Coronavirus wake-up call: A bigger national security threat is at work

Coronavirus wake-up call: A bigger national security threat is at work
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Last week we finally saw glimmers of desperately needed bipartisan cooperation in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The White House and the House speaker hammered out important, if not perfect, legislation that looks promising for enactment. Senators remain in Washington, addressing a stimulus package.

Prior to that, however, we were subjected to a political freak show of sniping across party lines in order to lay blame, criticize, denigrate and cast aspersions. Accusations were flung with abandon from congressional leaders, the White House, and presidential candidates and then amplified by cable news acolytes hungry for ratings. All of it was as useful as a honeymoon migraine.  

It seemed obvious that the first priority of most of our political class was to wring all available political advantage out of a nightmarish threat. Oh, and the second was the public’s health and safety. Meanwhile, regular folks need toilet paper and coronavirus testing. Kind of in that order.

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It was like watching alcoholic parents fight, hurling insults and accusations, while the kids are neglected and go to bed hungry. The proposed bipartisan legislation was a welcome eye in the storm, but already the hyper-partisan finger pointing seems to be ramping back up. COVID-19 had the bad manners to strike in a presidential election year, after all.

Although the politicization of the coronavirus is maddening, it also is, more dangerously, a threat to our national security. Here’s how:

First, it plays into the hands of Russia and China, both supremely interested in sowing division and discord among the American people. A Dis-United States of America is less able to respond to the nefarious agendas of both countries. An America of unified national will is their greatest fear.

For decades the FBI has tracked efforts — particularly by Russia — to foment discord, exploit social tensions, real or imagined, and amplify racial, gender and sexual orientation and class divisions among the American people, all with an objective to pit us against each other.

The advent of social media was a godsend to our adversaries, exponentially expanding their reach via automated messaging (bots). If you feel conversations have turned uglier in the past few years, this is one reason why. When you hear, for example, that America is racist because of references to the “Wuhan coronavirus,” think: foreign intelligence operation.

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After three long years of the most divisive political rancor we’ve ever seen, we could have hoped that a real and frightening crisis might lift our political leadership above petty politics. But the power-addicted have to seek power above all. And so, even the coronavirus has become a political football.

The more divided we are, the more chaotic our politics; the more self-centered our leadership, the less secure we are. Division, rancor, envy all form the traditional foothold for the infiltration of socialist/communist thought. That is why divisiveness is their strategy. 

Second, our weakened political unity allows China to advance their absurd propaganda blaming America for the coronavirus with only tepid pushback from our political and media class.  

Their predictable propaganda is an outrage that needs to be shoved back at Chinese leadership on a cold dish. Otherwise, their story will gain a degree of currency throughout the world and make us less safe. The president and secretary of state have stated their objections, but this nonsense deserves the strongest possible language of condemnation.

Third, it has placed the U.S. in a position of foolish dependency on China for critical goods.  China has hinted it may withhold access to antibiotics that we unbelievably outsourced to them, and no longer produce here, all in the pursuit of better business deals. China’s rationale for holding us medically hostage? Because America started the pandemic. See how this intelligence game works?

If there is a silver lining to the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps it will force us to examine what other supply chain dependencies we have ceded to China and others that place us in a compromised national security posture.

Despite the negative headwinds of divisiveness driven by the politically selfish, and despite the propaganda efforts of hostile adversaries that weaken our security, our nation and the American people remain resilient.

The private sector has stepped up in admirable ways, canceling large crowd gatherings and modifying work arrangements all at considerable cost but done because it’s the right thing to do.  These self-initiated acts will have more mitigating impact on this disease than most government initiatives.

The United States has a character unique in the world. The U.S. emerged from a noble idea: personal freedom authenticated by a natural law of inalienable rights possessed by every human being. It’s an idea that surpasses culture, ethnicity and class.  

This is a unifying principle that has allowed the impossible, that has allowed the assimilation of incredible numbers of diverse peoples into one nation creating unparalleled progress and common goods for all.  It is not replicated on nearly the same scale anywhere else in the world.  

We’re not perfect, but neither are we as racist and phobic and intolerant and uncaring as the dividers like to portray us. Theirs is an effort to define America unfairly and unrealistically and, frankly, dangerously. The vast majority of Americans of all backgrounds possess goodwill towards their fellow citizens.

Remember this: When you hear excessively divisive talk in the face of real threats or societal challenges, an intelligence agenda of countries that don’t like us is being fulfilled, wittingly or unwittingly. Measure the messages that you hear, specifically in this election year. Are they driving us apart, pitting us against each other, or are they messages of optimism and unified national purpose?

We can fantasize that someday soon, perhaps after the coronavirus legislation passes, a joint press conference by the political elites will be held forswearing divisive rhetoric in the interest of true public health safety and national security. It would be wonderful; it would be real leadership.  It would dampen the hopes of our enemies. It would be nice to think we can get there.  

In the meantime, pass the hand sanitizer.

Kevin R. Brock, former assistant director of intelligence for the FBI, was an FBI special agent for 24 years and principal deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). He is a founder and principal of NewStreet Global Solutions, which consults with private companies and public-safety agencies on strategic mission technologies.