The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

U.S. Intel’s Useless COVID-Origins Report

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testifies during a Senate Armed Services hearing on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., April 29, 2021. (Graeme Jennings/Reuters)

On the menu today: After 90 days and a direct request from the president, the U.S. intelligence community offers a page-and-a-half summary that tells the public nothing that it didn’t already know about COVID-19’s origins; the Washington Post reveals that the Taliban came to the U.S. military on August 15 asking for help with a problem; the gargantuan scale of how much U.S. military equipment is now in Taliban hands becomes clearer; and the early reports from Hurricane Ida include devastating damage to buildings and significant loss of power, but thankfully, so far, only one life lost.

The U.S. Intelligence Community Offers a Useless Report on COVID-19’s Origins

Late Friday, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines released a page-and-a-half summary of the intelligence community’s investigation into the origins of COVID-19, offering almost nothing new to what was publicly known about the start of the pandemic. The summary offered less information than most lengthy magazine pieces, offering the obvious and unhelpful conclusion that “all agencies assess that two hypotheses are plausible: natural exposure to an infected animal and laboratory-associated incident.”

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the released two-page intelligence report is that it simply doesn’t mention or address several key points that have appeared in the news in the past few months, attributed to sources within the U.S. intelligence community.

The Wall Street Journal, May 23:

Three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report that could add weight to growing calls for a fuller probe of whether the Covid-19 virus may have escaped from the laboratory.

The details of the reporting go beyond a State Department fact sheet, issued during the final days of the Trump administration, which said that several researchers at the lab, a center for the study of coronaviruses and other pathogens, became sick in autumn 2019 “with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness.”

The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin, speaking to former New York Times columnist Bari Weiss on her podcast, August 23:

The unreleased intelligence is the stuff that, if you read John Ratcliffe’s op-ed recently, that he is talking about. What he wrote is that the secret intelligence, the stuff that they didn’t release, it’s even more damning, has lots of specifics about the lab. . . . What it says is that the symptoms that these sick researchers had were not your everyday flu symptoms. In other words, they were COVID specific symptoms necessarily and these include no smell and what are called ground-glass opacities in the lungs. . . . That doesn’t medically prove that they had COVID, but that’s some pretty specific symptoms.

Rogin went on to add that the researchers who got sick “were the guys working at the bat coronavirus lab.”

Former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe in a Fox News op-ed, August 2:

I had access to all of the U.S. government’s most sensitive intelligence related to the pandemic. My informed opinion is that the lab leak theory isn’t just a “possibility,” at the very least it is more like a probability, if not very close to a certainty.

More than 18 months after the virus first leaked into the world, I still have not seen a single shred of scientific evidence or intelligence that the virus outbreak was a naturally occurring “spillover” that jumped from an animal to a human.

Conversely, although the CCP has gone to great lengths to ensure there is no “smoking gun,” every piece of evidence I have seen points to the pandemic’s origin being a leak out of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

Quite simply, the lab leak theory is the only one supported by science, intelligence and common sense.

. . . The CCP has not provided any exculpatory evidence in a crime that had devastating impacts on nearly every person on earth because, in short, they can’t.

The virus found in nature that is closest to SARS-CoV-2 — identified as RaTG13 — was found in a copper mineshaft in Tongguan, Mojiang, Yunnan Province, China — which is 1,140 miles away from Wuhan. Back in 2012, six miners who had been hired to clean the mineshaft grew ill with a cough and fever, difficulty breathing, aching limbs, heavy and bloody mucus and saliva, and headaches — symptoms of a viral respiratory infection that is like the effects of COVID-19. Three of the miners died from their infections. In 2012 and 2013, researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology collected many samples of new bat viruses from this mineshaft. The city of Wuhan is well beyond the natural habitat or migratory patterns of the horseshoe bats found in that mine. The only realistic potential source of RaTG13 in the city is the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Does the U.S. intelligence community have reliable information indicating that three WIV researchers who had been working on novel coronaviruses in bats got sick in November 2019, required hospitalization, and suffering loss of the sense of smell and ground-glass opacities in the lungs, shortly before December 1, the date of the onset of symptoms in the first publicly verified case of COVID-19?

If the answer is no, and the U.S. government does not have this information, why not say so?

If the answer is yes, and the U.S. government does have this information, how can someone look at that sequence of events and still think it is all a giant coincidence?

Washington Post: On August 15, the Taliban Came to the U.S. with a ‘Problem’

The Washington Post offers a long article about the fall of Kabul that gives readers this jaw-dropping detail about a meeting on August 15:

In a hastily arranged in-person meeting, senior U.S. military leaders in Doha — including McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command — spoke with Abdul Ghani Baradar, head of the Taliban’s political wing.

“We have a problem,” Baradar said, according to the U.S. official. “We have two options to deal with it: You [the United States military] take responsibility for securing Kabul or you have to allow us to do it.”

Throughout the day, Biden had remained resolute in his decision to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan. The collapse of the Afghan government hadn’t changed his mind.

McKenzie, aware of those orders, told Baradar that the U.S. mission was only to evacuate American citizens, Afghan allies and others at risk. The United States, he told Baradar, needed the airport to do that.

On the spot, an understanding was reached, according to two other U.S. officials: The United States could have the airport until Aug. 31. But the Taliban would control the city.

In other words, the U.S. had some leverage at that moment. Not as much as we would’ve liked, obviously, but the Taliban were coming to us with a problem and were ready to negotiate. The Taliban knew they were going to control Kabul eventually; from this report, they were willing to be patient to avoid a messy final battle. The U.S. could have kept a larger portion of the city secure until August 31; perhaps the Taliban would have stayed out of Kabul until September. This entire mess we’re seeing, with the Taliban beating people in the streets and turning our Afghans allies away at checkpoints outside the airport, could have been avoided.

This weekend, more than 600 students, their relatives, and staff of American University of Afghanistan received an email saying that, “I regret to inform you that the high command at HKIA in the airport has announced there will be no more rescue flights.”

We regularly encounter accounts from the ground that do not match the happy talk that comes from the people behind the lecterns at the Pentagon and White House. People who have every right to get through those check points, gates, and onto those flights are being blocked by the Taliban. Innocent people are being left in that hellhole to get tortured and killed. And they’re receiving “I regret to inform you” emails.

U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Ross Wilson tweeted out, “This is a high-risk operation. Claims that American citizens have been turned away or denied access to HKIA by Embassy staff or US Forces are false.” But his statement doesn’t say anything about U.S. green-card holders or Afghans who have Special Immigrant Visas. It’s as if as far as the administration is concerned, green-card holders don’t exist.

Meanwhile, the Taliban now has access to 75,000 U.S.-made military vehicles, 200 airplanes and helicopters and 600,000 small arms and light weapons, night-vision goggles, body armor, medical supplies, and the biometric data of the Afghans who have assisted soldiers over the past 20 years. The Taliban have now seized one of the greatest caches of advanced military equipment ever. If we ever must fight them again, we will be fighting an enemy that is using our own weapons against us.

On the home page today, Bing West has a haunting review of 20 years of U.S. policy decisions in Afghanistan. No president got this right, and no president wanted to confront the hard realities of that faraway country. But this observation is just crushing:

President Biden has claimed that the ongoing evacuation occurred because the Afghan army ran away instead of fighting. In truth, the Afghan soldiers did fight, suffering 60,000 killed in the war. Their talisman was the American military. No matter how tough the conditions, somehow an American voice crackled over the radio, followed by thunder from the air. Those few Americans were the steel rods in the concrete. When that steel was pulled out, the concrete crumbled. The spirit of the Afghan army was broken.

ADDENDUM: As of this writing, there is only one death attributed to Hurricane Ida — and for New Orleans taking a direct hit from a just-shy-of-a-Category-5 hurricane, that’s not too bad. Ida has been downgraded to a tropical storm over Mississippi, with the National Weather Service warning that, “dangerous storm surges, damaging winds, and flash flooding continue over portions of southeastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi.” Maybe New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast region learned the hard lessons of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

But I notice New Orleans did not order a mandatory evacuation, or even contraflow the highways to make it easier for people to head north, away from the coast.

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