One of America's most senior government officials says the most 'credible' theory about the origin of coronavirus is that it escaped from a laboratory in China.
Matthew Pottinger, who is President Donald Trump's respected Deputy National Security Adviser, told politicians from around the world that even China's leaders now openly admit their previous claims that the virus originated in a Wuhan market are false.
Mr Pottinger said that the latest intelligence points to the virus leaking from the top-secret Wuhan Institute of Virology, 11 miles from the market, saying: 'There is a growing body of evidence that the lab is likely the most credible source of the virus.'
Matthew Pottinger, who is President Donald Trump's respected Deputy National Security Adviser, says the most 'credible' theory about the origin of coronavirus is that it escaped from from the top-secret Wuhan Institute of Virology in ChinaInsurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
He claimed the pathogen may have escaped through a 'leak or an accident', adding: 'Even establishment figures in Beijing have openly dismissed the wet market story.'
The comments, which were made during a Zoom conference with MPs on China last week, come as a team of experts from the World Health Organisation prepare to fly to Wuhan to investigate how the pandemic began.
Critics fear the probe will be a whitewash given China's influence on the WHO.
'MPs around the world have a moral role to play in exposing the WHO investigation as a Potemkin exercise,' Mr Pottinger told the parliamentarians, in reference to the fake villages created in the Crimea in the 18th Century, intended to convince the visiting Russian Empress Catherine the Great that the region was in good health.
Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory Party leader who attended the meeting, said Mr Pottinger's comments represented a 'stiffening' of the US position on the theory that the virus came from a leak at the laboratory, amid reports that the Americans are talking to a whistleblower from the Wuhan institute.
Mr Pottinger (left) told politicians from around the world that even China's leaders now openly admit their previous claims that the virus originated in a Wuhan market are false.
'I was told the US have an ex-scientist from the laboratory in America at the moment,' he said. 'That was what I heard a few weeks ago.
'I was led to believe this is how they have been able to stiffen up their position on how this outbreak originated.'
He added that Beijing's refusal to allow journalists to visit the laboratory only served to increase suspicion that it was 'ground zero' for the pandemic.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
'The truth is there are people who have been in those labs who maintain that this is the case,' he said.
'We don't know what they have been doing in that laboratory.
'They may well have been fiddling with bat coronaviruses and looking at them and they made a mistake. I've spoken to various people who believe that to be the case.'
He claimed the pathogen may have escaped through a 'leak or an accident', adding: 'Even establishment figures in Beijing have openly dismissed the wet market story'. Pictured: Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli, who was dubbed 'Batwoman', at the Wuhan lab with a colleague
Sam Armstrong, communications director at the Henry Jackson Society foreign policy think-tank, said: 'With such a senior and respected intelligence official speaking in support of this claim, the time has come for the British Government to seek both answers about and compensation for Covid-19.'
Mr Pottinger, who speaks fluent Mandarin, previously worked as a journalist for Reuters and The Wall Street Journal, including seven years as its China correspondent.
In 2005, he became a US marine and served as a military intelligence officer before being asked to join the US National Security Council in 2017, becoming Asia director before assuming his current role.
His older brother, Paul, is a virologist at the University of Washington.
President Trump last year accused the WHO of being a 'puppet of China' and withdrew funding.
The visit to Wuhan by the WHO team is already mired in controversy after it published terms of reference revealing it will not investigate the Wuhan institute – the only laboratory in China with the highest international bio-security grading – as a possible source of Covid-19.
The world must investigate all the mounting evidence Covid leaked from a Wuhan lab, writes IAN BIRRELL
By Ian Birrell for the Mail on Sunday
It is a year since the world learned of a deadly new respiratory disease stalking the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
Yet we still know little about how and why the virus spread with such devastating consequences.
It can almost certainly be traced to bats. But we do not know how this pathogen – having evolved an extraordinary ability to infect, causing such damage to different bodily organs – made the jump into human beings.
At last, a World Health Organisation investigation is under way into the origins of the coronavirus, but it is accused of meekly pandering to China's agenda by recruiting patsy scientists and relying on Beijing's dubious data.
Now there is growing clamour from experts around the world that no stone should be left unturned during this inquiry – and that it must include one key element of a hunt which has all the hallmarks of a thriller novel.
It is a year since the world learned of a deadly new respiratory disease stalking the central Chinese city of Wuhan, writes Ian Birrell. Pictured: Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli, who was dubbed 'Batwoman', at the Wuhan Institute of Virology
This centres on a cave filled with bats, a clutch of mysterious deaths, some brilliant scientists carrying out futuristic experiments in a secretive laboratory – and a cover-up of epic proportions that, if proven, would have huge consequences for the Chinese Communist Party and the global practice of science.
So what, precisely, is this theory on the origins of this pandemic?
It must be stated clearly that it is just a theory, albeit one based on crumbs of evidence teased out by a few courageous scientists and some online detectives.
New diseases have emerged throughout human history. Most experts believe Covid to be a 'zoonotic' disease that spilled over naturally from animals to humans.
They think it was most likely 'amplified' by an intermediate species – similar to how Chinese people's consumption of civet cats sparked the 2002 Sars epidemic.
Yet at the same time, Beijing's actions from the outset – covering up the outbreak, blaming a wild animal market that it has since admitted wasn't at fault, barring outside investigators, burying data and silencing its own experts – have served to fuel suspicions.
Last week, leaked documents exposed how the Chinese government, under orders from President Xi Jinping, is strictly controlling all research into the origins of Covid while promoting fringe theories suggesting it came from outside China.
And it is an uncomfortable coincidence that Wuhan – a city buzzing once again, with busy shops, packed restaurants and many people without masks on the streets celebrating New Year – is home to the world's top coronavirus research unit as well as ground zero to a pandemic from a strange new strain.
The clues start with an abandoned copper mine in Mojiang, a hilly region in Yunnan, southern China, where bats roost in a network of underground caves, cracks and crannies.
Two weeks ago, a BBC reporter was prevented from reaching this remote site after being trailed by police for miles along bumpy tracks, then blocked by a lorry and confronted by men at roadblocks saying their job was to stop him.
Days after three Chinese miners who had been clearing bat droppings inside caves died, Zhengli went to investigate
The previous month, a team of US journalists had also been tailed by plainclothes police who barred their access.
One research team recently managed to take some samples at the mine, but reportedly had them confiscated.
The reason for such secrecy goes back to the end of April 2012 when a 42-year-old man clearing bat droppings in these underground caverns turned up at a nearby hospital with a bad cough, high fever and struggling to breathe.
Within a week, five colleagues had similar symptoms. Three later died, one after doctors spent more than 100 days fighting to save his life – yet the two youngest spent less than a week in the hospital and survived. Sound familiar?
We have since learned from a detailed masters thesis, which included medical reports and radiological scans, that these miners suffered a viral pneumonia, attributed to Sars-like coronaviruses originating from horseshoe bats.
One leading US health body pointed out last year that they had 'an illness remarkably similar to Covid-19'.
Little wonder a prominent vaccine scientist told me: 'This is about as close to a smoking gun as exists.'
Intriguingly, a second thesis three years later also highlighted these cases.
It was written by a student of Oxford-trained virologist Professor George Gao Fu, who is now head of China's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, which is leading their response to the pandemic.
So the Chinese authorities must have known about the dead miners.
Yet they quickly tried to blame the wildlife market in Wuhan as Covid's source, until challenged by respected studies revealed in this newspaper.
Following the miners' deaths, Shi Zhengli, a Wuhan-based virologist known as Batwoman for her expeditions to gather samples in such caves and a member of the team that traced the origin of Sars to bats, went to investigate.
'The mine shaft stank like hell,' she told Scientific American magazine, explaining how her colleagues spent a year discovering new coronaviruses in samples taken from the blood and faeces of bats.
The miners, she claimed, died from a fungal infection.
'The mine shaft stank like hell,' she told Scientific American magazine, explaining how her colleagues spent a year discovering new coronaviruses in samples taken from the blood and faeces of bats. The miners, she claimed, died from a fungal infection.
Another expert noted how the miners who died were treated with anti-fungal medications, while those surviving were given other drugs.
'So in addition to the fact that the cases were more Sars-like than fungal-like, this treatment story argues against a fungal [cause],'