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A Curious Report from ABC News

A medical worker in a protective suit inspects a CT scan image in a ward at the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, February 24, 2020. (China Daily via Reuters)

Josh Margolin and James Gordon Meek of ABC News reported earlier today that the Trump Administration was warned in November 2019 about the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan:

As far back as late November, U.S. intelligence officials were warning that a contagion was sweeping through China’s Wuhan region, changing the patterns of life and business and posing a threat to the population, according to four sources briefed on the secret reporting. Concerns about what is now known to be the novel coronavirus pandemic were detailed in a November intelligence report by the military’s National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI), according to two officials familiar with the document’s contents….From that warning in November, the sources described repeated briefings through December for policy-makers and decision-makers across the federal government as well as the National Security Council at the White House. All of that culminated with a detailed explanation of the problem that appeared in the President’s Daily Brief of intelligence matters in early January, the sources said. For something to have appeared in the PDB, it would have had to go through weeks of vetting and analysis, according to people who have worked on presidential briefings in both Republican and Democratic administrations. “The timeline of the intel side of this may be further back than we’re discussing,” the source said of preliminary reports from Wuhan. “But this was definitely being briefed beginning at the end of November as something the military needed to take a posture on.”

(Emphasis added). This is a curious report, because all the previous public reports have relied on the British medical journal The Lancet, which identified the first “index case” as showing symptoms for the first time on December 1, 2019. That likely points to infections spreading in November, but no source inside or outside of China has previously reported visible signs of the virus prior to December 1. As recently as yesterday, ABC’s own timeline identified the outbreak as beginning in Wuhan in December. But if the new report (which cites no named sources or publicly available documents) can be believed, the outbreak was sufficiently publicly detectable that U.S. intelligence was already aware of it. The NCMI issued a vigorous but carefully worded denial:

“As a matter of practice the National Center for Medical Intelligence does not comment publicly on specific intelligence matters. 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

(Emphasis added). CNN says that Defense and CIA officials have also denied the report, and say they are unable to identify any such report. Something does not add up. There are three possibilities I can see: (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. 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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