Bipartisan Senate Bill Calls on Biden to Declassify COVID Intelligence

Bipartisan Senate Bill Calls on Biden to Declassify COVID Intelligence jim risch leans in to talk to senate foreign relations committee chairman bob menendez Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, left, talks with Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2019. (Alex Brandon/AP)

By Eric Mack | Monday, 12 April 2021 08:28 PM

A bipartisan Senate bills seeks the Biden administration's declassification of intelligence on the Chinese origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, including any evidence on a cover-up attempt by China or the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

The Strategic Competition Act of 2021 is a 281-page bill co-signed by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Ranking Member Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho.

"The United States government must be clear-eyed and sober about Beijing's intentions and actions, and calibrate our policy and strategy accordingly," Menendez wrote in a statement. "I am confident that this effort has the necessary support to be overwhelmingly approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next week and the full Senate shortly thereafter.

"That is the only way we will get the China challenge right – a bipartisan commitment to mutual trust and good-faith compromise, balancing pragmatism and idealism, and a shared dedication to finally solving one of toughest challenges our nation faces.

"As I've told my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I am committed to continue working together in common cause so this major piece of legislation is enacted swiftly and through regular order. The scope, scale, and urgency of the China challenge demands nothing less."

The bill calls for the Biden administration to issue "an assessment of the most likely source or origin of the SARS–CoV–2 virus, including a detailed review of all information the United States possesses that it has identified as potentially relevant to the source or origin of the SARS–CoV–2 virus, including zoonotic transmission and spillover, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, or other sources of origin, transmission, or spillover."

The Trump administration has long accused the Chinese government of covering up details of the COVID-19 outbreak since its origins in China, and the Biden administration has been critical of the report released in March by the World Health Organization, under the supervision of China.

A Trump State Department report issued in mid-January said WIV lab workers were stricken with COVID-19 symptoms before China made the public discovery of the virus that has since killed more than 2.93 million worldwide. That report claimed the WIV conducted experiments for the People's Republic of China (PRC) military and gain-of-function research, according to the Washington Examiner.

Gain-of-function research involves experimentation on how a virus is transmitted, potentially causing serious "biosecurity and biosafety" risks and ethical considerations, according to an abstract in Nature Public Health Emergency Collection.

The Biden administration has yet to weigh in on that report.

The Strategic Competition Act seeks "an account of efforts by the PRC to cooperate with, impede, or obstruct any inquiry or investigation to determine the source and transmission of SARS–CoV–2 virus, including into a possible lab leak, or to create or spread misinformation or disinformation regarding the source and transmission of SARS–CoV–2 virus by the PRC or CCP."

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus admitted the possibility of a lab leak has not been full investigated, as WHO-China investigation called that "extremely unlikely," according to the report.

The WHO report suggested an animal to human transition, a claim China has long made since announcing finding of COVID-19.

Biden Secretary of State Antony Blinken has echoed the Trump administration's rebuke of Chinese government's lack of transparency at the start of the pandemic.

"For the past year, I didn't see a single intelligence product from the best intelligence enterprise in the world that was consistent with what the World Health Organization said about the likely origins of COVID-19," former Trump administration Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said Sunday.

That comes after President Joe Biden admitted he has not pressed Chinese President Xi Jinping about misleading the world on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Biden State Department did issue a recent statement to the Examiner that "the United States condemns the PRC's false, baseless, and unscientific claims" that the U.S. military originated the COVID-19 outbreak.