The Pentagon late on Wednesday said an ABC News report that said a military intelligence unit wrote a report on the coronavirus in November is not accurate.
Col (Dr.) R. Shane Day, the director of the National Center for Medical Intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency, said in a statement that as a matter of practice, the NCMI does not comment publicly on specific intelligence matters. He 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.
A defense official added on background that the NCMI and the DIA 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.
The exclusive ABC News report, published Wednesday morning, said the NCMI warned the military and the White House about the spread of the virus in China as far back as late November:
As far back as late November, U.S. intelligence officials were warning that a contagion was sweeping through China’s Wuhan region, changing the patterns of life and business and posing a threat to the population, according to four sources briefed on the secret reporting.
ABC News’s report said concerns about what is now known to be the coronavirus pandemic “were detailed in a November intelligence report” by the NCMI, according to “two officials familiar with the document’s contents.”
It said the report analyzed “wire and computer intercepts, coupled with satellite images,” and raised alarms because an “out-of-control disease” would pose a serious threat to U.S. forces in Asia.
One of ABC News’s sources said analysts concluded it could be a “cataclysmic event” and that it was “then briefed multiple times” to the DIA, the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, and the White House.
The sources said there were 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.
Those briefings culminated with a detailed explanation of the problem that appeared in the President’s Daily Brief of intelligence matters in early January, the sources claimed.
ABC News said the NCMI report was made “available widely” to people authorized to access intelligence community alerts, and that after it was released, other intelligence community bulletins began circulating through confidential channels across the government around Thanksgiving.
Esper was asked Sunday on ABC News’s This Week if the Pentagon received an intelligence assessment on the coronavirus in November. Esper said he did not recall, but that he would have known if such an assessment was briefed to the National Security Council in December.
“I’m not aware of that,” he said.
President Trump was also asked about the alleged report during a press conference at the White House on Wednesday, and when he learned of such intelligence and whether he could have acted sooner.
“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,” he said.
“So, I don’t know exactly, but I’d like to see the information,” he said.