The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) confirms to ABC News it is "looking into" accusations that several members of an agency team tasked with COVID-19 pandemic analysis were paid off "significant" hush money in order to buy a shift in their position about where the virus came from -- but the agency emphasized it does not pay its analysts to reach particular conclusions.
"At [the] CIA we are committed to the highest standards of analytic rigor, integrity and objectivity. We do not pay analysts to reach specific conclusions," CIA spokesperson Tammy Kupperman Thorp said in a statement to ABC News. "We take these allegations extremely seriously and are looking into them. We will keep our Congressional oversight committees appropriately informed."
The CIA's comment and review come in response to claims leveled in a new letter from two Republican House chairmen to CIA Director Bill Burns, sent Tuesday, which says there is a whistleblower within current, senior ranks of the agency, making these allegations.
It's the latest chapter in the yet-unresolved contentious debate over the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic -- and the latest in an ongoing effort by the GOP to find evidence suggesting that COVID's origins have been buried by a conspiratorial cover-up.
In their letter to Director Burns, chair of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), and chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman, Mike Turner (R-OH), say a "multi-decade, senior-level, current CIA officer" had come forward alleging the payoff.
Turner and Wenstrup's missive came as an apparent surprise to the other side of the aisle on their respective committees.
"Neither the ranking member nor the Democratic staff for the Intelligence Committee were made aware of these allegations before the letters were sent. We have requested additional information," a spokesperson for the Democrats on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence said in a statement to ABC News.
A spokesperson for Select Subcommittee Democrats said they "were given no prior notice of a whistleblower's existence, let alone testimony," adding that "without further information regarding this claim from the Majority, we have no ability to assess the allegations at this time."
According to the whistleblower, seven "multi-disciplinary and experienced officers with significant scientific expertise" had been assigned to a "COVID discovery team," Wenstrup and Turner's letter says.
At the end of their review, all but one member of that team leaned towards a lab leak origin -- but that they were "given a significant monetary incentive to change their position," according to the letter stating the whistleblower's allegations.
"Six of the seven members of the team believed the intelligence and science were sufficient to make a low confidence assessment that COVID-19 originated from a laboratory in Wuhan, China," the letter said.
"The seventh member of the team, who also happened to be the most senior, was the lone officer to believe COVID-19 originated through zoonosis," the letter said. "The whistleblower further contends that to come to the eventual public determination of uncertainty, the other six members were given a significant monetary incentive to change their position."
Ultimately, as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in June, the CIA and "another agency" remained "unable" to decide on where they think COVID's origins lie, as "both hypotheses rely on significant assumptions or face challenges with conflicting reporting."
As ABC reported at the time, the Department of Energy and the FBI believe with varying degrees of confidence that a lab incident was the "most likely" cause of the first human infection, though ODNI said it arrived at that conclusion "for different reasons."
ODNI also underscored that "almost all" the agencies didn't believe the virus was genetically engineered and "most agencies" don't think the virus was lab-adapted -- meaning, most of the U.S. intelligence community doesn't think that so-called "gain-of-function" research was how COVID-19 was born.
No definitive conclusion as to COVID's origins has yet been determined by the American intelligence or international public health bodies who have probed for answers. And, as ODNI, President Biden and international health bodies have emphasized, unless Beijing stops stonewalling the investigation into COVID's origins, no more definitive conclusion will be possible.
Wenstrup and Turner have asked for a number of documents on the team's creation -- their intra group, intra agency and inter agency communications on COVID's origins, and records of payments or financial bonuses made to members of the team. Wenstrup and Turner want them by Sept. 26.
In a separate letter, Wenstrup and Turner also invite former CIA chief operating officer Andrew Makridis to sit for a "voluntary transcribed interview" on that same day, saying he "played a central role" in the "formation and eventual conclusion" of the team the whistleblower pointed to.
A spokesperson for the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic had no further comment at this time. There's no hearing currently scheduled.