US intelligence agencies could have obtained classified information on viruses as a result of a hacker attack
The fact that American intelligence managed to get access to the genetic data of viruses from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, CNN reported. Some US officials believe that it was there that the coronavirus leak occurred, which led to the pandemic. Joe Biden instructed American intelligence to check this version at the end of May.
It is still unknown when and how the special services managed to get this information. However, CNN sources note that such databases are often connected to external cloud servers that US intelligence could hack.
About 22 thousand virus samples are stored in Wuhan
One of the largest virology institutes in China and the world is located in Wuhan. Its scientists have been studying coronaviruses and other pathogens carried by bats for years. Over the years of research, the institute has accumulated about 22 thousand virus samples. In addition, the institute researched strengthening and modifying viruses: they were made more contagious and dangerous to better prepare for the emergence of new pathogens and a potential pandemic.
Now access to this database is closed, but it was possible to study it online before the pandemic. Initially, it was reported that the Wuhan Institute of Virology decided to restrict access to the database due to the increased frequency of hacker attacks. However, Vanity Fair journalists managed to find out that access to the database was closed on September 12, 2019, that is, almost three months before the first officially registered case of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Data from the Wuhan laboratory may shed light on the origin of the coronavirus
Each virus has a kind of “genetic barcode” — a long sequence of DNA or RNA. For example, in the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, this chain consists of about 30 thousand nucleotides. As the virus spreads among people, it constantly mutates, that is, its genome changes, but most of the “genetic barcode” of the virus remains the same, which allows us to establish the path taken by the virus and its genetic proximity to other viruses, among which its “ancestor” can be detected.
The closest virus to SARS-CoV-2 is the bat coronavirus RaTG13, which scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology discovered in the southern Yunnan Prefecture in 2013. Experts collected virus samples in a cave with bats, where six Chinese miners had contracted an unknown disease a year earlier. The genetic similarity between the virus found there, which caused the pandemic is 96.2 percent.
However, an evolutionary biologist, professor at the University of Reading Mark Pagel told, that this indicator is not high enough to draw any conclusions: the virus from Yunnan is about twice as far away from COVID-19 in evolutionary terms as a chimpanzee is from a human. In other words, scientists have not yet found the closest “ancestor” of the virus. However, the data obtained by US intelligence may change this.
The analysis of the entire array of received data is very difficult
One of the main problems facing American intelligence is the enormous amount of data obtained. It is reported that supercomputers in elite laboratories of the US Department of Energy will be used for their processing.
In addition, the intelligence community may face another problem — a shortage of specialists. The fact is that there are quite a few scientists who can decipher the genetic sequences of the coronavirus. And those who have the necessary level of admission are even fewer. In addition, scientists must speak the Chinese language in which the database is compiled, and there are literally only a few such experts.
The version about the COVID-19 leak is gaining popularity
Recently, the version that the coronavirus could “escape” from the laboratory is gaining more and more popularity. Even at the beginning of the pandemic, former US President Donald Trump adhered to this version, but most scientists and observers then declared it unrealistic.
In early 2021, a group of international experts from the World Health Organization visited Wuhan, where they conducted their own investigation. The scientists were not given access to the Wuhan Institute of Virology database, but they, nevertheless, stated that it was unlikely that the virus would leak. Later, the head of the WHO, Tedros Adanom Ghebreyesus, admitted that the experts had rushed to conclusions. The organization offered to conduct a second phase of the investigation, including an audit of laboratories in Wuhan, but China categorically refused.
The attitude to this version has also changed in the United States. On May 27, Biden gave intelligence 90 days to investigate the origin of COVID-19. The US Republican Party also supports this version. On August 2, Republican members of the House of Representatives published a report on the origin of COVID-19. Based on open data, they concluded that SARS-CoV-2 spread around the world due to a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
China believes that the United States is involved in the leakage and spread of the coronavirus
So far, there has been no official reaction from Beijing to the CNN publication. The Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Wuhan Institute of Virology did not respond to requests. Nevertheless, earlier, the official Chinese media put forward their own version of the origin of COVID-19. Allegedly, the coronavirus could have spread in European countries even before the outbreak was announced in China. It is noted that the leak could have come from the American biological laboratory in Fort Detrick.
Head of the Center for Asia-Pacific Studies suggested that in response to the actions of the American authorities, Beijing could publish “some sensational secret information about Fort Detrick.” Such shifting the blame on each other, he believes, will not allow us to find out where the virus really came from. “This is a crucial, relevant research topic. Without the cooperation of scientists from different countries, it turns into a platform for the struggle of special services, a platform for propaganda confrontation, which, of course, is extremely bad not only for the United States and China but also for all humanity” scientist added.