A week before declaring a national emergency, Donald Trump described the coronavirus outbreak as a "problem" that no one saw coming. He would go on to blame China for allegedly spreading misinformation and covering up the severity of the disease, suggesting Chinese officials were to blame for the U.S.'s lack of preparedness.
"It could have been stopped in its tracks," he said on March 19. "Unfortunately, they (China) didn’t decide to make it public. But the whole world is suffering because of it."
However, a newly published report undermines Trump's previous claims that the COVID-19 crisis was unanticipated. Sources told ABC News that U.S. intelligence had learned of contagion spreading in China's Wuhan region in late 2019, and began raising concerns of "a cataclysmic event" as far back as November. The sources cited a report by the military’s National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI), which described an "out-of-control disease" that could possibly threaten U.S. forces based in Asia.
The insiders claimed that the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon's Joint Staff, and the White House were repeatedly briefed on the report throughout December, well before the U.S. had its first confirmed case of coronavirus.
"The timeline of the intel side of this may be further back than we’re discussing," the source said of preliminary reports. "But this was definitely being briefed beginning at the end of November as something the military needed to take a posture on."
A detailed explanation of the outbreak reportedly first appeared in the President's Daily Brief in early January. According to individuals who worked on presidential briefings in past administrations, an issue would have to undergo weeks of vetting and analysis before it would appear in the daily briefing.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper was questioned about the NCMI report during an interview with ABC News on Sunday. Esper told the outlet he could not recall whether the Pentagon received an intelligence assessment on COVID-19 back in November.
In a statement, Colonel Dr. R. Shane Day, the director of the National Center for Medical Intelligence, denied the ABC News report. " [...] 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," Colonel Dr. R. Shane Day said.
JUST IN: Director of DIA’s National Center for Medical Intelligence issues rare, unrequested statement regarding COVID. pic.twitter.com/tCw0GRchJ6— W.J. Hennigan (@wjhenn) April 9, 2020