Matthew Pottinger, who served on the Trump National Security Council, made the remarks during the Soufan Center's Global Security Forum. While he said the natural origin theory is still feasible, the lab leak case is becoming much more apparent.
"I've looked at the ledger of circumstantial evidence on both sides," Pottinger told author Lawrence Wright. "I would say that the list of evidence accumulating on the side that this was an accidental leak far outweighs the circumstantial evidence on the side that this time it was another natural origin."
China has worked to drop international investigators from getting to the bottom of the COVID origin mystery, Pottinger said. But Beijing may be no match for the global, crowdsourced inquiry that is combing through available evidence.
"The things that are emerging from the public space, from enterprising scientists and others who are digging into this, just really as private detectives ... the circumstantial evidence is certainly accumulating pretty rapidly on the side of this having been an accidental leak," he said.
One such detail was unveiled last week by online sleuth group DRASTIC. That group published documents revealing that EcoHealth Alliance's Peter Daszak in 2018 unsuccessfully sought a Pentagon contract that involved serious "gain-of-function research," or engineering of a virus in making it more transmissible.
Daszak, a longtime collaborator with China's Wuhan Institute of Virology, has mocked the possibility that COVID-19 was created through gain-of-function research. But his group's $14.2 million proposals to Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) sought to make bat viruses deadlier by injecting spike proteins that could bind to human cells.
"I highly suspect that the intel community was not aware that the Wuhan Institute of Virology had submitted a grant proposal to create a virus very similar to the one that's making us all sick," Pottinger stressed.
"One of the things that we have to be honest with ourselves about is that global institutions, U.N. agencies, including the WHO, play an important role, but we often imbue them with responsibilities and authority that they don't have and they never really can have because they're not sovereign governments," Pottinger said. "They are institutions that every country in the world, including China, have some stake in."