Intelligence shared between Five Eye nations indicates it is more likely that the coronavirus was spread from exposure in a market than came from an accident in a Chinese lab, according to two western officials.
The virus that originated in Wuhan was not accidentally released from a lab, the officials said, citing an intelligence assessment that contradicts a narrative increasingly being pushed by the Trump administration.
“We think it’s highly unlikely it was an accident,” a western diplomatic official with knowledge of the intelligence said. “It is highly likely it was naturally occurring and that the human infection was from natural human and animal interaction.”
The countries in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing coalition are coalescing around this assessment, the official said, and a second official, from a Five Eyes country, concurred with it. The US has yet to make a formal assessment public.
A third source, from a Five Eyes nation, told CNN that the level of certainty being expressed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Trump is way out in front of where the current Five Eyes assessment is. This source acknowledged that there is still a possibility that the virus originated from a lab, but cautioned there is nothing to make that a legitimate theory yet.
The source added that “clearly the market is where it exploded from” but how the virus got to the market still remains unclear.
But without greater cooperation and transparency from the Chinese, it’s impossible to say with total certainty, the first official added.
Five Eyes is made up of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – in which the countries share a broad range of intelligence in one of the world's tightest multilateral arrangements.
The third source said it is also possible the US is not sharing all of its intelligence. While the overwhelming majority is shared among five eyes, there are pockets of information that each country keeps to themselves. When the information is shared, they share sources and methods, and sometimes countries do not want to share sources and methods.
The assessment follows repeated claims by Trump and Pompeo that there is evidence the virus originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan,” Pompeo told ABC News on Sunday.
The US intelligence community issued a statement on Thursday saying they are still working to “determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.” The statement said that the Covid-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and State Department did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.