LOS ANGELES (March 29, 2020) U.S. Marine Corps Pfc. Brandon Shim, a rifleman with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, guides an ambulance towards the terminal leading to the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) in Los Angeles March 29. The hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) deployed in support of the nation’s COVID-19 response efforts, and will serve as a referral hospital for non-COVID-19 patients currently admitted to shore-based hospitals. This allows shore base hospitals to focus their efforts on COVID-19 cases. One of the Department of Defense’s missions is Defense Support of Civil Authorities. DoD is supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the lead federal agency, as well as state, local and public health authorities in helping protect the health and safety of the American people. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alexa M. Hernandez/Released)
The number one trending story on The Hill’s website on Wednesday afternoon stopped me in my tracks. The title? “US intelligence warned in November that coronavirus spreading in China could be ‘cataclysmic event’: report.”
It was an account of an ABC News article which was entitled “Intelligence report warned of coronavirus crisis as early as November: Sources” written by Josh Margolin and James Gordon Meek. What? How could that even be possible?
They reported that, as far back as late November, U.S. intelligence officials were warning that a contagion was sweeping through China’s Wuhan region, changing the patterns of life and business and posing a threat to the population, according to four sources briefed on the secret reporting.
Margolin and Meek alleged that “two officials familiar with the document’s contents” told them that “concerns about what is now known to be the novel coronavirus pandemic were detailed in a November intelligence report by the military’s National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI).” They wrote that “The report was the result of analysis of wire and computer intercepts, coupled with satellite images. It raised alarms because an out-of-control disease would pose a serious threat to U.S. forces in Asia — forces that depend on the NCMI’s work. And it paints a picture of an American government that could have ramped up mitigation and containment efforts far earlier to prepare for a crisis poised to come home.”
One of their sources said, “Analysts concluded it could be a cataclysmic event” and “it was then briefed multiple times to” the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, and the White House.
Margolin and Meek were told that “repeated briefings through December for policy-makers and decision-makers across the federal government as well as the National Security Council at the White House” had been held.
In early January, this information first appeared in the President’s daily intelligence briefing (PDB). Raw intelligence goes through layers of “vetting and analysis” before it’s ready for the President’s eyes, the sources explained.
Odd that information, raw or otherwise, about what could be a “cataclysmic event” would be withheld from the President for two months, isn’t it?
Regarding the preliminary reports from Wuhan, their sources told them, “The timeline of the intel side of this may be further back than we’re discussing. But this was definitely being briefed beginning at the end of November as something the military needed to take a posture on.” Additionally, the sources said:
The NCMI report was made available widely to people authorized to access intelligence community alerts. Following the report’s release, other intelligence community bulletins began circulating through confidential channels across the government around Thanksgiving, the sources said. Those analyses said China’s leadership knew the epidemic was out of control even as it kept such crucial information from foreign governments and public health agencies.
Then Margolin and Meek called upon their colleague, former Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Mick Mulroy, who said, “It would be a significant alarm that would have been set off by this. And it would have been something that would be followed up by literally every intelligence-collection agency.” He also told them that NCMI does serious work that senior government leaders do not ignore. Mulroy added:
Medical intelligence takes into account all source information — imagery intelligence, human intelligence, signals intelligence. Then there’s analysis by people who know those specific areas. So for something like this to have come out, it has been reviewed by experts in the field. They’re taking together what those pieces of information mean and then looking at the potential for an international health crisis.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper appeared on ABC’s “This Week” last weekend and was questioned about these early warnings by host George Stephanopoulos. Esper replied, “I can’t recall, George. But we have many people who watch this closely. We have the premier infectious disease research institute in America, within the United States Army. So, our people who work these issues directly watch this all the time.”
Stephanopoulos asked, “So, you would have known if there [sic] was briefed to the National Security Council in December, wouldn’t you?”
Esper answered, “Yes. I’m not aware of that.”
The authors wrote, “The Pentagon did not comment Tuesday, but on Wednesday evening following the publication of this report, the Defense Department provided a statement from Col. R. Shane Day, Director of the NCMI.” The statement read:
As a matter of practice the National Center for Medical Intelligence does not comment publicly on specific intelligence matters. However, in the interest of transparency during this current public health crisis, we can confirm that media reporting about the existence/release of a National Center for Medical Intelligence Coronavirus-related product/assessment in November of 2019 is not correct. No such NCMI product exists.
(Note: According to Fox News, it is extremely rare for the Department of Defense to “comment publicly” on matters of this nature.)
Then the pair manages to hit most of the Democratic talking points about President Trump’s inadequate response to the crisis. And they conclude with a quote from another colleague, ABC News contributor John Cohen, the former acting undersecretary of DHS, who told them that “even the best information would be of no use if officials do not act on it.”
When responding to a public health crisis or any other serious security threat, it is critical that our leaders react quickly and take steps to address the threat identified in the intelligence reporting. It’s not surprising to me that the intelligence community detected the outbreak; what is surprising and disappointing is that the White House ignored the clear warning signs, failed to follow established pandemic response protocols and were slow to put in place a government-wide effort to respond to this crisis.
I agree 100% that leaders must react quickly in the face of a threat. But I have a question for all of the:? What possible motive would President Trump or any other administration officials have to cover this up? They know that Trump is not afraid to confront China. He has done so numerous times. Why would he try to cover up something he had nothing to do with? There is no conceivable reason. Of course they would have acted if they had knowledge in November or even in December that a “cataclysmic event” was coming.
President Trump is not afraid to act. Go ask Qassem Soleimani if you need any proof.
Furthermore, it would be news to most of us if they had proof of the outbreak back in November, because it doesn’t appear that the first person began exhibiting symptoms until December.
Margolin and Meek cite “two officials familiar with the document’s contents” as the source of this explosive allegation. Two anonymous sources.
But the problem with stories like this is that those who want it to be true start repeating it as if it has been proven to be true. Rabid anti-Trumper Bill Kristol tweeted, “From that warning in November, the sources described repeated briefings through December…All of that culminated with a detailed explanation of the problem that appeared in the President’s Daily Brief of intelligence matters in early January…”
Likewise, Joe Scarborough who is on a personal mission to destroy the President tweeted, “The White House was warned repeatedly in November & December 2019 that the US military’s National Center for Medical Intelligence concluded the outbreak in China could be a “cataclysmic event.”…”I would view it as something that surprised the whole world.” ~Trump, 3/19/20
Every major news outlet picked up the story. Will the Defense Department’s statement be enough to end it?
The Washington Post ran a similar story in March that Trump had ignored warnings from the CIA in January and February about the crisis in Wuhan. The article said:
U.S. intelligence agencies were issuing ominous, classified warnings in January and February about the global danger posed by the coronavirus while President Trump and lawmakers played down the threat and failed to take action that might have slowed the spread of the pathogen, according to U.S. officials familiar with spy agency reporting.
My colleague, Streiff, wrote an interesting rebuttal of The Post’s story here.
What these clowns, and by clowns I mean the Eric Ciaramella squad that is still ensconced in the Intelligence Community and who regularly use their duty position to impress credulous reporters into writing hit pieces on President Trump, are trying to do is to recreate the smear directed against President George Bush over 9/11. They use the exact same tactic as they did to blame Bush for 9/11. Nebulous and non-specific warnings are issued that include nothing that is even vaguely actionable…here the warnings are alleged to have taken place…and they even use the exact same language from the 9/11 Commission Report, I recognize it from the title of the very first diary I wrote for RedState.
Streiff also provides a timeline of the crisis. It starts on December 10, when Wei Guixian, one of the earliest known coronavirus patients, starts feeling ill. Additionally, he includes a timeline of the Trump Administration’s response. I highly recommend it.
This is fake news. It is only the latest — and one of the lamest — attempts to discredit President Trump ahead of the election. They know that presumptive nominee Joe Biden is one of the weakest candidates they’ve ever chosen and they’re desperate.
Expect to see more of this.
ABC News cited two “sources” today saying that Trump had received an intel briefing in November 2019 warning of an impending #coronavirus pandemic.
Now, their “sources” have been debunked.
Journalists need to care about getting the facts more than they care about getting Trump. https://t.co/Pc3Sv08ycB
— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) April 9, 2020