CNN: US Intel has data on all of the viruses the WIV was studying

AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

CNN has published this as an exclusive so there’s no way to really verify any of it at this point. Still, what they claim is remarkable enough that it’s worth mentioning. Apparently our intelligence agencies have data on all of the viruses that were studied at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. CNN reports it’s unclear how that’s possible:

It’s unclear exactly how or when US intelligence agencies gained access to the information, but the machines involved in creating and processing this kind of genetic data from viruses are typically connected to external cloud-based servers — leaving open the possibility they were hacked, sources said.

You may remember that at one point the WIV had an online repository which included data all of the samples they had taken from the wild along with work they were doing on those viruses. But that website and all of the data it contained went offline in early September 2019, just a couple months before the first known cases of the coronavirus. After that point outside access of the data was not possible.

Curiously, when Dr. Shi Zhengli was asked why the database was pulled down she claimed on two different occasions that it had been prompted by attempts to hack the database. That answer didn’t make any sense because in September of 2019, no one had heard of the coronavirus and it’s unlikely that database was getting much attention. Dr. Peter Daszak, who helped fund the WIV research also gave the same answer about hacking when he was asked why the database was pulled down.

In any case, the CNN story suggests that the database was hacked by our intelligence agencies at some point and as a result we have all the data. The database was divided into two areas. There was a public area which included completed research and there was a private area which required a password. That portion of the site included data and sequences of viruses which hadn’t been publicly revealed yet could be very revealing.

But decoding all of this information turns out to be pretty difficult. For one thing it requires a lot of processing power. But more importantly, the final output is all in Mandarin. CNN reports that finding people who can parse the information has not been easy:

Not only do intelligence agencies need government scientists skilled enough to interpret complex genetic sequencing data and who have the proper security clearance, they also need to speak Mandarin, since the information is written in Chinese with a specialized vocabulary.

“Obviously there are scientists who are (security) cleared,” one source familiar with the intelligence told CNN. “But Mandarin-speaking ones who are cleared? That’s a very small pool. And not just any scientists, but ones who specialize in bio? So you can see how this quickly becomes difficult.”

Despite the difficulty, this whole process is playing out as part of President Biden’s 90-day review. CNN reports the intel community still believes a lab leak is a real possibility:

For now, senior intelligence officials still say that they are genuinely split between the two prevailing theories on the pandemic’s origins, or some combination of both scenarios. CNN reported last month that senior Biden administration officials overseeing the 90-day review now believe the theory that the virus accidentally escaped from a lab in Wuhan is at least as credible as the possibility that it emerged naturally in the wild — a dramatic shift from a year ago, when Democrats publicly downplayed the so-called lab leak theory.

Meanwhile, former DNI John Ratcliffe who has long been a proponent of the lab leak theory, claimed the whole 90-day review amounted to little more than stalling for time. “We’ve had extraordinary insight into this topic for many months, much more than has been declassified. Pretending we didn’t is political theater and a classic example of a politician trying to buy time by using the IC as a scapegoat,” he said.