I don't have much to say about this publicly, other than the fact that NYT is probably the largest news website in the US and it's reporting is very influential and high-stakes as a result. Also, that if you ever noticed a news website routinely being horribly wrong about things before, you probably shouldn't forget about that.

Right now, anything critical of China seems to be popular, but that by itself doesn't actually tell us that much, since it might just be because lots of people in lots of places noticed that China-bashing gets clicks.

Webarchive link is here: https://web.archive.org/web/20230226211102/https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/26/us/politics/china-lab-leak-coronavirus-pandemic.html

On my viewing of nytimes.com at ~1pm EST, it was the fourth article from the top. It was very easy to miss due to being sandwiched between eye-catching articles, including one with a large moving image.

(it's important to note that I check the site every morning, which is not very generalizeable, since most english-speakers currently find news articles through social media and not any news org's homepage).


The conclusion, which was made with “low confidence,” came as America’s intelligence agencies remained divided over the origins of the coronavirus.

New intelligence has prompted the Energy Department to conclude that an accidental laboratory leak in China most likely caused the coronavirus pandemic, though U.S. spy agencies remain divided over the origins of the virus, American officials said on Sunday.

The conclusion was a change from the department’s earlier position that it was undecided on how the virus emerged.

Some officials briefed on the intelligence said that it was relatively weak and that the Energy Department’s conclusion was made with “low confidence,” suggesting its level of certainty was not high. While the department shared the information with other agencies, none of them changed their conclusions, officials said.

Officials would not disclose what the intelligence was. But many of the Energy Department’s insights come from the network of national laboratories it oversees, rather than more traditional forms of intelligence like spy networks or communications intercepts.


Intelligence officials believe the scrutiny of the pandemic’s beginnings could be important to improving global response to future health crises, though they caution that finding an answer about the source of the virus may be difficult or even impossible given Chinese opposition to further research. Scientists say there is a responsibility to explain how a pandemic that has killed almost seven million people started, and learning more about its origins could help researchers understand what poses the biggest threats of future outbreaks.

The new intelligence and the shift in the department’s view was first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Sunday.

Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, declined to confirm the intelligence. But he said President Biden had ordered that the national labs be brought into the effort to determine the origins of the outbreak so that the government was using “every tool” it had.

In addition to the Energy Department, the F.B.I. has also concluded, with moderate confidence, that the virus first emerged accidentally from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a Chinese lab that worked on coronaviruses. Four other intelligence agencies and the National Intelligence Council have concluded, with low confidence, that the virus most likely emerged through natural transmission, the director of national intelligence’s office announced in October 2021.

Mr. Sullivan said those divisions remain.

“There is a variety of views in the intelligence community,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “Some elements of the intelligence community have reached conclusions on one side, some on the other. A number of them have said they just don’t have enough information to be sure.”

Mr. Sullivan said if more information was learned, the administration would report it to Congress and the public. “But right now, there is not a definitive answer that has emerged from the intelligence community on this question,” he said.

Some scientists believe that the current evidence, including virus genes, points to a large food and live animal market in Wuhan as the most likely place the coronavirus emerged.


Leaders of the intelligence community are set to brief Congress on March 8 and 9 as part of annual hearings on global threats. Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, and other senior officials would most likely be asked about the continuing inquiry into the virus’s origins.

How the pandemic began has become a divisive line of intelligence reporting, and recent congressional reports have not been bipartisan.

Many Democrats have not been persuaded by the lab leak hypothesis, with some saying they believe the natural causes explanation and others saying they are not certain that enough intelligence will emerge to draw a conclusion.


But many Republicans on Capitol Hill have said they believe the virus could have come from one of China’s research labs in Wuhan. A congressional subcommittee, created when Republicans took over the House in January, has made examining the lab leak theory a central focus of its work. It is expected to convene the first of a series of hearings in March.

“Evidence has been piling up for over a year in favor of the lab leak hypothesis,” said Representative Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican who sits on the House Intelligence Committee and leads a new House committee on China. “I am glad some of our agencies are starting to listen to common sense and change their assessment.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Gallagher will hold the new committee’s first hearing, looking at the threat the Chinese Communist Party poses to the United States. Future hearings, Mr. Gallagher said, will look at biosecurity and China’s efforts to influence international organizations like the World Health Organization.

“Where our committee can have a role is teasing out what this communicates about the DNA of the Chinese Communist Party, an organization that was willing to cover up the origins of the pandemic and thereby cost us critical days, months and weeks and millions of lives in the process,” Mr. Gallagher said in an interview on Sunday.

Chinese officials have repeatedly called the lab leak hypothesis a lie that has no basis in science and is politically motivated.


Early in the Biden administration, the president ordered the intelligence agencies to investigate the pandemic’s origins, after criticism of a W.H.O. report on the matter. While there was material that had not been thoroughly examined by intelligence officials, the review ultimately did not yield any new consensus inside the agencies.

The March 2021 report by the W.H.O. said it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus emerged accidentally from a lab. But China appointed half the scientists who wrote the report and exerted major control over it. American officials have been largely dismissive of that work.

The intelligence agencies have said they do not believe there is any evidence that the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 was created deliberately as a biological weapon. But they have said that whether it emerged naturally, perhaps from a market in Wuhan, or escaped accidentally from a lab is the subject of legitimate debate.

Anthony Ruggiero, a scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former National Security Council staff member focusing on biodefense issues during the Trump administration, said he believed China is still “hiding crucial information” about how the virus emerged. He said the lab leak theory should not be dismissed.

“The lab leak origin for the Covid-19 pandemic is not, and was not, a conspiracy theory,” he said.

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When it comes to the lab leak theory, every new piece of evidence seems to call for me updating more toward it.

Besides this report with rests on classified information, the latest was the coincide between the EcoHealthAlliance failing to turn in their grant report for the grant that financed the Wuhan lab in September 2019. That happens to be the same month the Wuhan lab took down their virus database. According to the Wuhan lab itself they took the database down during the pandemic when they were faced with a hacking attack which suggest a pandemic begin in that month according to Chinese intelligence.

The decision to run the Coronavirus training exercise in October in the US might have been just lucky, but might also have been informed by the strange things happening in Wuhan that a good US intelligence service would have picked up around that time (who would also be the prime suspect for the hacking attack).

The conclusion, which was made with “low confidence,” came as America’s intelligence agencies remained divided over the origins of the coronavirus.

Does the phrase "low confidence" as used here have have an operationalized definition?

Wikipedia says:

Low confidence generally means questionable or implausible information was used, the information is too fragmented or poorly corroborated to make solid analytic inferences, or significant concerns or problems with sources existed.1


Regardless of the ground truth, it bothers me the bad arguments people make where their political leanings depend on a particular ground truth.
Democrats "disbelieve" the evidence because their team has decided it isn't true/is anti-China/certain scientists want it to not be true because it would cause restrictions on their research.

Republicans "whole heartedly believe" the evidence even when it is not overwhelming and it seems the Federal agencies are split on this.  

The ground truth is we don't know but there is a significant chunk of probability mass (30-40% it seems) in favor of lab leak.

I don't see how it would be possible to determine what happened, with any kind of reasonable certainty that is.

Lots of circumstantial "facts", but gauging if it is incidental or accidental that's just hard or impossible.

And we won't ever have access to the information that could prove if it leaked from a lab, that information is now lost, and telling the difference between "The Chinese government burned it" or "Did not happen, so no information exists" seems to be an impossible [1]task.

So that leave us with could we get enough evidence for a natural origin? That also seems unlikely, not in the least because this happened in China, and they purposefully withheld information and still do, and likely also bungled everything to the point that even if you got 100% access, you still couldn't make the case with sufficient confidence.


  1. ^

    We could ask the NSA for record copies from all the BSL-3 and 4 labs in and around Wuhan. But I doubt they would even respond with a "No such records exist"

We could ask the NSA for record copies from all the BSL-3 and 4 labs in and around Wuhan. 

The virus most likely leaked from the gain-of-function experiments that they were doing under BSL-2 and not from the BSL-3 or BSL-4 labs.

The NSA is not in the habit of telling the world how they surveil people and that's what they would need to do so to do that publically. 

We however know a bit about the results of surveillance data from the letter that the NIH sent the EcoHealthAlliance.

Disclose and explain out-of-ordinary restrictions on laboratory facilities, as suggested, for example, by diminished cell-phone traffic in October 2019, and the evidence that there may have been roadblocks surrounding the facility from October 14-19, 2019.

Diminished cell-phone traffic seems the kind of thing that the NSA picked up. 

When it comes to that strain of data, the House Committee could let whoever decided to do the training exercise on the Coronavirus to testify. 

Asking them whether they were aware of the unusual activity in Wuhan and whether it made them decide on Coronavirus might provide interesting answers.

The virus most likely leaked from the gain-of-function experiments that they were doing under BSL-2 and not from the BSL-3 or BSL-4 labs.

Third scenario: bat-to-researcher transmission during field work at bat caves or from the bat repository/colony or unaltered bat viruses at the labs in Wuhan.


I don't think any evidence of that nature would push you into any certainty.

Personally I think it did leak from a lab, and I have held that belief for some time. But that does not mean that I am in any way confident it is right, its just the least uncertain explanation as far as I can can gauge.

And the amount of data I would need to go from "very uncertain" to "very certain", is something I won't get access to.

After thinking about it for a while, I realized that it didn't matter. Lab leak or not, gain of function is what I should worry about.

Obviously if I had evidence that GoF and a leak was the root cause of the pandemic, that would be helpful if I was to try and influence people to do something about GoF. Unfortunately reality seems to be uncooperative.

Another suspicious coincidence/piece of evidence pointing to September 2019 is right there in the SP500 chart - slope of the linear upward trend changes significantly around the end of September 2019 just as to preempt the subsequent crash/make it happen from a higher base