A top American defense official issued a rare statement rejecting anonymously-sourced media reports claiming intelligence officials released guidance about the COVID-19 pandemic as early as November 2019.
“As a matter of practice the National Center for Medical Intelligence does not comment publicly on specific intelligence matters. 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," Col. R. Shane Day, the head of the center, said in a statement.
"No such NCMI product exists."
ABC was the first outlet to report on the supposed document. Its sources were all anonymous.
Media outlets have increasingly turned to anonymous sources during the Trump administration, resulting in an escalating number of reports that are later changed or retracted.
ABC cited "two officials familiar with the document’s contents." The way the story is portrayed suggests the two reporters with bylines did not themselves read the alleged report. ABC didn't immediately return a request for comment.
Other outlets later published articles about the alleged document. All also cited unnamed sources.
The National Center for Medical Intelligence is based in Fort Detrick, Maryland, and is part of the Defense Intelligence Agency, which is part of the Department of Defense.
Asked whether the Pentagon received an assessment from NCMI in November, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said on Sunday, "I can't recall."
"But we have many people who watch this closely. We have the premier infectious disease research institute in America, within the United States Army. So our people who work these issues directly watch this all the time," he added, speaking during an appearance on ABC's "This Week."
Esper said he would have known if there was information briefed to the National Security Council and said he wasn't aware of any briefing happening.