Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley on Tuesday said that the U.S. intelligence community has looked “hard” into rumors that the coronavirus had its origins in a Chinese biolab, not an open-air market as is widely believed.
“There’s a lot of rumor and speculation in a wide variety of media, blog sites, etc.,” Milley said. “It should be no surprise to you that we have taken a keen interest in that, and we have had a lot of intelligence take a hard look at that.”
“At this point it’s inconclusive, although the weight of evidence seems to indicate natural, but we do not know for sure,” Milley said.
Most scientists have publicly dismissed the theory that COVID-19 began as an escaped bioweapon, and there is no public evidence to support it. The fringe theory emerged in the early days of the disease’s spread and is based on the fact that Wuhan, where the outbreak began, has at least two infectious-disease research labs. It has gained some traction on the right, bolstered by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who has publicly suggested that the United States should consider the possibility that the disease may have originated in a lab, not a live-animal market.
“We don’t know where it originated, and we have to get to the bottom of that,” Cotton said on Fox News in February. “We also know that just a few miles away from that food market is China’s only biosafety level 4 super laboratory that researches human infectious diseases.”
But it is possible that the virus could have begun as research that accidentally escaped the lab — although scientists disagree on the likelihood of this.
Milley’s answer on Tuesday was less definitive than his chief medical officer, Joint Staff Surgeon Brig. Gen. Paul Freidrichs, who has previously said of the theory: “No.”