WASHINGTON: The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had issued at least 12 warnings to US President Donald Trump about the spread of the coronavirus in China and its implications for the US; warnings which Trump ignored and subsequently the pandemic gripped the US.
Current and former US intelligence officials told The Washington Post that Trump, in the month of January and February, had repeatedly ignored warnings conveyed in issues of the President’s Daily Brief, a sensitive report that is produced before dawn each day and designed to call the president’s attention to the most significant global developments and security threats.
For weeks, the PDB — as the report is known — traced the virus’s spread around the globe, made clear that China was suppressing information about the contagion’s transmissibility and lethal toll, and raised the prospect of dire political and economic consequences.
But, Trump continued to downplay the threat and skipped the reading of comprehensive articles on aspects of the global outbreak in the PDB’s reference to the novel virus, according to the officials, who told the Post on condition of anonymity to discuss classified material.
As of Monday (April 27), more than 55,000 people in the United States had died of Covid-19.
The frequency with which the coronavirus was mentioned in the PDB has not been previously reported, and US officials were quoted as saying that the devlopment reflected a level of attention comparable to periods when analysts have been tracking active terrorism threats, overseas conflicts or other rapidly developing security issues.
The administration’s first major step to arrest the spread of the virus came in late January, when Trump restricted travel between the United States and China, where the virus is believed to have originated late last year.
One official told the Post that by mid- to late January the coronavirus was being mentioned more frequently, either as one of the report’s core articles or in what is known as an “executive update,” and that it was almost certainly called to Trump’s attention orally.
But Trump spent much of February publicly playing down the threat while his administration failed to mobilize for a major outbreak by securing supplies of protective equipment, developing an effective diagnostic test and preparing plans to quarantine large portions of the population, the official added.
On February 26, the president insisted publicly that the number of cases “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero,” and said the next day that “it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”
In reality, the virus was by then moving swiftly through communities across the United States, spreading virtually unchecked in New York City and other population centers until state governors began imposing sweeping lockdowns, requiring social distancing and all but closing huge sectors of the country’s economy, the newspaper reported.
As late as March 10, Trump said: “Just stay calm. It will go away.” The next day, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic.
By then, officials told the Post, the warnings in the PDB and other intelligence reports had started calling for immediate attention.
However, this was not the first case. Senior correspondents of The Washington Post, Greg Miller and Ellen Nakashima, further wrote in the report quoting senior officials with direct knowledge of Trump’s intelligence briefings that the president has been dismissive toward US intelligence agencies throughout his tenure.
The intelligence officals told the newspaper that the president was busy contending with the Senate impeachment trial in January and focused more on other security issues, including tracking Iran’s response to a January 3 US airstrike that killed a top Iranian commander, Qasem Soleimani, in Baghdad – than paying closer attention to the contagion threat which was about to clench the entire country.
In addition to intelligence reports, Trump’s top health officials and advisers were also delivering warnings on the virus through January and February, though their messages at times appeared muddled and contradictory. But Trump, who was traveling in India in February, was outraged by what he regarded as the alarmist tone of remarks by Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, and their perceived impact on the US stock market, the Post reported further.
US intelligence officials, citing scientific evidence, have largely dismissed the notion that the virus was deliberately genetically engineered. But they are continuing to examine whether the virus somehow escaped a virology lab in Wuhan, where research on naturally occurring coronaviruses has been conducted, the Post said.
The warnings conveyed in the PDB probably will be a focus of any future investigation of the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic outbreak, the report mentioned.