U.S. intelligence community acknowledges two theories of coronavirus origin

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FILE PHOTO: An illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), depicts the 2019 Novel Coronavirus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. intelligence community on Thursday acknowledged its agencies had two theories on where the coronavirus originated, with two agencies believing it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals and a third embracing a possible laboratory accident as the source of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The U.S. Intelligence Community does not know exactly where, when, or how the COVID-19 virus was transmitted initially but has coalesced around two likely scenarios," the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said, adding that the majority believes there is not "sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other."

The ODNI statement did not identify which two of the 17 agencies constituting the U.S. intelligence community believes the virus had originated with infected animals and which agency believes it originated with a laboratory accident.

In both cases, however, ODNI said the agencies that back one theory of origin or the other did so with "low or moderate confidence" - which in spy jargon means they believe the evidence supporting their view is far from conclusive.

A source familiar with intelligence community analyses said neither the CIA nor the Defense Intelligence Agency presently favor either alternative explanation for the virus' origin, adding they were among the large majority of U.S. agencies who believe information presently is insufficient to determine that one scenario was more likely than the other.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Richard Chang and Bill Berkrot)