Eight Republican senators are pressing Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to provide them with the raw materials that informed the intelligence community’s latest assessment on the origins of Covid-19, according to a letter they sent Haines on Monday.
“We write to request that you immediately deliver to Congress each IC assessment used and relied upon by the Office of the Director National Intelligence (ODNI) for its consensus publications,” the senators wrote Haines, adding that they are giving Haines until March 20 to provide them with the requested information.
Earlier this year, Congress received a summary of the findings of the intelligence community’s continued investigation into the origins of Covid-19. But the Republican senators – now expressing skepticism about the summary report itself – are specifically requesting “the actual individual IC assessments” instead of a summary of what those assessments found.
The request was prompted by a recent low confidence assessment from the Department of Energy that Covid-19 most likely originated from a laboratory leak in China. The assessment – which matches a moderate confidence finding by the FBI – remains the minority view within the intelligence community, but it has reanimated a debate over the origins of the worldwide pandemic.
“DNI Haines currently faces a critical decision – whether to be transparent with Congress and stop obstructing the agencies involved in the IC assessment from turning over their results or continue to hide key details from the American people and their elected officials. There are many questions about ODNI’s process that must be answered. Was it tainted by outside experts who had conflicts of interest? Why was Congress not updated in real time with new assessments? I will continue to seek the truth for Kansans and all Americans,” Sen. Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican who signed the letter, said in a statement to CNN.
While Democratic sources familiar with the intelligence have downplayed the significance of the new DOE assessment, Republicans are looking to use it to dig deeper into what the intelligence community knows and to raise questions about the intelligence community’s process in making conclusions. Biden administration officials and intelligence sources have repeatedly said that the conclusions are simply inconclusive, pointing to the lack of information that the Chinese have shared on the origins of the virus.
“Congress should be able to review the independent evaluations without filters, ambiguity or interpretations of the intelligence. There is clear bipartisan support in Congress to make these assessments available immediately in full as evident by the unanimous March 1, 2023 Senate passage of the COVID-19 Origin Act to declassify information related to the origin of COVID-19,” the senators wrote.
The senators who signed the letter, in addition to Marshall, include Sen. Chuck Grassley, Sen. Joni Ernst, Sen. Rick Scott, Sen. Susan Collins, Sen Marsha Blackburn, Sen Roger Wicker and Sen Mike Braun.
CNN has asked the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for comment.
The senators are also requesting a detailed briefing from ODNI about the process behind analyzing material across government on the topic. They specifically want to know how ODNI synthesized and processed the information, particularly material which did not come from the intelligence community such as information from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They also want to know if each IC assessment was given equal weight and how “any differences in analytic judgment were fully considered and brought to the attention of the White House.”
As they dig into this inquiry, the senators claim that when the intelligence community was tasked by the White House with doing a 90-day review to evaluate the origins of Covid-19 in March 2021, the decision to rely on the intelligence community – instead of entities across government – “all but eliminated the U.S. government’s ability to openly share assessment results with any meaningful transparency.”
The third line of questions from the senators is related to the credentials and experience of the individuals involved in the ODNI summary.
“Finally, we are concerned that the world-class credentials of the scientists and other experts of the IC elements was not matched by the ODNI reviewers,” the letter writes. “If ODNI does not make all IC individual assessments available to congress, then it will be important for ODNI to provide full descriptions of the credentials, training, experience and job titles about each individual involved in ODNI’s synthesis of IC assessments, to include all detailees, individuals on interagency personnel agreements, unpaid consultants, federal contractors and political appointees.”
A congressional source familiar with the letter explained that the Department of Energy has some of the best scientists in the world and expressed concern about the ability of anyone without those credentials being able to accurately summarize their findings.
The senators write that the investigation into the origins of the pandemic have been “obfuscated” by the Chinese communist government’s lack of cooperation.
Administration officials have said that they agree with that sentiment, but they have also said that the US government does not have a consensus on the origins of the virus.
“What the president wants is facts. He wants the whole government designed to go get those facts. And that’s what we’re doing and we’re just not there yet,” National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby told reporters last month. “And when we’re there yet, and if we have something that is ready to be briefed to the American people and the Congress – than we’re going to do that.”
A report from 2021 issued by ODNI revealed that the National Intelligence Council, along with four other unidentified agencies, assessed with low confidence that the initial Covid-19 infection “was most likely caused by natural exposure to an animal infected with it or a close progenitor virus.”
But the Republican senators argue that “ODNI has failed to be transparent with Congress and the American people” about their process of reviewing the different assessments.
“It is time for the Administration to declassify the assessments, make the information available to the public, and start building the public’s trust through transparency,” they wrote.
The congressional source familiar with the letter echoed those sentiments.
“We have sources that know that what was represented in these summaries – not just this one, but in the larger classified report – that there is reason to question the completeness and objectivity of how the information has been representative,” the source said.