Documents analyzing cellphone location data are said to show that a high-security laboratory studying coronavirus in Wuhan was shut down in October, according to a new report.
NBC News reported that US spy agencies are reviewing the document – a private analysis obtained by the news company’s London-based verification unit – which claims that there was no cellphone activity in a high-security area of China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology between October 7 and October 24, 2019.
The report, which was based on commercially-available cellphone location data – indicates that there might’ve been a ‘hazardous event’ in that area between October 6 and October 11.
A new analysis of publicly-available cellphone data claims a ‘hazardous event’ could have occurred at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (pictured) in early October 2019
The report (pictured here) does not offer direct evidence to support its suggestion. It’s unclear who the author of the report was
The report claims there was no cellphone activity in a high-security area of China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology between October 7 and October 24, 2019. Researchers are seen working at institute in 2017 (file image)
The report does not provide direct evidence of a shutdown at the lab or any proof that the coronavirus originated from the lab.
Despite no conclusive proof existing, some – including Trump administration officials – believe that the Wuhan lab, which was conducting studies on coronavirus in bats, could be the source of COVID-19, virus that has caused the current pandemic.
The document suggests that if there was a shutdown in the lab’s high-security area, it could be proof that the coronavirus might’ve accidentally emerged from the lab.
However, there has been no confirmation of a shutdown at the lab and intelligence analysts had previously been unable to confirm a similar theory, senior officials told NBC News.
Despite this, the document suggests that the coronavirus pandemic actually began ‘earlier than initially reported’ and ‘supports the release of COVID-19 at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.’
The document also appears to account for only a small number of cellphones that one would expect to be located in a facility that employs hundreds of people.
It’s unclear who put together the document.
A US official who has looked at the document told NBC News that the report’s data ‘looks really weak to me and some of the conclusions don’t make sense.’
US officials also said that US intelligence agencies had previously received other reports based on publicly-available cellphone and satellite data, also suggesting that there had been a shutdown at the lab.
President Trump (center, with Sen. Marco Rubio, right) is among those that believe that the coronavirus pandemic began after the virus was accidentally escaped from the Wuhan lab, which was studying coronavirus in bats
Florida Republican Sen. Rubio could have been referring to the report in this Wednesday tweet
WHO officials and scientists believe that a Wuhan wet market (similar to pictured) is still the likely origin of the coronavirus and that it naturally jumped from animals to humans
But, those agencies later decided that the reports were ‘inconclusive’ after being unable to confirm the shutdown based on reviews of overhead imagry and their own data.
The Wuhan virology lab is said to be a collection target for multiple US intelligence agencies, due to being a high-security facility that studies dangerous pathogens, run by an adversary nation.
As such, intelligence agencies routinely gather mobile phone signals, overhead satellite imagery and communication intercepts coming out of the lab.
US officials told NBC News that they are now going back to examine the data collected in October and November 2019, searching for signs that there might’ve been an anomaly there.
NBC News reported that congressional intelligence committees have been given copies of the document.
It’s possible that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio could have been referring to the document in a tweet on Wednesday when he wrote: ‘Would be interesting if someone analyzed commercial telemetry data at & near Wuhan lab from Oct-Dec 2019.’
He also tweeted: ‘If it shows dramatic drop off in activity compared to previous 18 months it would be a strong indication of an incident at lab & of when it happened.’
Despite the coronavirus lab escape theory being under review by intelligence agencies, it appears that scientists continue to believe the original theory, that the virus jumped to humans through live produce at so-called ‘wet’ markets in Wuhan.
The World Health Organization said that it believed a ‘wet’ market played a role in the spread of the disease and that natural animal-to-human transmission was the likely start of it.
‘The market played a role in the event, that’s clear. But what role we don’t know, whether it was the source or amplifying setting or just a coincidence that some cases were detected in and around that market,’ Dr Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO expert on food safety and zoonotic viruses that cross the species barrier from animals to humans, said Friday, according to CNBC.
President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo recently have been banging the drum for the theory that coronavirus accidentally escaped from the Wuhan virology lab, a claim which Chinese authorities have repeatedly denied.
US intelligence officials also say that they don’t have hard evidence to support the theory, despite Trump’s claims that he has seen evidence which gives him ‘a high degree of confidence’ that the theory is valid.