Director of US intelligence Avril Haines told a Senate committee 'From our perspective, we just don’t know where, when and how the coronavirus was transmitted initially.' Credit: AFP photo.

It can’t be discounted.

In fact, it has grown from conspiracy theory, to a viable, legitimate theory.

During a House committee hearing on global threats, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and CIA Director William Burns both stated that the controversial theory of the novel coronavirus’s origin was still being investigated by America’s spy agencies, Gizmodo.com reported.

Officials made similar comments during a Senate hearing Wednesday.

In so doing, they refused to swear off the increasingly discussed claim that the virus could have actually escaped from a lab — perhaps the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where Chinese scientists are accused of having conducted military experiments involving coronaviruses and animals, Gizmodo reported.

(Foreign diplomats had also previously expressed concerns about the security of this facility.)

“From our perspective, we just don’t know where, when and how the coronavirus was transmitted initially. We have two plausible theories that we’re working on,” said Haines, oversees all 16 US intelligence agencies.

“One of them is that it was a laboratory accident. And the other is that it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals.”

The comments also put intel officials at odds with a recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO), which asserts that the lab leak hypothesis is “extremely unlikely” and that the virus probably originated in livestock farms in southeast Asia, Gizmodo reported.

During an exchange Thursday between Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick and Burns, the CIA director said his agency could not endorse the report’s assessment:

“I think at this point, as Director Haines said, this is something that we’re still analyzing, with the benefit of all of the various sources that the intelligence community can bring to bear,” Burns said.

When pushed, Haines subsequently reiterated the point: “We do not make the assessment that the WHO report made — that it is “extremely unlikely”… that is not our assessment.”

Odd as it may sound, America’s top spies are not alone.

The WHO report was recently criticized by the organization’s own director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said that not enough research had been done on the issue and that “further investigation” was required, Gizmodo reported.

More recently, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under President Trump, Robert Redfield, said in a CNN interview that he believed the “most likely etiology” was “from a laboratory,” but it’s currently unclear what justifies that more assured assessment.

Clearly, the shadow of doubt has emerged when it comes to China’s official story.

Since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, reports have suggested that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) jumped from animals to humans in Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, LiveScience.com reported. 

But in the period since, tissue samples from the market’s animals have revealed no trace of the virus. For the virus to jump from animals to humans, the animals have to actually be carrying it.

According to experts at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), the live animal market may have been the site of a superspreader event, where one person spread the virus to many other people.

Exactly how it got there, remains a deep mystery.

While there’s a lot of disagreement in the scientific community, in general, what was previously considered an outlandish conspiracy theory has increasingly become a legitimate (or at least tolerable) line of inquiry.

Whether that is due to the power of social media and its penchant for disinformation, or, political reasons, nobody really knows.

Regardless, more and more health experts and government officials have begun to question the initial claims about covid-19’s origins.

Last April, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence made the unusual announcement that it was investigating the “lab leak” claims, though it said it did not believe the virus to be “man-made.”

The action was originally blamed on the Trump administration — which was said to be pressuring the intelligence community to endorse the “lab” theory. However, under Biden, America’s top spies seem to be saying the same thing.

After the WHO report’s release, a cadre of scientists recently called for new, politically neutral investigations into the virus’s origins, so the best we can all do at this point is stay tuned.

Sources: Gizmodo.com, LiveScience.com, World Health Organization