Intelligence on Dangerous Viruses Badly in Need of Improvement

by Stephen Bryen

Sometime in January or February, no one is sure precisely, the CIA allegedly sent “warnings” to the White House about a “pandemic” happening in China.  Enemies of the Trump administration have seized on these leaks saying that it demonstrates President Trump’s failure to respond quickly enough to the emerging coronavirus crisis.  Some outrageous claims have been made accusing the administration of “killing” thousands of Americans because they failed to act.

Of course this is an entirely manufactured and false narrative.  The CIA did not make any warning about a threat to the United States, even by the admission of the leaks we presently know about.  What the CIA said is that China may have a mess on its hands and that Chinese officials are downplaying the size of the threat inside that country.

There have been plenty of virus threats around the world, like MERS and SARS and EBOLA.  Even AIDS is a virus and a threat.  But the United States never locked down a country when those threats were reported.  There is no way that the CIA “warnings” were actually “warnings” in the accepted sense of the term.  They were reports about a mess in China, nothing more or less.

That does not mean that the CIA, among other agencies including the Defense Department, have not been concerned about the threat of pandemics.  Even the National Institute of Health and the Center for Disease Control in the past made such warnings.  In fact, in 2014 the NIH called for a “voluntary” program to halt dangerous research in various pathogens including corona-type viruses and cut off funding to certain projects including a big one between the University of North Carolina and the Wuhan Virology Laboratory.  But in 2017, NIH backed off its voluntary pause and resumed business as usual, although some specialists remained very alarmed and concerned.

We can then ask the following question: How come the CIA (and other intelligence organizations) did not warn specifically that the Chinese pathogen could spread to the United States?  How come they did not come out and advise the President to take specific action to seal off the United States from China?  In fact, the President did stop travel back and forth from China on his own on January 31st., apparently without advice from the CIA.

The more important question is did the CIA miss specific threats, particularly the threat coming from the Wuhan Virology Laboratory and, perhaps its neighbor the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention?  These two labs cooperate closely and the Wuhan Center for Disease Control is located very close to the now famous wet market in Wuhan city (about 600 meters). It is also very close to the Union Hospital where the first cases of a strange type of pneumonia were treated.  The hospital recognized that something strange was going on, and they called in the nearby Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  The Center’s Director immediately called Shi Zhengli, a leading researcher at the Wuhan Virology Laboratory and asked for help.  There is little doubt that the Director knew or suspected that this new disease probably came from work being done at the Virology Laboratory, and the fact that he asked Shi Zhengli, who had partnered with the University of North Carolina on these viruses and their exploitation, suggests he knew it was a coronavirus of an unknown type that was killing patients at Union Hospital.

We also know that the Chinese, sometimes with U.S. researchers, published a number of papers that pretty clearly spelled out the kind of work they were doing, and predicted that the coronavirus would transit from bats to humans.  In fact, the researchers actually tried to make this happen!  Why, exactly isn’t clear although there is strong speculation that the Virology Lab was not trying to create a killer virus but were actually trying to work out a vaccine for AIDS (HIV).  Instead of a killer virus they were looking for a weak virus with special qualities, but that is not what they got.

We also know that in 2018 the U.S. State Department sent a team from the American embassy in Beijing to the Wuhan Virology Laboratory, not once but twice.  According to a Washington Post account (the reports have never been released), the team from the State Department toured the lab and reported on numerous hazards and risks associated with laboratory practices and security.  They also interviewed Shi Zhengli with particular attention to horseshoe bat viruses.  What tipped them off and why were they ultra-concerned?  It is hard to say since as far as we know the CIA either was not aware of these visits or at least did not link the virus problem in China to the laboratory.  In fact, the official position of the NIH and CDC, and of the CIA is that the coronavirus was natural and not man made.  

Today it is impossible to believe the virus was not man made.  China’s behavior makes that absolutely clear.  China will not allow any investigation of the Wuhan Laboratory or any other inquiries in Wuhan or more broadly in China.  In fact, the Chinese have been launching attacks against anyone who raises even their little finger suggesting that China is responsible for the virus’s emergence. And President Trump has ordered a new look at what happened in China, although by now most of the evidence has been destroyed and the Virus Lab and all other locations (starting with the wet market) have all been cleaned and sanitized. 

Yet there is still traceability and knowledge of the COVID-19 genome.  A Nobel laureate virologist in France (now in Shanghai) and a top Russian specialist all say that the genome is man made.  With some hard work, the CIA and other agencies ought to be able to clarify the picture, if they really want to do so.

The leaks about earlier CIA “warnings” which, as noted were not “warnings,” suggests that the CIA was embarrassed and empty handed and did not understand what was happening in China. It is incredible that the CIA is now again leaking to the New York Times that it is being pushed into doing research for the President and that they are being pushed into finding that the fault was the Virus Lab in Wuhan suggesting the CIA does not know that and apparently does not want to know either. This bespeaks an Agency that is confused, defensive and wrong to boot.

It is time now for the Agency to do the hard work that was neglected before which means real intelligence work and not acting as stooges for the Chinese.