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US House Votes to Declassify Intelligence on COVID Origins

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The US House of Representatives voted unanimously on Friday to declassify intelligence about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. The vote of 419-0 was the final approval of the bill, sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law.

The discussion was short and to the point: Americans have questions about how the deadly virus got started and what can be done to prevent future outbreaks. “The American public deserves answers on every aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rep. Michael Turner, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

That includes, he said, “how this virus was created and, specifically, whether it was a natural event or was the result of a laboratory-related event.”

The declassification order focused on relevant intelligence, citing “possible links” between the research conducted there and the COVID-19 outbreak, which was announced by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020.

US intelligence agencies are divided on whether a laboratory or animal leak is the likely source of the deadly virus.

Experts say the true origin of the coronavirus pandemic may not be known for many years – if it ever existed.

“Transparency is a cornerstone of our democracy,” Rep. Jim Himes, R-Conn., the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said during the debate.

Led by Republicans, the focus on the origins of the virus comes as the House of Representatives launched a select committee with a hearing earlier in the week to delve into theories about how the pandemic began. It provides a rare moment of bipartisanship despite the often acrimonious rhetoric about the origins of the coronavirus and questions about the response to the virus by US health officials, including the former chief health advisor.

The legislation from Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mis., has already been approved by the Senate.

If signed into law, the measure would require within 90 days to declassify “any and all information regarding possible links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origin of coronavirus disease.” This includes information about the research and other activities in the laboratory and whether any researcher has become ill.

The COVID-19 outbreak began in 2019 in the eastern Chinese city of Wuhan, killing nearly 7 million people worldwide so far, according to official statistics, more than 1 million of them are in the United States.

The US Department of Energy concluded with “low confidence” that the virus may have escaped via a laboratory accident, agreeing with the FBI’s assessment, but contradicting the conclusions of several other agencies.

Robert Redfield, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, defended the lab leak theory before senators on Wednesday, while the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Institutes of Health identified the infected animal as the likely culprit.

“There is broad consensus in the intelligence community that the outbreak is not the result of a biological weapon or genetic engineering. What there is no consensus on is whether or not it was a lab leak,” Haines added.

When the Senate version of the bill was introduced in February, its co-author Josh Hawley said anyone asking whether COVID-19 originated in a lab was “silenced and branded a conspiracy theory.”

“Now these wise skeptics are right. The American people deserve to know the truth,” he added.

In a separate effort, House Republicans reintroduced legislation on Friday that would allow US citizens the right to sue China — which rejects the lab leak theory — for a “widespread campaign of misrepresentation” during the outbreak.

New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith said, “We must finally get to the bottom of what happened and who was involved in this deception in order to get justice for those who have suffered so badly from COVID-19.”

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