Report: US intelligence warned of coronavirus threat as early as November

ABC News says National Security Council and White House were briefed extensively on danger by January but failed to act to counter it

US President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus at the White House, April 3, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)
US President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus at the White House, April 3, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)

The US intelligence community was well aware of the international threat posed by coronavirus many months back, warning of the implications of the emerging pandemic as far back as November, according to a report Wednesday

According to ABC News, a November report by the US military’s National Center for Medical Intelligence warned of the illness spreading through China’s Wuhan and the effect it could have on US troops in Asia.

“Analysts concluded it could be a cataclysmic event,” a source briefed on the information told ABC.

The information reached the National Security Council and the White House in an extensive report by January but was not acted upon, the network said.

“It would be a significant alarm that would have been set off by this,” former Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Mick Mulroy told ABC News. “And it would have been something that would be followed up by literally every intelligence-collection agency.”

John Cohen, former Acting Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis at the Department of Homeland Security, said: “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.”

Though he has come to recognize the gravity of the pandemic and the global emergency it has caused, Trump was long dismissive of the danger posed by coronavirus. He repeatedly dismissed COVID-19 from January until mid-March as being less of a danger than the common flu and something that would disappear soon enough.

US Navy personnel wearing surgical masks to protect against the coronavirus, arrive at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center on April 7, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP/John Minchillo)

In February, he asserted that coronavirus cases were going “very substantially down, not up,” and told Fox Business it will be fine because “in April, supposedly, it dies with the hotter weather. And that’s a beautiful date to look forward to.”

As of Wednesday the US leads the global number of cases with some 430,000 diagnosed with coronavirus, and nearly 15,000 deaths. The White House has projected there could be 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the US from the virus even if social distancing guidelines are maintained.

Trump continued on Tuesday to defend his actions in the early days of the crisis. He played down memos written by Peter Navarro, a senior White House adviser, that were made public this week. In the late January memos, the most direct warning as yet uncovered in the upper levels of the Trump administration, Navarro warned that the coronavirus crisis could cost the United States trillions of dollars and put millions of Americans at risk of illness or death.

Trump said Tuesday that he was not aware of the memos back in January but that he unilaterally followed some of their recommendations, including taking steps to curtail travel from China. But he said he wouldn’t have wanted to act prematurely when it was not clear how dire the situation would become.

“I don’t want to create havoc and shock and everything else. I’m not going to go out and start screaming, ‘This could happen, this could happen,'” Trump said.

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