US agencies in turf battle over classification level of COVID-19 meetings

Department of Health & Human ServicesA number of United States government officials have expressed dismay about the White House’s treatment of top-level meetings about the coronavirus (COVID-19) as classified, a move described by some as “not normal”. On Wednesday the Reuters news agency cited “four Trump administration officials” in claiming that several dozen meetings to discuss COVID-19 were held in top-secret settings. This, they say, was unnecessary and posed barriers to coming up with an effective response to the contagion. Other sources, however, claim that the meetings had to be classified because they included secret information on China.

The meetings in point have been held since mid-January at a high-security conference room located at the headquarters of the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) in Washington, DC. The HHS is largely in charge of the US government’s response to COVID-19, as it oversees several relevant agencies including the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. From the very beginning, the National Security Council —a White House decision-making body chaired by the president— ordered that the meetings be treated as classified. This meant that participants had to have top-secret security clearances in order to attend.

This decision allegedly excluded several government officials from these meetings, including leading US government biosurveillance and biosecurity experts who should have had a place at those meetings. “We had some very critical people who did not have security clearances who could not go”, one source said. Reuters quotes an unnamed “high level former official […] in the George W. Bush administration” who describes the decision to limit access to these discussions “about a response to a public health crisis” as “not normal”. But another government source told Reuters that the meetings were classified because they “had to do with China”. Yet another source said that the small number of participants was necessary to prevent potentially damaging leaks to the media.

Meanwhile, Time magazine alleged on Wednesday that a timely report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), which includes a section on pandemics, has been delayed. In previous years, the report, entitled Worldwide Threat Assessment, has warned that the world is not prepared for new strains of influenza that could prompt a pandemic. The report was scheduled to be released to Congress on February 12, but it remains unaccounted for. Members of the intelligence committees in Congress told Time that they did not expect the report to be released any time soon.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 March 2020 | Permalink

2 Responses to US agencies in turf battle over classification level of COVID-19 meetings

  1. “The meetings in point have been held since mid-January at a high-security conference room” – not that secure as we are reading about the meetings!
    “We had some very critical people who did not have security clearances who could not go” – why not just give them the stupid clearances which appear to be available to every crook in Washington.
    This all looks about as pathetic as Trump’s non-existent self-congratulatory grip over the crisis.

  2. Antonio Couto says:

    Hi !
    Tks sharing infos.
    What you know about on going USA militar exercise Defender Europe 2020 with abt 20000 troops and heavy equipment already deployed in NEurope ?
    Wrong move on a EU serious facing Covid-19…
    Tks in advance.
    AJC

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