According to a recently declassified report by the House Intelligence Committee, U.S. intelligence agencies missed an opportunity to better understand Covid-19’s spread because they delayed starting to spy on Chinese health officials who were hiding what they knew. They started warning that Covid-19 could become a pandemic just weeks after the coronavirus was first reported in China.
The report notes that the CIA and other U.S. spy agencies warned of a pandemic long before the World Health Organization officially declared one on March 11, 2020, partially defending them. Additionally, it strengthens the case that former President Donald Trump misled the public about the gravity of the virus according to his advisors. Trump’s claim that intelligence officials described the virus “in a very non-threatening, or matter-of-fact manner” is refuted by the intelligence warnings compiled in the report.
However, the report, written by staffers for the Democratic majority on the committee, also claims that U.S. intelligence agencies have largely failed to address their gaps in public health intelligence and are thus inadequately prepared for the next pandemic. Investigators discovered that this is partially due to the fact that many intelligence officers do not view biological threats as a top-tier national security issue, despite the fact that more than a million Americans died from Covid.
It takes a cultural shift, according to Schiff, for the intelligence community to “recognize a biothreat as a hard threat that could kill massive numbers of our citizens the way we view terrorism and other threats.”
The investigation by the intelligence community into whether Covid spread to humans through animal transmission or a lab leak in China was not covered in great detail in the report.
The declassified summary, which was published in August 2021, revealed that one U.S. intelligence agency believes with moderate confidence that the virus infected humans following a lab-related incident and that four other agencies believe with low confidence that the virus emerged naturally. The article claimed that the current U.S. government view on that hasn’t changed since then.
If a lab leak did, in fact, occur, Schiff claimed that the intelligence community’s “failure to pivot” to gathering Covid-related intelligence from China made it less likely that such evidence would be discovered.
Separately, the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee reported on Wednesday night that the intelligence community had “reason to believe that the [intelligence community] downplayed the possibility that SARS-CoV2 was connected to China’s bioweapons program based in part on input from outside experts.” The Republicans also claimed that the intelligence community had made “misleading” omissions in their public assessment of Covid origins.
The Democrats’ report, which is filled with blacked-out sections as a result of an ODNI declassification review, closely examines the precise moment and method by which the intelligence community first learned about the virus, the warnings that were delivered to the Trump White House, and the actions that, in the opinion of the investigators, agencies should take to be better prepared for upcoming pandemics. The House investigators claimed they were able to piece together what information most likely made it to Trump’s intelligence briefing from documents and interviews despite not having access to the presidential briefing materials.
According to NBC News and ABC News, U.S. spies gathered raw intelligence in November indicating a health crisis in Wuhan, China. However, investigators claimed they were “unable to corroborate” those reports.
The day before the first media report about the coronavirus or Covid-19 was when the virus was first mentioned in an intelligence report, according to the report.
An article about an unexplained pneumonia that Chinese officials were observing in Wuhan was posted on a public health listserv run by the Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (ProMED) on December 31, 2019, drawing the attention of an analyst at the National Center for Medical Intelligence, a division of the Defense Intelligence Agency.