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Little-known Scientific Team Behind New Assessment on COVID-19 Origins

Few scientists believe the virus to be man-made

The theory that COVID-19 started with a lab accident in central China received a modest boost in the latest U.S. intelligence assessment after the work of a little-known scientific team that conducts some of the federal government’s most secretive and technically challenging investigations of emerging security threats, current and former U.S. officials said Monday.

An analysis by experts from the U.S. national laboratory complex — including members of a storied team known as Z-Division — prompted the Energy Department to change its view earlier this year about the likely cause of the 2019 coronavirus outbreak, the officials said. Though initially undecided about COVID-19's origins, Energy officials concluded as part of a new government-wide intelligence assessment that a lab accident was most likely the triggering event for the world's worst pandemic in a century.

But other intelligence agencies involved in the classified update — completed in the past few weeks and kept under wraps — were divided on the question of covid-19’s origins, with most still maintaining that a natural, evolutionary “spillover” from animals was the most likely explanation. Even the Energy Department’s analysis was carefully hedged, as the officials expressed only “low confidence” in their conclusion, according to U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a classified report.

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