Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Business Insider.
U.S. intelligence officials were aware of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in China as early as November, according to sources familiar with a secret report released that month by the military's National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI), an arm of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency.
Four sources told ABC News that US intelligence circles knew of the looming pandemic; two officials who spoke with ABC News saw the report, which warned that a viral outbreak could harm U.S. military personnel in Asia.
“Analysts concluded it could be a cataclysmic event,” one person said of the NCMI report, which included intercepted wire and computer messages, and satellite images.” It was then briefed multiple times to” the White House, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Pentagon's Joint Staff, according to the ABC News report.
Intelligence officials followed up the November intelligence report with policy briefings “through December for policy-makers and decision-makers across the federal government as well as the National Security Council at the White House,” ABC News reported.
“This was definitely being briefed beginning at the end of November as something the military needed to take a posture on,” a source said.
“It would be a significant alarm that would have been set off by this,” Mick Mulroy, an ABC News contributor and former Deputy Assistant Defense, said of the report. “And it would have been something that would be followed up by literally every intelligence-collection agency.”
“Medical intelligence takes into account all source information – imagery intelligence, human intelligence, signals intelligence,” Mulroy added. “Then there's analysis by people who know those specific areas. So for something like this to have come out, it has been reviewed by experts in the field. They're taking together what those pieces of information mean and then looking at the potential for an international health crisis.”
On Sunday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he couldn't “recall” receiving anything like the NCMI report.
Last week, The Nation magazine reported that the Pentagon warned of a COVID-19 outbreak in a 2017 report.
“The most likely and significant threat is a novel respiratory disease, particularly a novel influenza disease,” said the internal Pentagon report. “Coronavirus infections [are] common around the world,” it added.
The U.S. is in the middle of a sprawling medical crisis, facing a shortage of hospital beds, ventilators, and healthcare workers, similar to the shortage forewarned by the Pentagon.
“Competition for, and scarcity of resources will include…non-pharmaceutical MCM [Medical Countermeasures]” like “ventilators, devices, personal protective equipment such as face masks and gloves … medical equipment, and logistical support,” the report said.
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