Covid-19 Exposes Utter Failure of National Security State to Protect Americans

In this brief video, retired army colonel and historian Andrew Bacevich, president of the non-interventionist Quincy Institute, discusses how Covid-19 has exposed the failure of the U.S. national security state’s priorities in the post-Cold War era.

In terms of how the national security state failed in its handling of the pandemic, Scott Ritter explains in a recent article for The American Conservative that the National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI) – a body within the larger U.S. intelligence apparatus – failed in its most basic duties. First Ritter explains what the NCMI is and provides an example of how it can work successfully:

Included in this budget is a small, specialized intelligence unit known as the National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI), which operates as part of the Defense Intelligence Agency. The mission of the NCMI is to serve as the lead activity within the Department of Defense (DoD) “for the production of medical intelligence,” and to prepare and coordinate “integrated, all-source intelligence for the DoD and other government and international organizations on foreign health threats and other medical issues to protect U.S. interests worldwide.”

For a small agency, the NCMI packs a large punch in terms of the overall impact of its product. For example, in April 2009—two months prior to when the WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officially declared the global outbreak of H1N1 influenza a pandemicNCMI published an intelligence product, known as an “Infectious Disease Risk Assessment,” which predicted that a recent outbreak of the Swine Flu (H1N1) would become a pandemic. 

The positive work done by the NCMI in relation to the H1N1 outbreak contributed to the creation of the 2012 “National Strategy for Biosurveillance,” designed to help facilitate a full-time institutionalized process for obtaining timely and accurate insight on current and emerging biological risks. President Obama himself noted the critical role played by “accurate and timely information” during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic that enabled decision makers, including himself, to “develop the effective responses that save lives. 

Then Ritter describes how the NCMI completely dropped the ball on the coronavirus:

The NCMI’s job, [Air Force Col. Dr. Anthony M.] Rizzo noted, is predictive in nature—not to explain what is happening, but rather “what we believe is going to happen.” To do this, NCMI has access to the resources of the totality of the intelligence community, including intercepted communications, satellite imagery, and sensitive human intelligence, including covert sample collection.

The coronavirus was clearly part of the NCMI’s remit. And yet its first Infectious Disease Risk Assessment for COVID-19 was issued on January 5, 2020, reporting that 59 people had been taken ill in Wuhan, China. This report was derived not from any sensitive intelligence collection effort or independent biosurveillance activity, but rather from a report issued to the WHO by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission, dated January 5, 2020.

The next day the CDC warned American citizens to take precautions if traveling to China, followed a day later with the activation of a COVID-19 incident management team within the CDC Emergency Management System. This, however, is not the kind of predictive analysis that U.S. policymakers needed if they were going to get ahead of the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike 2009, when the NCMI provided a full two months heads up about the threat of a Swine Flu pandemic, in 2020 the Trump administration was taking its cues from the WHO, which waited until January 30, 2020 to declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). The NCMI had been relegated to a mere observer, having failed in its mission to provide timely, predictive analysis of pending epidemiological threats.

Read the full article here.

In a recent article by Ken Klippenstein for The Nation, it is brought out that the Pentagon had predicted in a 2017 report that a respiratory virus was likely to cause a health crisis in the United States within the coming years. Furthermore, the Pentagon assessed that the federal government had insufficient equipment to handle such a crisis, such as ventilators, masks, etc.:

Despite President Trump’s repeated assertions that the Covid-19 epidemic was “unforeseen” and “came out of nowhere,” the Pentagon was well aware of not just the threat of a novel influenza, but even anticipated the consequent scarcity of ventilators, face masks, and hospital beds, according to a 2017 Pentagon plan obtained by The Nation.

“The most likely and significant threat is a novel respiratory disease, particularly a novel influenza disease,” the military plan states. Covid-19 is a respiratory disease caused by the novel (meaning new to humans) coronavirus. The document specifically references coronavirus on several occasions, in one instance saying, “Coronavirus infections [are] common around the world.”

The Nation article quotes a retired intelligence official, Denis Kaufman, who said that some agencies within the intelligence community had warned of a possible pandemic but that administration officials had ignored it:

Denis Kaufman, who served as head of the Infectious Diseases and Countermeasures Division at the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2014 to 2017, stressed that US intelligence had been well-aware of the dangers of coronaviruses for years. (Kaufman retired from his decades-long career in the military in December of 2017.)

“The Intelligence Community has warned about the threat from highly pathogenic influenza viruses for two decades at least. They have warned about coronaviruses for at least five years,” Kaufman explained in an interview.

“There have been recent pronouncements that the coronavirus pandemic represents an intelligence failure…. it’s letting people who ignored intelligence warnings off the hook.”

The bottom line is that the national security apparatus of the United States, including all of those serving in the executive branch of government who are privy to such information, failed in connection with a real threat to the average American’s security while being preoccupied with and investing gobs of resources into countering foreign bogeymen.

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