COVID-19 origins investigation faced early 'institutional shortcomings': former intelligence official

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Matthew Pottinger has stressed the need to understand the origins of the coronavirus, citing “institutional failures,” while resisting calls to blame former President Donald Trump for a slowdown in fact-finding. 

The former deputy national security adviser was critical of China’s initial response to the growing pandemic, applauding the growing openness to the lab-leak theory as a means of easing the further discovery of information.

“Even if we come up short with a definitive answer, what we’re going to have is a foundation for additional revelations to come out from scientists around the world who are now going to be emboldened because they know that this is a priority of the United States,” Pottinger told NBC “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd. “Scientists who previously were frightened of being canceled by the Twitter mob are going to contribute to this endeavor.”

FILE – Matthew Pottinger, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor listens during a briefing with members of President Trump’s Coronavirus task force in the briefing room at the White House on Friday, Jan 31, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Pottinger stressed the value of understanding the origins of the virus, arguing that such knowledge would help combat emerging variants – as well as cutting off “the next pandemic.” 

Todd pressed Pottinger on whether “irrational” attacks on China by Trump contributed to a possible “slowdown” in fact-finding by intelligence agency, but Pottinger instead pointed to “institutional shortcoming.” 

“I think that this is more of an institutional shortcoming where the intelligence community, in truth, had really looked to the CDC to have the lead and to be the lead agency to monitor for outbreaks and the like,” Pottinger said. “There’s a lot of work that I think the intelligence community needs to do to build up its capacity to monitor these sorts of threats.”

Todd more pointedly asked if “your former boss’ statements” contributed to the process, but Pottinger refused to be drawn on the topic. 

When asked if it was possible to get a definitive answer as to the origins of the virus, Pottinger remained confident that an answer would arise, even if it took longer than the 90-day review the intelligence community is undertaking. 

“I think we can,” Pottinger said. “It might take more than 90 days, but look, if this thing came out of a lab, there are people in China who probably know that.” 

“I think that we’re going to see more information come out as a result of this inquiry,” he added. 

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