The Mysterious November Report

Coronavirus Apr 10, 2020

Two days ago ABC News reported (Archive):

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.

There are 2 claims.

  1. Intelligence officials were warning about a contagion in November (four sources, unnamed).
  2. A report was created in November by the National Center for Medical Intelligence (two officials, unnamed).

All unnamed sources. So, we can chalk this up to an unsourced article. When the NCMI replied I wasn't terribly surprised (via the original article):

The Pentagon did not comment Tuesday, but on Wednesday evening following the publication of this report, the Defense Department provided a statement from Col. R. Shane Day, Director of the NCMI.
"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," the statement said.

All-in-all a fairly simple issue. Fake news, statement calling it fake news. The story's over, right?

However, when breaking it down, I noticed that ABC made 2 claims. The NCMI refuted 1. The 1 they were involved in. But, they wouldn't have knowledge to refute the other claim. It's not specific enough to refute.

Then, yesterday, CNN comes out with this piece: US intelligence agencies started tracking coronavirus outbreak in China as early as November (Archive). What's their rationale for the statement of November? The word November appears 7 times in the article.

First:

US spy agencies were tracking the rise of the novel coronavirus as early as November, weeks before that information was included in President Donald Trump's daily intelligence briefing, a former US military official told CNN.

It's not the ABC story. It's an unnamed source. Might be the same source, we don't know.

Second:

While the exact date of the first report remains unclear, sources told CNN that intelligence gathered in November and in the weeks following offered multiple early warnings about the potential severity of the pandemic now surging in the US.

That's a restatement of the first paragraph. Just sources told them.

Third:

ABC News reported earlier Wednesday that the National Center for Medical Intelligence, a branch of the Defense Intelligence Agency, compiled information in November warning that a new virus was spreading through China's Wuhan region.

That one we've already talked about.

Fourth:

"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," Colonel Dr. R. Shane Day, director of the National Center for Medical Intelligence, said.

A denial to the original ABC article.

Fifth:

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Hyten seemed to push back on reports that the US intelligence community was aware of the coronavirus in November, saying Thursday that the first intelligence reports he saw were in January.

Sixth:

Asked when the first intelligence streams about the virus began to arrive, Hyten said, "We went back and looked at everything in November, December. The first indication we have were the reports out of China in late December that were in the public forum. And the first intel reports I saw were in January.

Seventh:

CIA officials tell CNN they are not aware of a specific report from November warning about an emerging crisis in China and declined to say when their own assessments were entered into what is known as the intelligence cycle, a process that coordinates information flowing among relevant agencies.

That's it. Is there any information backing up their claim? No. They include actual denials with no real sources.

The thing of it is... I chose to write about this, because I'd actually believe we were tracking it in November. But, I can't say that until there's an actual source. Or some actual information.

I doubt there's a report, the denials are too strong. Hyten's comment suggests late December and seems genuine. However, the intelligence community has a lot of branches.

Given the number of agencies, we could have been tracking it earlier. That's actually a thread I'd really like to pull on. But, so far there's no evidence.