House Intelligence panel says US should’ve spied on Chinese health officials in early days of pandemic
The U.S. should have ramped up its espionage efforts in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to get a better understanding of the virus, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee argue in a new report.
The lack of clandestine intelligence collection as the virus appeared in late 2019 and early 2020 indicates the U.S. intelligence community’s “overall lack of preparedness to face an emerging pandemic,” reads the report, which is riddled with redactions.
In early January 2020, the U.S. intelligence community was aware of the virus but hadn’t yet had time “or the level of concern” to wield its clandestine capabilities to learn more about the virus.
“The IC [intelligence community] must improve its performance in analyzing vast volumes of data … to spot unusual trends in health activity indicative of a disease that is either undetected by or concealed by public health authorities,” the report continues.
Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in his introduction to report that “in 2020, the intelligence community was not well positioned or prepared to provide early warning and unique insights on the pandemic.”
The report also confirms that the intelligence community was “providing clear and consistent warning about a potential pandemic” in January and February of 2020, well before former President Trump formally declared a national emergency in mid-March and just weeks after the virus was reported in China in late 2019.
“The former president’s statements that the IC described the virus in ‘a very nonthreatening’ way ‘simply does not match the record of intelligence analysis published in late January and February,’” Schiff said.
Schiff also notes that some advisers tried to convince Trump that the pandemic would be “a really big thing” and that the former president’s daily briefings in February repeatedly indicated the severity of the virus.
“The disconnect between the White House messaging on the growing crisis, and what the IC was saying behind the scenes was a significant failure. … That failure to effectively inform the public in the early days contributed to a loss of credibility that only grew over time,” the report reads.
The lawmakers concluded that the government couldn’t have kept COVID-19 from entering the U.S., but that it could have “better prepared” with earlier warnings and if the Trump administration had heeded the warnings that did eventually come in.
The report further argues that the U.S. intelligence community should better prioritize health and medical intelligence and view related threats as real national security issues — especially since more pandemics are expected in the coming decades.
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