“I do think that this started as an accident,” Sir Richard Dearlove, who led Britain’s top spy agency, MI6, from 1999 until 2004, told the Telegraph’s Planet Normal podcast.
“It raises the issue, if China ever were to admit responsibility, does it pay reparations? I think it will make every country in the world rethink how it treats its relationship with China and how the international community behaves towards the Chinese leadership.”
Dearlove suggested that the virus was not released deliberately, but rather accidentally leaked when Chinese scientists were experimenting on bat coronaviruses.
To back up his claims, he cited a recently-published peer-reviewed study by a British-Norwegian team which claimed to have found “inserted sections placed on the SARS-CoV-2 Spike surface” that allow the virus to come into contact with human cells.
The ex-MI6 chief told the Telegraph that the study was rewritten several times.
The research paper originally said that the novel coronavirus should be called the “Wuhan virus” – the name of the Chinese city where it was first recorded – and claimed to have proven that the virus was “engineered,” the newspaper reported, citing an earlier draft of the study.
The Telegraph also said that researchers from the Francis Crick Institute and Imperial College London rejected the study’s conclusions, while “leading academic journals” such as Nature and the Journal of Virology found the study unsuitable for publication.
The report says that one of the study’s original authors had withdrawn his name from the research before the paper was “watered down” to remove any explicit allegations against Beijing.
However, intelligence officials reportedly looked through its findings before publication.
Since the first weeks of the Covid-19 outbreak, media reports and some Western politicians have alleged that the SARS-CoV-2 virus may have originated from a high-profile virology lab in Wuhan. US officials have been particularly keen on blaming China, with President Donald Trump saying that the country must compensate for the damages caused by the outbreak.
Beijing has repeatedly denied these claims.
In late April, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence stated that the virus “was not manmade or genetically modified.” Likewise, intelligence sources told the Guardian last month that there is no evidence that the coronavirus was released from a Chinese lab, or that a possible leak could have caused the pandemic.
Dearlove was the head of MI6 when then-UK Prime Minister Tony Blair decided to fully back and participate in the 2003 US invasion of Iraq under the pretext of Baghdad having weapons of mass destruction – though none were ever found.
The Chilcot Report – the British public inquiry into the events leading up to the campaign – later revealed that Blair took “most decisions” regarding Iraq in close contact with a select group of high-ranking officials, including Dearlove, whose briefings are frequently mentioned throughout the report.
Moreover, UK media wrote at the time that Dearlove himself refused to share some of his reports on Iraq and the WMDs with the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and the military – something the Chilcot Report criticized him for.