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Spy Agencies Turn to Scientists as They Wrestle With Mysteries


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U.S. director of national intelligence Avril D. Haines.

The office of U.S. director of national intelligence Avril D. Haines is working to support the role of scientific expertise in the intelligence community.

Credit: Saul Loeb

The nation's intelligence agencies are looking for ways to increase their expertise in a range of scientific disciplines as they struggle to answer unexplained questions — about the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, unidentified phenomenon observed by Navy pilots, and mysterious health ailments affecting spies and diplomats around the world.

Traditional spycraft has failed to make significant progress on those high-profile inquiries, and many officials have grown convinced that they require a better marriage of intelligence gathering and scientific examination.

Intelligence officials in the Biden administration came into office pledging to work on areas traditionally dominated by science, like studying the national security implications of climate change and future pandemics. But as the other issues have cropped up, the spy agencies have had to confront questions that are as much scientific mysteries as they are challenges of traditional intelligence collection.

The White House has given the intelligence community until later this summer to report the results of a deep dive into the origins of the coronavirus, including an examination of the theory that it was accidentally leaked from a Chinese lab studying the virus as well as the prevailing view that it was transmitted from animals to humans outside a lab.

From The New York Times
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