U.S. intelligence officials warned as far back as late November that a deadly contagion was tearing through China’s Wuhan region, threatening its population and changing its way of life, ABC News reports, citing four unnamed sources.
In a November report from the U.S. military’s National Center for Medical Intelligence, experts concluded that the early stages of what we now know as the coronavirus pandemic could lead to a “cataclysmic event,” sources familiar with the document’s contents told ABC News.
The Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, the White House, and members of the National Security Council were briefed on the report multiple times throughout November and December, ABC’s sources said, and a detailed outline of the threat landed in the president’s Daily Brief in early January.
The report analyzed data from wire and computer intercepts coupled with satellite images, and raised alarms about an out-of-control disease that could at first affect U.S. armed forces in Asia.
“It would be a significant alarm that would have been set off,” former Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Mick Mulroy explained to ABC News. “It would have been something that would be followed up by literally every intelligence-collection agency.”
All this suggests that the U.S. administration had the intelligence to prepare for a crisis that was poised to sweep the country, but neglected mitigation and containment efforts. In President Trump’s first public comments about the coronavirus on January 22, when asked if officials were worried about a pandemic, he replied, “No. Not at all. And we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control.”
The White House’s first coronavirus-containment measure was on January 31, when President Trump announced restrictions on travel from China. Despite the move, the president repeatedly downplayed the threat to the press up until March 13, when he declared a national emergency after the virus had infected more than 100 countries.
The death toll within the U.S. has climbed from 50 in mid-March to more than 12,000 on Tuesday evening.
Citizens were made aware of the coronavirus threat on December 31, when China notified the World Health Organization of “cases of pneumonia of unknown etiology detected in Wuhan.” Soon after, national media publications began reporting on a “mystery illness” that was spreading throughout Asia.