were reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, amid calls from both Biden’s fellow Democrats and Republicans to push back harder against a rising China.
The debate was refueled last month, when the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Energy Department had assessed with that the pandemic likely arose from a Chinese laboratory leak, an assessment Beijing denies.
The department made its judgment with “low confidence” in a classified intelligence report. The FBI has also assessed that the pandemic likely originated from a lab leak. Four other U.S. agencies still judge that COVID-19 was likely the result of natural transmission, while two are undecided.
Many U.S. officials have said the pandemic’s origins may never be known. China said claims that a laboratory leak likely caused the pandemic have no credibility.
Biden noted that he had directed intelligence agencies to investigate COVID-19’s origins in 2021, that work is ongoing and his administration would continue to review all classified information, including potential links to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“We need to get to the bottom of COVID-19’s origins to help ensure we can better prevent future pandemics,” he said.
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