U.S. President Joe Biden has requested that intelligence agencies determine within three months whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus originated in a lab, sparking off a global uproar. Support for this decision has mostly come in the form of political statements, including a clear message of approval from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as some fairly vague support from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.
However, Dutch and Australian specialists from the World Health Organization’s expert group working to trace the virus’s source in Wuhan have defended their conclusion that it’s “highly unlikely” the virus came from a lab, and a relevant Irish WHO director criticized the current atmosphere as causing the tracing research to be “poisoned by politics.” These scientists have stressed that while discussion of whether the virus originated in a lab is very prominent right now, no new evidence has come to light. They say that if the U.S. has concrete evidence, it should share it.
In March, WHO experts had already disproved the claim that there was a case of COVID-19 within a Wuhan infectious disease lab before the pandemic was acknowledged; their investigation into the situation showed that the infection in question was not COVID-19.
Scientists understand that tracing the origin of an infectious pandemic is a formidable task. To these experts, the idea that the CIA could obtain results in three months is a fairy tale. U.S. intelligence agencies do not have greater capabilities for scientific research into the virus’s source than the WHO, nor has it gained more data or material, especially not by locking the virus’s whistleblowers in a Wuhan laboratory. The only thing the U.S. can do now is make a political decision: Will it craft a report framing China to accord with its current policy of suppression toward China? Or will it shrink under the wave of opposition from the mainstream scientific community and try to do damage control on the already beleaguered U.S. government’s reputation?
The United States’ politicization of this research has gone too far, exposing a series of flaws in its strategy to the world.
The first flaw is that the U.S. government believes itself infallible and has no respect for the WHO expert group’s report from the first stage of research into the virus’s origin. It is just blindly exerting political pressure on the WHO. The Trump administration publicly severed its connection with the WHO. Although the Biden administration has restored its relationship with the organization, it continues to insist that the WHO serves the interests of the U.S. It’s a case of politics hijacking science.
The second is that tracing a virus back to its source is a complicated and difficult task, involving a multitude of possibilities. The United States’ insistent presumption of guilt against Wuhan viral research labs goes against widely held scientific understanding and established methods of virus tracing. It will be difficult to garner support within the scientific community. A handful of scientists support the claim that the virus came out of a laboratory. However, these scientists often change their views to meet new circumstances, and their fluctuating attitude has weakened the credibility of their position.
The third is that intelligence agencies like the FBI are notorious for fabricating lies for political aims. In order to launch the Iraq War, it lied, saying that the Saddam Hussein regime held weapons of mass destruction, which was later proved to be completely false. Colin Powell, U.S. Secretary of State at the time, showed a tube of white powder to the United Nations as evidence, later mockingly called “laundry detergent.” The moment left a deep impression on the international community. This time, the U.S. intelligence agencies are running with zero credibility right from the start of the race.
The fourth is that we now live in the age of the internet. If the U.S. attempts to frame China, it needs to manipulate the voices of both the WHO and the majority of the world’s scientists. That would be far more difficult than it was to create false evidence of weapons of mass destruction to hoodwink the international community 18 years ago; the two aren’t even in the same league. To date, all U.S. intelligence agencies can do is anonymously enlist the media to spread rumors; it can’t provide any concrete evidence to share with the world. In this day and age, that old tactic is easily disarmed.
Washington is so arrogant that it hasn’t realized its malicious accusations against China have become a personal political gamble, and that it is staking everything on international trust that it has yet to win back. It’s getting itself into dangerous territory, springing itself into a fight from which it can’t back down. This could become its Waterloo, where its abuse of soft power finally loses the U.S. its international prestige.