Biden Orders Intelligence Inquiry Into Origins of the Coronavirus

Biden Orders Intelligence Inquiry Into Origins of the Coronavirus

Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, has been working with various intelligence agencies, bringing together officials with divergent views to discuss them, to review the shifting science and to push for additional intelligence collection.

Still, Mr. Biden’s order was an abrupt example of presidential intervention in the collection of raw data by those charged with collecting and analyzing intelligence on his behalf. Presidents are often hesitant to appear becoming overly involved in the preparation of the intelligence briefings they receive, though Mr. Biden has been active in asking for intelligence reports on issues including Russian aggressions and domestic terrorism.

The president had asked in March for an internal assessment of the virus’s origins, which was delivered to him two weeks ago in his Presidential Daily Brief of intelligence, according to a senior White House official and an administration official. That started a discussion, the officials said, about declassifying some of the findings and having intelligence officials issue a public statement.

The statement — which described the lack of consensus among intelligence agencies — was ready this week, but Mr. Biden felt it would not help clarify the issue for the public, according to the senior official. And on Tuesday, China took a hard line against cooperating with the W.H.O. on further inquiries, which prompted Mr. Biden to press for a more robust United States investigation, the official said. The president announced that investigation in his statement on Wednesday.

It was unclear whether Mr. Biden was also moved to act by a public shift in opinion by some scientists or political pressure from Mr. Trump’s Republican allies on Capitol Hill, who have repeatedly accused the president and Democrats of refusing to take the lab origin theory seriously.

Seizing a lull on the Senate floor on Wednesday night, Senators Mike Braun of Indiana and Josh Hawley of Missouri, both Republicans, passed their bill to declassify intelligence related to any potential links between the Chinese lab and the origins of the pandemic through unanimous consent. It came after the Senate on Tuesday unanimously agreed to include two Republican provisions to a huge package of China legislation aimed at prohibiting sending American funding to the Wuhan Institute of Virology or to China-based “gain of function” research, in which scientists intentionally try to make a pathogen more powerful.

“For over a year, anyone asking questions about the Wuhan Institute of Virology has been branded as a conspiracy theorist,” Mr. Hawley said. “The world needs to know if this pandemic was the product of negligence at the Wuhan lab, but the C.C.P. has done everything it can to block a credible investigation.”