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The real issue with the COVID-19 lab leak theory? The US isn't spying on China like it used to
The scarcity of CIA spy networks on the ground in China could prevent U.S. intelligence from determining if Beijing is covering up a Wuhan lab leak.
WASHINGTON — As U.S. intelligence agencies scramble to determine the origin of COVID-19, the scarcity of CIA spy networks on the ground in China could prevent them from cracking whether Beijing is covering up an accidental leak of the deadly virus from a government research lab in Wuhan.
Some of the nation’s top spymasters have warned for years, mostly behind closed doors, that one of the most critical components of their overall information-gathering effort – known in spy parlance as human intelligence or "humint" – has been decimated in recent decades by Beijing’s aggressive efforts to shut down these networks.
The CIA also hasn’t devoted enough resources to rebuilding the networks by recruiting Chinese turncoats who can pry secrets from Communist Party officials, scientists and others, according to interviews with current and former U.S. national security officials, congressional testimony and other sources.
The result, many of these experts fear, is that the nation’s premiere spy agency is all but flying blind when it comes to cracking one of the most confounding and urgent global security mysteries of our time – whether the novel coronavirus originated in the wild and spread to humans as Beijing claims, or from a laboratory in the city of Wuhan that studies nearly identical infectious diseases.
“We should have Wuhan wired six ways from Sunday,” said Charles Faddis, former chief of the CIA’s Weapons of Mass Destruction directorate. “And yet 18 months into this, we're still trying to figure out what happened.”
A recently retired top CIA China spy expressed similar concerns to USA TODAY.
“We don’t have good humint in China,” the ex-spy said. “And that is going to be a problem” in getting Biden what he’s asking for.
CIA officials declined to comment for this article.
From intel deficit to ‘definitive conclusion’ in 90 days?
A so-called "intelligence deficit" or "knowledge gap" has long undermined numerous strategic information-gathering efforts against the authoritarian regime that has quickly become one of the United States’ most antagonistic and formidable adversaries. That includes not getting real-time insider information about China’s military intentions, its persistent cybertheft of U.S. government databases and civilian trade secrets and even why Beijing still exports the precursor chemicals fueling America’s fentanyl drug overdose crisis.