While the World Health Organization has recently applauded the efforts of Chinese officials over the containment of the Covid-19 virus — at least officially — US intelligence agencies are seeing things much differently.
According to sources, some of the best information about the coronavirus and the government’s response to it, is coming from military channels — an ominous signal.
“China’s behavior causes the intelligence community to get involved,” said one of those sources, a former intelligence official. “Because no data means spying.”
As Chinese officials face allegations of locking down information, US intelligence agencies have been helping in government-wide efforts to gather information about the disease’s global spread, according to National Security and Investigations reporter Jenna McLaughlin, of Yahoo News.
The former official indicated that the most important issue being tracked is the Chinese leadership plans for what is known as “continuity of operations,” meaning the ability for the government to maintain its basic functions during an unprecedented crisis, such as nuclear war or natural disaster, the report said.
In China, this might involve senior leaders leaving the country or seeking safety in shelters, “like US doomsday bunkers,” said the source.
The intel community, said the source, is seeing some signs Chinese officials are making those kinds of contingency plans, indicating the potential level of concern within Beijing, the report said.
The intelligence community’s involvement comes amid international frustrations with China’s reticence to accept international assistance, the report said.
The World Health Organization, including American experts, was finally allowed to visit China on Monday to do field research but will not, as of now, be visiting the alleged location of the origin of the outbreak due to what Chinese officials described as a lack of time and resources to host international experts, the report said.
At least officially, however, the WHO has been complimentary of China’s efforts. In a statement, the WHO told Yahoo News that “since the beginning of the outbreak, China [has] shared data in a transparent manner.”
However, the organization, which receives funding from China, has come under fire for what many have called a delayed response to the outbreak and a failure to pressure Chinese leadership into further openness, the report said.
In the United States, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the CIA’s Global Issues Mission Center and the Defense Intelligence Agency’s National Center for Medical Intelligence have all been supporting the White House Task Force on the coronavirus, according to intelligence sources, the report said.
The task force is led by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The National Center for Medical Intelligence is based in Fort Detrick, Md., and tracks disease outbreaks and potential danger to the US military, as well as preparedness of foreign leaders to respond to pandemics or other related attacks. A military spokesman told Yahoo News the agency “is closely monitoring the coronavirus outbreak and the worldwide response to it.”
As of Thursday, the WHO reported over 75,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus disease globally, as well as 2,129 deaths, the majority in China, notifying travelers that the global risk assessment for the disease is “high.”
According to the National Post, US intelligence agencies shared concerns about how India would cope with a widespread outbreak.
While there are only a few known cases in India, one source said the country’s available countermeasures and the potential for the virus to spread given India’s dense population was a focus of serious concern, the Post reported.
The agencies are also focusing on Iran, where the country’s deputy health minister has fallen ill during a worsening outbreak. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday the United States was “deeply concerned” Tehran may have covered up details about the spread of the virus, the Post reported.
Sources told The New York Times that US agencies would use a wide range of intelligence tools, ranging from undercover informants to electronic eavesdropping tools, to track the virus’ impact.