The Spies Who Predicted COVID-19 

James Clapper
ODNI Threat Assessment
ODNI Threat Assessment

Former CIA spokesman Kent Harrington runs down the history of warnings from the intelligence community about pandemics. There were quite a few. Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama paid attention.

The intelligence community first raised the alert immediately after President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, when then-DNI Dennis Blair testified that, “The most pressing transnational health challenge for the United States is still the potential for emergence of a severe pandemic, with the primary candidate being a highly lethal influenza virus.” Following the 2009 H1NI (swine flu) outbreak, Blair doubled down in 2010, highlighting the potential for a pandemic to disrupt the economy. A “lack of consistent surveillance and diagnostic capability for diseases in animals,” he said, “undermines the United States’ ability to identify, contain, and warn about local outbreaks before they spread.”

One of the spy chiefs who got the pandemic threat right was James Clapper, the director of national intelligence under Obama and frequent Trump critic. Clapper has his failings as a public servant. He supported the Iraq war and he dissembled about the NSA’s mass surveillance programs to Congress. But he was spot on about the danger of a pandemic.

Harrington explains:

Blair’s successor, James Clapper, delivered the same message in March 2013, but also refined the US assessment of the threat with prescient detail. Pointing to the growing danger posed by zoonotic viruses, he warned that “an easily transmissible, novel respiratory pathogen that kills or incapacitates more than one percent of its victims is among the most disruptive events possible. Such an outbreak would result in global pandemic.”

In foretelling the COVID-19 pandemic exactly, Clapper made clear that, “This is not a hypothetical threat.” Trump received the same message in May 2017, when [Clapper’s successor Dan] Coats highlighted a World Bank assessment predicting that a pandemic would cost the world around 5% of GDP. Coats then issued the same warning in 2019, testifying that, “The United States and the world will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or large-scale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support.”

Harrington concludes:

This year, the bill for Trump’s war on intelligence is coming due in the form of lost lives and overwhelmed health-care systems. US intelligence agencies had sounded the alarm and even provided the enemy’s battleplan, detailing precisely how a novel coronavirus pandemic would unfold. Still, the wannabe wartime president did nothing. Res ipsa loquitur – the negligence speaks for itself.

Source: The Spies Who Predicted COVID-19 by Kent Harrington – Project Syndicate

Paradigm Shift by Pandemic

COVID19 virus
The COVID19 Molecule

(This article, written by Joel McClearly and Mark Medish, first appeared in Counterpunch.)

Nobel-winning biologist Joshua Lederberg warned “the single biggest threat to man’s continued dominance on the planet is the virus.”  The Covid19 pandemic is a wakeup call to this existential truth.

The reality of the novel coronavirus pandemic must now usher in a paradigm shift in the way we think about and prepare for global security threats, whether natural or human-engineered.

The revolution in biology, including genomics and gene editing, makes it possible for state and non-state players to design microbes and viruses for civilian medical research or biological weapons.  The dual-use nature of biotechnology makes it difficult to determine the intent of an adversary.

Contrary to online rumors, to date there is no evidence that Covid19 is the product of a state laboratory experiment deliberately or accidentally released in Wuhan. Nor is there evidence that infected carriers traveled from China to intentionally spread the contagion. To insinuate foul play without evidence is irresponsible, whether the charges come from Russia, China, or U.S.

If a country intentionally unleashed such a virus, there would be grave implications. As a deterrent, the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review envisions U.S. nuclear retaliation in extreme circumstances of biological or cyber attack.

The Covid19 outbreak is most likely a natural occurrence, but this does not diminish the import of the wakeup call for the U.S.

This is the seventh emergent coronavirus known to afflict humans. As a zoonotic infection, it crossed to humans from wild animals presumably through proximity. Covid19 is less lethal or incapacitating but far more contagious than the genetically similar SARS-2003.  There is no guarantee that the next evolutionary version – a successor is almost inevitable – will be less infectious or lethal than Covid19.

As national security analysts and former White House advisers, we see several important lessons that should comprise a paradigm shift for our national preparedness.

First, precisely because of its severity, we must embrace the implication of this pandemic. As bad as this global outbreak is, Covid19 is not of the scale that it could have been and might be, especially if the virus mutates towards greater lethality.

If we learn lessons from it – if we understand the need for deep changes – we might be better prepared for the big one.

A bi-partisan 9-11 style commission should be formed to study what events led to this pandemic and what policies need to be improved or pioneered to respond to future threats.

Second, 2020 is a wake-up call for massive public investment in systemic resilience. We must go beyond previous false starts. During brief periods after the  2001 anthrax attack, the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, and the SARS-2003 outbreak, there were bursts of funding and new policies. But the interest of political leaders faded. Robust policies that could have saved lives and prevented such economic chaos were tragically not implemented.

Indeed, until this pandemic, major budget cuts were being made to basic scientific research and preparedness. Our governmental preparedness infrastructure was being gutted. This strategic retreat must be reversed even beyond the bold steps taken in the unprecedented Covid19 emergency funding measures of 2020.

Third, we must think big. Very big. We should set clear moonshot goals for bio-forensics, diagnostics, detection, contact-tracing, data-sharing, countermeasures, medical training, telemedicine, basic science, and genomics – in short, a national anti-crisis operating system.  The Manhattan Project and the Space Program are useful reference points in terms of urgency and scale.

In pursuing these goals, our leaders must embrace evidence-based science and assiduously avoid anti-science political rhetoric and denial, whether relating to the threat of disease or global warming, which is linked to the coming age of the great pandemics.

Fourth, there is no strategic trade-off between our nation’s health, security or the economy.  We must bolster all three together.  Our objective is to reap long-term dividends through resilience.

Just as the U.S. economy has been driven by the birth of the digital economy, so will the next economic leaps be driven by biology and artificial intelligence. In both these areas, the Chinese have launched Manhattan-scale projects of their own, which we must compete with for economic, strategic, and humanitarian reasons.  Both the Chinese and Russians believe that the nation that wins the scientific race in these areas will control the world.

Fifth, we must strive to control our own destiny in terms of strategic supplies. Put America first.  This is not in derogation of free-trade or vitally needed multilateralism, but because supply chains can break down in crisis, as they have in this case.  At this juncture China produces 90% of our antibiotics and over 70% of the ingredients needed to produce drugs in the United States. This must change.

Sixth, intelligence gathering on biological threats is hard but essential. Mistakes during the Iraq war have made intelligence agencies wary of the area.  We recommend forming an interagency center for tracking and forecasting biological threats.

Seventh, on the multilateral front, we must strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention of 1975 to force greater global transparency into biological research.  Our own research facilities must be open to inspection. We must insist reciprocally on seeing inside secret labs in China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and elsewhere.

Eighth, the current pandemic proves this is not just a job for governments. As in addressing climate change through R&D and deployment of renewable energy technologies, the private sector has a central role to play in creating solutions to withstand biological threats.

Ninth, we need to devise plans for the continuity of both government and business functions in a pandemic.  The current crisis is showing us the impact of public and private shutdowns whether due to a virus of nature or one created by biological or cyber hackers.

Tenth, we must build a comprehensive and resilient nationwide infrastructure. Moving towards a more dispersed population and revitalizing rural America with universal broadband, good healthcare through telemedicine, and improved education will make us a more resilient society.

Just as President Eisenhower invested ½ trillion dollars (2020 dollars) for the national highway system which revolutionized the country’s economy and demographics, so would investment to build cyber highways to all America decentralize the current vulnerability of our economic base.

The good news is that we met existential challenges during the nuclear standoff in the Cold War.  The bad news is that we have taken our success for granted and ignored the gathering storm of natural and man-made threats.  We must re-learn lessons from the nuclear age, build a resilient system against cyber or biological threats – ensuring the continuity of government and society.

When physicist Robert Oppenheimer witnessed the first nuclear test, he quoted a line from the Bhagavad-Gita: “Now I become death, the destroyer of worlds.”  This image conveyed his awakening to the raw power of both nature and science.

The imperative before us today – as a modern society newly woke by pandemic – remains to lead in science as we have since 1945.  But to do so we must heed Albert Einstein’s advice, “We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.”

Joel McCleary, an expert on biodefense, served in the Carter Administration. 

Mark Medish served on the National Security Council in the Clinton Administration. 

Could the Death of the National Security State be the Silver Lining of COVID-19?

COVID19 virus
COVID19 Virus

[This article was first published in a wise magazine called Counterpunch. Subscribe here.]

Could something good come from the catastrophe of COVID-19? Might the epic insecurity of a plague teach us something about national security?

Political scientist Micah Zenko calls the current pandemic “the worst intelligence failure in U.S. history.”

Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman sees “the urgent need to redefine national security.”

Ilan Goldenberg, a former defense adviser to President Obama, says “the sheer magnitude of the crisis can—should—force …. [a] rethinking of our foreign policy priorities that’s long overdue.”

Anne-Marie Slaughter, former State Department policy planner, writes “if this crisis is highlighting our weaknesses as a nation, it is also bringing out some of our greatest strengths.”

But what are the lessons to be learned?

Zenko says the fault lies “solely” with President Trump. Goodman indicts all Democratic and Republican presidents of the last 30 years for national security policies that are “irrelevant to the genuine threats we face today.” Goldenberg blames “our obsession with counterterrorism and Middle East conflict in the aftermath of 9/11.” Slaughter calls for expansive domestic programs to bolster the nation’s collective security, namely a universal basic income and universal broadband.

One thing we can be sure of is: change won’t come easily, even for a stricken nation. In the March cover story of Harper’s magazine, historian and former U.S. Army colonel Andrew Bacevich argued that America’s “addiction to war” will be hard to break.

Writing before the pandemic erupted, Bacevich said U.S. policymakers have insisted for the past seven decades that the American flag “be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other.” This ambitious doctrine, he noted, guided U.S. policy through 45 years of the Cold War and 30 years of war on terrorism.

The global mission of freedom powered by military superiority led to defeat in Vietnam, though defenders can argue that it ultimately defeated the Soviet Union in the Cold War. More recently, national security doctrine has delivered the United States into failed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as pyrrhic proxy war victories in countries like the Congo, Yemen, Libya, El Salvador, and Guatemala where our bloody “successes” have created failed states and triggered mass migration. About the only clear-cut U.S. victory in the last 30 years was the First Gulf War, which achieved its goal of ousting Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait.

Not until Donald Trump took office did any U.S. president dispute the fundamental tenets of post-World War II national security doctrine. In the 2016 election, Bacevich observes, “an eminently qualified candidate [Hillary Clinton] who embodied a notably bellicose variant of the Marshall tradition lost to an opponent who openly mocked that tradition while possessing no qualifications for high office whatsoever.”

In his Harper’s piece, Bacevich questioned whether the Washington policymaking elite could “even acknowledge the magnitude of the repudiation it sustained at the hands of Trump and those who voted him into office,” much less “muster the imagination to devise an alternative tradition better suited to existing conditions while commanding the support of the American people.” His pessimistic prognostication was entitled “The Old Normal.”

“Wake-Up Call”

As America settled into the new normal of skyrocketing death tolls, spreading lockdowns, and social distancing, I asked Bacevich, the president of the Quincy Institute, a think tank dedicated to “diplomatic engagement and military restraint,” to reconsider the premise of his Harper’s piece.

Might COVID-19 force the changes that he so recently thought were unlikely?

“Possibly,” Bacevich replied in a telephone interview. “A sufficient accumulation of bad news can serve as a wake-up call.”

But, he added, “people in Washington have not noticed that the national security system has been failing for some time. Since 9/11, our system has failed in doing what it was supposed to do, which is protect our people and protect our freedoms. It launched and waged wars that are unnecessary, mismanaged, expensive, and that drag on and on.”

“At the same time,” he went on, “we have suffered a series of catastrophes from [hurricanes] Katrina and Sandy to wildfires in California that, in the old days, we would have said were acts of God that there’s not much we can do about.”

The problem, Bacevich says, is not just the intelligence failure identified by Zenko, but a vision failure.

“When something happens like New Orleans going underwater, we should look to the government for a programmatic response that anticipates and deflects such dangers. In this regard, our national security agencies haven’t done squat to improve our security.”

“Coronavirus fits into the sequence of Katrina, Sandy, and the wildfires,” he said. “It is a direct threat here at home for which this mammoth apparatus that we have created to protect our freedoms is largely irrelevant.”

“What do the Navy’s two carrier battle groups in the Middle East do for us in the time of the virus?” he asked. “Do our 800 foreign military bases around the world protect us?”

Like Goodman, Bacevich thinks the problem is bipartisan. Like Goldenberg, he says our obsession with Middle East terrorism is dysfunctional. Like Slaughter, Bacevich believes domestic security measures must be woven into foreign policy.

The problem, he sees, is bureaucratic and intellectual inertia. The Navy will not give up its aircraft carriers. The generals will not give up their dream of military superiority. Even with coronavirus decimating the economy, Bacevich notes, “it’s not going to be easy for senior military officers and top intelligence officials to acknowledge the habits of the past are part of the problem.”

The “window for making big, fundamental changes won’t last long,” Goldenberg observes, “and when it ends, and America returns to politics as usual, the decisions we make during the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis will stay with us for years and define our foreign policy.”

“I wouldn’t say the debate we need to have is going to happen,” Bacevich said. “I’m probably the least optimistic person on the planet. But the magnitude of the crisis might open the way. COVID-19 really ought to be the nail in the coffin of the national security state.”

Trump’s Trade Adviser Repeats Unsubstantiated COVID Theory

COVID 19 cell

First it was former MI6 director Richard Dearlove espousing a theory about the origins of the COVID virus that has no foundation in fact.

Now it’s White House trade adviser Peter Navarro.

‘Navarro says on CNN’s “State of the Union” that it remains unclear how the virus started and “until we get some information about what happened in those labs or what happened in that wet market, we know that the virus was spawned in China.”

President Trump and his allies have been repeating the unsubstantiated theory linking the outbreak’s origin to a possible accident at a Chinese virology laboratory. U.S. intelligence officials describe the evidence as purely circumstantial.

And finally, listen to this conversation of virologists. They say there’s ” no credible evidence” that SARS-CoV-2 came from a lab.

Start listening at 13:00.

Source: The Latest: New Zealand reports 2 new coronavirus cases | National News | kpvi.comW

Indonesia’s Intelligence Service Is Coming Out to Counter COVID19

face mask
COVID19 molecule

Amid the COVID pandemic, Indonesia’s State Intelligence Agency (BIN) is asserting itself in unusual ways.

Writing in The Diplomat, Tangguh Chairil, a lecturer in security studies, says BIN’s role has expanded in the last three months.

BIN’s role is to conduct contact tracing to track the spread of COVID-19, as part of the early warning system as what an intelligence service should do. However, their has extended to everything related to the pandemic. On March 13, BIN announced to the public that they had made a modeling of the spread of COVID-19 which predicted that the peak would occur in May. On April 17, BIN donated medical equipment and medicines to the government’s Task Force. BIN established a medical intelligence unit – – which they did not have prior to the pandemic – and recruited medical personnel volunteers for handling the pandemic, who were inaugurated on April 22.

BIN has prepared rapid test mobile laboratories and conducted several tests in JakartaSouth TangerangTangerangSurabaya, and other areas. BIN delivered medical equipment aids to local governments. BIN has also sprayed disinfectants to several areas and educated the community on the dangers of coronavirus. On June 6, BIN again announced to the public that they predict that the number of cases will still increase – despite previously predicting it would peak in May. Finally, on June 12, BIN announced that they are coordinating the acceleration of COVID-19 medicine production.

Source: Indonesia’s Intelligence Service is Coming Out to Counter COVID-19 – The Diplomat