As part of the effort to help the US investigate the theory that COVID-19 might have leaked from a Chinese lab, Britain’s spies are trying to "incentivise" Chinese defectors to get to the truth of the matter, reported The Times.
The British intelligence community was revealed earlier as having offered its services to American counterparts in the probe announced by President Joe Biden.
into claims the coronavirus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV)institute.
"We are contributing what intelligence we have on Wuhan, as well as offering to help the American to corroborate and analyse any intelligence they have that we can assist with… What is required to establish the truth behind the coronavirus outbreak is well-sourced intelligence rather than informed analysis, and that is difficult to come by," a source was quoted as saying.
The widely-accepted theory has been that the SARS-CoV-2 virus originated in wild animals such as bats and pangolins sold in markets in Wuhan, China. However, increasing reports have been feeding into speculations that Beijing allegedly masterminded a cover-up.
China has repeatedly blasted the reports on the “lab leak” conspiracy as a “smear campaign” pushed by Washington.
However, now UK spooks are being brought on board to search for potential “Chinese whistleblowers” on the internet who might be prepared to dish some secrets without fear of being apprehended by the ruling Communist Party, says the outlet.
While ostensibly deploring lack of “human intelligence sources” on the ground in China, the Dark Web is being regarded as a possible source of gleaning intel.
"There might be pockets of evidence that take us one way, and evidence that takes us another way… The Chinese will lie either way. I don't think we will ever know,” said a source cited by the outlet.
From ‘Remote’ to ‘Feasible’
This comes as British intelligence recently assessed the theory to upgrade its likeliness from "remote" to "feasible", reported the publication on Sunday.
After carrying out their own investigation into the origins of the virus, UK officials were cited as underscoring the need to treat the situation as an "intelligence issue" requiring MI6 services. Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), commonly known as MI6, was cited by The Telegraph as saying:
“It seems to me there has been absolutely no scientific debate. The Chinese made an assertion without any explanation and that the majority of the scientific community seem to accept it at face value. It's clear that they've run an information operation to try and suppress any other view.”
British MPs have also been urging a fresh investigation, with Tin Tugendhat, chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, quoted as saying:
"The silence coming from Wuhan is troubling. We need to open the crypt and see what happened to be able to protect ourselves in the future. That means starting an investigation, along with partners around the world and in the WHO."
In January and February, international experts travelled to Wuhan, where SARS-CoV-2 is believed to have first started circulating in late 2019, to examine a laboratory, hospitals and markets for clues on the origins of the virus.
The expert mission of the World Health Organisation (WHO) then compiled a report, released in March, that concluded that a leak of the new coronavirus from a laboratory in Wuhan was very unlikely. It added the new virus was most likely transmitted to humans from bats through an intermediary host.
However, after the publication of the WHO report, organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that China had withheld data from international experts during their visit to the Chinese city.
The United States and 13 other nations also slammed the WHO final report, written jointly with Chinese scientists, saying that it was late in coming and failed to include complete data and samples.
‘Political Game’ Driving ‘Conspiracy Theory’
Speculations have been recently fuelled by a US intelligence report cited by The Wall Street Journal which claimed that three researchers from China's Wuhan Institute of Virology became ill with respiratory infections resembling COVID-19 in November 2019. A month later, China officially reported the first coronavirus cases.
Beijing has repeatedly blasted Washington for supporting the “conspiracy theory”, particularly favoured by former President Donald Trump, who used to refer to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus”.
After Biden vowed a “redoubled” effort to investigate the origins of the coronavirus, Trump said in a statement:
"Now everybody is agreeing that I was right when I very early on called Wuhan as the source of COVID-19, sometimes referred to as the China Virus."
"Now everybody is agreeing that I was right when I very early on called Wuhan as the source of COVID-19, sometimes referred to as the China Virus. To me it was obvious from the beginning but I was badly criticized, as usual. Now they are all saying “He was right.” Thank you! -DJT pic.twitter.com/EcRRMChP8r— Laurie III (@LaurieIII6) May 25, 2021
China, however, has said that establishing the origins of the virus is "a difficult scientific question" and the United States is "currently trying to let the intelligence services draw scientific conclusions".
"This only suggests that the US is not interested to find out the truth, it does not want any scientific research, this is just a political game, an attempt to throw the blame on others and throw off their responsibility," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Friday.