U.S. intelligence agencies have accessed a “treasure trove” of data from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) that could provide new information about the origins of COVID-19, CNN reported Thursday.
The data includes entire virus genomes that scientists at WIV studied, sources familiar with the data collection told CNN. However, intelligence agencies are reportedly struggling to process the data, due to the sheer quantity of it and the fact that it is in Mandarin. The agencies are reportedly using supercomputers at the Department of Energy to process the virus data, but do not have enough Mandarin-speaking biologists to aid the effort.
CNN reports that U.S. intel agencies have secured access to a “treasure trove” of previously hidden data on the viruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but they are struggling to analyze it all. Discuss. https://t.co/eMxFeolNFj
— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) August 5, 2021
“Obviously there are scientists who are (security) cleared,” an intelligence source told CNN. “But Mandarin-speaking ones who are cleared? That’s a very small pool. And not just any scientists, but ones who specialize in bio? So you can see how this quickly becomes difficult.”
China’s National Health Commission (NHC) ordered WIV to destroy coronavirus lab samples, and the country refused to provide raw data on infections and viruses to World Health Organization (WHO) investigators. Chinese scientists also requested that the American National Institutes of Health delete data that they had entered into a database, although a University of Washington scientist later recovered it. (RELATED: Jake Sullivan Casts Doubt On WHO’s Wuhan Report, Says China Has Withheld Raw Data)
Since viruses evolve over time, scientists can map and track mutations in their genome to determine when and where they emerged. The data recovered by the University of Washington scientist, Dr. Jesse Bloom, suggests that COVID-19 was circulating before the outbreak associated with the Huanan seafood market, which some Chinese scientists have cited as the origin of the virus. The new data is also expected to aid in this effort, although it is unclear how intelligence officials accessed it.
President Joe Biden ordered the intelligence community on May 26 to provide an assessment on the origins of COVID-19 within 90 days. Senior intelligence and administration officials believe that the lab leak theory is “at least as credible” as the theory that it emerged from the Huanan seafood market, CNN reported in July.
The new data analysis will not be able to fully prove whether or not COVID-19 leaked from WIV, sources familiar with the investigation told CNN. However, the analysis will be able to help scientists and intelligence officials construct “a narrative of the origins of SARS-COVID,” one source said.