Report: Intelligence agencies didn’t act fast enough to collect Covid data

The collectors “took too long to align their exquisite collection capacities to meet the needs of senior officials to learn more about the crisis,” the report said. The report also noted that “the IC is unable to identify new diseases that public health authorities have not yet found.”

Senior health officials have said repeatedly over the past two years that Covid-19 might not have spread at such a devastating pace if the US – and the rest of the world – had taken action to contain and isolate the virus sooner.

“Part of our goal in this report is to get intelligence agencies to strategically refocus on where the threats actually lie,” said one of the committee’s investigators.

Republicans in House Intelligence Committee released a another report Thursday to focus on how the intelligence services have dealt with the question of the origin of Covid. It accused the intelligence community of failing to adequately address the question of whether there was a possible link between Covid-19 and China’s biological weapons efforts.

The Democrats’ report says the intelligence community issued warnings of a possible global pandemic well before the World Health Organization made such an announcement in March 2020. And despite President Donald Trump’s public statements that the intelligence community did not speak in threatening terms about the potential pandemic, analysts actually broadcast “gloomy” assessments in late January and early February, according to the report.

Overall, intelligence agencies need to improve the way they prepare for and respond to global health threats, the report said. Over the years, intelligence agencies, including the CIA, have not prioritized tracking and analysis of biological threats. And even after the last nearly three years of the Covid pandemic, intelligence agencies still haven’t made the necessary adjustments to focus on the problem, the report said.

The administration has reinstated the Pandemic Office at the National Security Council — the same office that was dissolved under the Trump administration. And it has appointed various people to oversee global health security and global health issues. But, according to the report, these measures “do not signal a sustainable, long-term investment.”

“The intelligence community has not made fundamental changes necessary to improve its ability to support health security decision-makers faced with a novel disease,” the report said. For example, she pointed to the intelligence agencies’ fiscal year 2022 budget, which proposes cuts to the National Center for Medical Intelligence, an office within the Defense Intelligence Agency that tracks and analyzes health events that could potentially threaten national security.

While intelligence services may not be able to identify a disease in front of the public health community, they can and should still work to collect and analyze open-source information about signs of a novel disease. It should also work more closely with public health officials during health emergencies, the report said.

“This allows for faster rotation of the intelligence agencies’ unique clandestine gathering apparatus,” the report said. “Intelligence should be spinning fast to try and generate information that public health officials cannot learn for themselves — especially when it comes to a country more interested in avoiding panic (or blame) than one growing public health emergency.”

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