The Pentagon has issued a rare denial of a report from ABC that said intelligence officials warned the White House in November about the impending coronavirus pandemic. The Pentagon says the report cited in the ABC piece did not exist.
The ABC report on Wednesday cited an anonymous source at the National Center for Medical Intelligence, an arm of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), who said the coronavirus “could be a cataclysmic event.” ABC’s anonymous source added that the White House, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the DIA were briefed “multiple times.”
Col. R. Shane Day, a physician who heads the medical intelligence unit, issued a statement denying the report, saying the unit conducted a thorough review and concluded the alleged report did not exist, Washington Times reported.
“As a matter of practice, the National Center for Medical Intelligence does not comment publicly on specific intelligence matters,” Col. Day said. “However, in the interest of transparency during this current public health crisis, we can confirm that media reporting about the existence/release of a National Center for Medical Intelligence Coronavirus-related product/assessment in November of 2019 is not correct. No such NCMI product exists.”
Asked about the possibility of the report’s existence earlier this week, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he didn’t know.
“I can’t recall, George, but we have many people that watch this closely,” Esper answered.
.@Gstephanopoulos: “Did the Pentagon receive an intelligence assessment on COVID in China last November from the National Center for Medical Intelligence?”
— ABC News (@ABC) April 5, 2020
“The timeline of the intel side of this may be further back than we’re discussing,” ABC’s source reportedly said in the original article. “But this was definitely being briefed beginning at the end of November as something the military needed to take a posture on.”
Such a report’s existence would be significantly damaging the Trump administration, which has received mixed reviews regarding its handling of the coronavirus.
“It would be a significant alarm that would have been set off by this,” said Mick Mulroy, ABC contributor and former Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary. “And it would have been something that would be followed up by literally every intelligence-collection agency.”
“The center is part of the broader Intelligence Community effort to provide intelligence, expert assessments, and pandemic warning to senior U.S. government leaders, with the critical mission of supporting defense policymakers and U.S. warfighters,” a defense official said. “NCMI and the Defense Intelligence Agency spent considerable time over the last 24 hours examining every possible product that could have been identified as related to this topic and have found no such product.”
The coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has infected at least 1.6 million people worldwide, putting many countries on lockdown and changing the landscape of the economy. Wei Guixian, the first known person to have symptoms of the disease the coronavirus causes, called COVID-19, felt those symptoms on Dec. 10, according to the Wall Street Journal.