The Department of Defense issued a rare denial to an anonymously sourced media report claiming that military intelligence allegedly warned about the CCP virus pandemic as early as November 2019.
ABC News cited anonymous officials on April 8 to claim that the National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI) released a report in November 2019 that detailed concerns about a potential outbreak. The NCMI issued a statement in response to the article saying the report doesn’t exist.
“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. No such NCMI product exists,” Shane Day, director of the NCMI, said in a statement.
A Department of Defense official added that the “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.”
ABC cited “two officials familiar with the document’s contents.” The story suggests that the two reporters with bylines didn’t themselves read the alleged report. ABC didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
The media report and the Pentagon denial raise questions about what and when the U.S. intelligence community learned of the outbreak and when the president was briefed about the matter. In response to a request for more information about the matter, a White House spokesperson told The Epoch Times that “this ABC report has been debunked.”
President Donald Trump on April 8 was asked about the alleged NCMI report and when he learned about the outbreak.
“Well, I learned when I started—when I learned about the gravity of it was sometime just prior to closing the country to China. And when we closed up the flights coming in from China and various other elements—and then, as you know, we closed up to Europe. So, I don’t know exactly, but I’d like to see the information,” the president said.
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 2019, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said on April 5, “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.
Trump banned travel to China on Jan. 31, ten days after the United States confirmed its first case of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus.
Sam Faddis, a former CIA operations officer, told The Epoch Times that the idea that the highest levels of the U.S. government were repeatedly warned about a pandemic and “collectively” ignored it is “ridiculous.”
“That they come out publicly and say no such analytical piece exists, that’s pretty extreme, because standard operating procedure is always ‘we don’t comment on such things.’ So that gives you an idea that they were kind of outraged by this at the Pentagon,” Faddis said. “Unfortunately, I think you have to reach the conclusion that [the intelligence community] missed this.”
According to Faddis and another retired CIA officer, U.S. intelligence collection efforts overseas have grown woefully inadequate as the size of the federal bureaucracy in Washington has swelled.
“The Intelligence Community more than likely was not collecting HUMINT (human intelligence) medical intelligence from sources in Wuhan or any place in China,” the retired CIA officer, who asked to remain anonymous, said in a message to The Epoch Times. “Almost all China collection is done outside of China because it is extremely hard to do human intelligence operations in China.”
The State Department has a consulate in Wuhan, which can serve as a collection point for local intelligence. The State Department’s official Twitter account sent its first message about the virus on Jan. 21. The State Department didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.