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Tipsheet

National Center for Medical Intelligence Issues Rare Statement Debunking Media Reports on Wuhan Coronavirus Timeline

Cheng Min/Xinhua via AP

The National Center for Medical Intelligence, a branch of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, issued a rare statement Wednesday debunking media claims that it produced a report warning about the novel coronavirus as far back as November.

“The report was the result of analysis of wire and computer intercepts, coupled with satellite images,” ABC News reported, based on four anonymous sources. “It raised alarms because an out-of-control disease would pose a serious threat to U.S. forces in Asia -- forces that depend on the NCMI’s work. And it paints a picture of an American government that could have ramped up mitigation and containment efforts far earlier to prepare for a crisis poised to come home.”

One source told the outlet the conclusion was that the virus “could be a cataclysmic event,” claiming the Defense Intelligence Agency, Pentagon’s Joint Staff, and the White House were briefed on its findings. 

But the NCMI shot down those claims. 

"As a matter of practice the National Center for Medical Intelligence does not comment publicly on specific intelligence matters,” Col. R. Shane Day, Director of the NCMI, said in a rare statement. “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.”

According to CNN, CIA and Defense officials also denied the report: 

A defense official denied any such report existed, telling CNN, "NCMI and the Defense Intelligence Agency 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." […]

CIA officials tell CNN they are not aware of a specific report from November warning about an emerging crisis in China and declined to say when their own assessments were entered into what is known as the intelligence cycle, a process that coordinates information flowing among relevant agencies. (CNN)

The National Review's Dan McLaughlin said considering the ABC News report and the denials from intelligence officials, he sees three possible explanations: 

 "(1) U.S. intelligence was aware of an outbreak in Wuhan large enough to disrupt daily life and business before the local government was, (2) the scale of the Chinese coverup of what happened initially in Wuhan is significantly greater than we have been led to believe, or (3) ABC News got a big story very wrong," he said. "Because if ABC is right, everything we have been told by the medical community, the news media, and the Chinese and international health authorities to date about the timeline is wrong."

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