US intelligence warned White House about COVID-19 threat in January, report claims

Coronavirus Task ForceThe United States Intelligence Community issued “ominous classified warnings” in January and February about the global danger posed by the coronavirus, but the White House failed to take timely action, according to an investigative report published on Friday in The Washington Post. The paper said that, in their totality, the Intelligence Community’s reports warned about “a virus that showed the characteristics of a globe-encircling pandemic” requiring the US government to take “swift action to contain it”.

The paper cited “a US official who had access to intelligence reporting” about the virus, who said that “the system was blinking red” in January. The “ominous” reports were disseminated to members of Congress and to senior officials in the administration of US President Donald Trump. Sources told The Washington Post that the reports did not attempt to forecast when the virus might begin to spread in the US, or what public health measures should be taken to prevent a possible outbreak. Such policy-related decisions are usually “outside the purview of the [intelligence] agencies”, said the US official.

However, the warnings were frequent and began to increase in volume by the last week of January, according to the article. By early February, the majority of the intelligence reports that were disseminated to the White House concerned COVID-19, sources said. Among other warnings, the reports cautioned President Trump that Chinese government officials were deliberately minimizing the extent and seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Washington Post cites “two senior administration officials” who claim that the president’s advisers found it difficult to draw his attention to the intelligence reports about COVID-19. It was only on January 18, less than a week before China began to place millions of its citizens on lockdown, that Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar was able to secure access to the Oval Office and speak directly with President Trump about the virus. Soon afterwards, Dr. Robert Kadlec, HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, briefed the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in a classified meeting. The Post cites four anonymous US officials, who said that Dr. Kadlec gave his presentation jointly with members of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). They discussed the global health implications of COVID-19 and warned it was a “serious” threat that would require Americans “to take actions that could disrupt their daily lives”.

But the president was “dismissive”, said administration officials, allegedly refusing to believe that the virus posed a major threat to the country. On February 24, when, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 53 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the US, President Trump tweeted: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA”. In the weeks that followed, said the administration officials, the White House “failed to take action that might have slowed the spread of the pathogen”. Currently there are in excess of 20,000 COVID-19 cases in the US, a number that appears to double every 48 hours. Read more of this post