WASHINGTON — The House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday passed its version of a Senate-approved bill that would force the Biden administration to declassify information about the coronavirus’ origins — including its ties to a Chinese lab.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines would be required to declassify “any and all information relating to potential links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology” and COVID-19, as well as “make available to the public as much information as possible” regarding the virus’ origin, according to the bill.
The committee approved the legislation with a bipartisan voice vote Tuesday in which no one dissented. It will now go to the House floor for a vote, then to President Biden’s desk for his signature.
So far, the White House has made no indication that the president would veto legislation, meaning Americans could be one step closer to learning what intelligence officials know about where the virus came from.
Releasing that information would “help inform the public as to why the FBI director has indicated that a COVID-19 lab leak is not just a possibility, but approaches the idea that is likely,” Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday.
The House Intelligence Committee passed its version of a Senate-approved bill that would force the Biden administration to declassify information about the origins of COVID-19.CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
“The American public deserves answers to every aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic, including how this virus was graded and specifically, whether it was a natural occurrence or was the result of a lab-related event,” he said. “The intelligence community does have more information about COVID-19 than the public has seen.”
The legislation is the result of bipartisan work and it is expected to pass with overwhelming support. The Senate approved the same measure last week by unanimous vote.
The House bill’s passage would provide “a unique insight as to what was happening at biosafety level laboratory in Wuhan, China in late 2019 and early 2020,” Turner said. “The laboratory and who was working there might be the key to unraveling the truth.”
But Turner cautioned lawmakers to temper their expectations of what is known but said declassifying the intelligence should further advance conversations about the coronavirus’ ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“The bill we are discussing today would give the American public just a glimpse — albeit a very important aspect — of the classified information that tells the intelligence community holds,” he said.
The bipartisan effort to declassify the information after the Energy Department judged that the virus likely leaked from a Chinese lab. The release of the information — and lack thereof — may help reveal why the Energy Department only did so with “low confidence.”
Rep. Mike Turner said the House bill’s passage would provide “a unique insight as to what was happening at biosafety level laboratory in Wuhan, China in late 2019 and early 2020.”Future Publishing via Getty Images
Ranking Member Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) said the report does not offer a definitive answer on the origins of the coronavirus, but that’s largely because the secretive Chinese Communist Party has made data collection difficult.
“Determining the precise origins of a pandemic disease is challenging under the best of circumstances, but because COVID originated in China, the efforts to definitively determine its source have been even more difficult at every juncture,” he said.
“The [Chinese] government has obfuscated and obstructed legitimate inquiries, a deeply irresponsible approach to global health public health,” Himes added.
The Democrat said he hoped the bill would work to further encourage the intelligence community’s efforts to trace the virus’ origin, which could help prevent future pandemics and “keep looking forward to how we can be ready for the next one.”
“The intelligence community should continue to get to the bottom of COVID origin and importantly, I believe that they should make as much public as they can so the American people can consider the best available information we have, as opposed to marinating and conjecture and speculation and conspiracy theories,” Himes said.
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