A media bombshell that relied heavily on unnamed sources has been denounced as a dud by a Pentagon official who is not afraid to put his name to his words.
ABC reported Wednesday that a November report from the National Center for Medical Intelligence predicted the coronavirus that started in the Chinese city of Wuhan would become a “cataclysmic” event. ABC’s report, which said briefings on the subject took place throughout late 2019, was based on sources who, unsurprisingly, weren’t identified.
“The timeline of the intel side of this may be further back than we’re discussing,” ABC reported that a source said, concerning early reports from China. “But this was definitely being briefed beginning at the end of November as something the military needed to take a posture on.”
But the ABC report referenced a report that does not exist, Col. R. Shane Day, the director of the NCMI, said in a statement to Fox News.
“As a matter of practice the National Center for Medical Intelligence does not comment publicly on specific intelligence matters,” the statement 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,” he said.
The declaration that the report was untrue was pounced upon by those on Twitter.
— David J Harris Jr (@DavidJHarrisJr) April 9, 2020
Breaking: The head of the National Center for Medical Intelligence is disputing, on the record, a report that his organization warned about coronavirus in November. “No such NCMI product exists,” Col (Dr.) R. Shane Day said in a statement.
— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) April 9, 2020
Odd that ABC is reporting this as fact when the official response is that no such NCMI product exist. They got caught making stuff up and still want to act like it’s factual. pic.twitter.com/m2vhqWpuw7
— Ruben Santillan II (@fithoustondad) April 9, 2020
Fox News reported that it was told by an official whom it did not name that after the ABC report was aired, the DIA and NCMI have been seeking to find any report that could approximate what ABC described. The NCMI is part of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Fox News reported that the search came up empty.
ABC’s report, however, indicated there would have been multiple administration officials involved in dealing with the kind of threat an “out-of-control disease” in Asia would pose to U.S. forces in the region.
“From that warning in November, the sources described repeated briefings through December for policy-makers and decision-makers across the federal government as well as the National Security Council at the White House,” ABC reported. “All of that culminated with a detailed explanation of the problem that appeared in the President’s Daily Brief of intelligence matters in early January, the sources said. For something to have appeared in the PDB, it would have had to go through weeks of vetting and analysis, according to people who have worked on presidential briefings in both Republican and Democratic administrations.”
ABC’s report said such a warning would have triggered ripples throughout America’s military.
“It would be a significant alarm that would have been set off by this,” ABC quoted former Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Mick Mulroy, now an ABC contributor, as saying. “And it would have been something that would be followed up by literally every intelligence-collection agency.”
“Medical intelligence takes into account all source information — imagery intelligence, human intelligence, signals intelligence,” Mulroy said. “Then there’s analysis by people who know those specific areas. So for something like this to have come out, it has been reviewed by experts in the field. They’re taking together what those pieces of information mean and then looking at the potential for an international health crisis.”
Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said that he recalls no such November warning.
The first public awareness of the coronavirus came in December, although some media accounts have suggested China was aware of the virus in November. The first action on the part of the U.S. to deal with the virus came in mid-January, when it started screening travelers entering the U.S. from China.
President Donald Trump banned travelers from China to the United States on Jan. 31.
A Democratic Party talking point in its criticism of Trump has been that the administration was slow to react to the threat posed by the virus.
Trump, on the other hand, has said that the actions his administration took in January were justified by the level of concern health experts gave the virus at the time.
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