It’s not exactly a scoop that the US wants answers about how COVID-19 blindsided the US and the world. Donald Trump told the press on Monday that “very serious investigations” had begun into China’s actions, and that Trump planned to hold Beijing accountable for damage. “We are not happy with China,” Trump underscored in his response:
Q Mr. President, Charlie Spiering from Breitbart News. And a majority of polls show that Americans blame China for the spread of the coronavirus, and yet they’re taking advantage of the crisis to make the world more dependent on their supply chains. How do you get — how do you hold China accountable and how do you keep our country — how do you incentivize our businesses?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Charlie, there are a lot of ways you can hold them accountable. We’re doing very serious investigations, as you probably know. And we are not happy with China. We are not happy with that whole situation because we believe it could have been stopped at the source, it could have been stopped quickly, and it wouldn’t have spread all over the world. And we think that should have happened. So we’ll let you know at the appropriate time, but we are doing serious investigations.
On this point, Trump has been proven correct. This morning, NBC reports that Trump ordered that intelligence agencies conduct the investigation, and that those will target both China and the World Health Organization. The orders indicate a specific interest in the research laboratories in Wuhan:
The White House has ordered intelligence agencies to comb through communications intercepts, human source reporting, satellite imagery and other data to establish whether China and the World Health Organization initially hid what they knew about the emerging coronavirus pandemic, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the matter told NBC News.
A specific “tasking” seeking information about the outbreak’s early days was sent last week to the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency, which includes the National Center for Medical Intelligence, an official directly familiar with the matter said. The CIA has received similar instructions, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter. …
As part of the tasking, intelligence agencies were asked to determine what the WHO knew about two research labs studying coronaviruses in the Chinese province of Wuhan, where the virus was first observed. NBC News has previously reported that the spy agencies have been investigating the possibility that the virus escaped accidentally from one of the labs, although many experts believe that is unlikely.
Unlikely? Maybe, but it’s definitely within the parameters of possibility. Josh Rogin’s reporting on prophetic State Department warnings about the Wuhan Institute of Virology put that explanation squarely in the mainstream of possibilities, even though the media had tried to paint Sen. Tom Cotton as a kook for even mentioning it beforehand. Furthermore, China won’t ever admit to that even if it turned out to be true, which means it’s a possibility that outside agencies will have to investigate.
Of course, the leak of those State Department memos could easily be seen as a brushback pitch to China over its propaganda efforts over the last few weeks. The sudden confirmation of an intelligence operation by anonymous sources to NBC is almost certainly just as intentional. The Xi Jinping regime clearly hasn’t paid attention to those signals, and this leak sounds like an escalation, as NBC notes in its report:
The move coincides with a public effort by the White House, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump’s political allies to focus attention on China’s inability to contain the virus shortly after it emerged. As NBC News previously reported, U.S. intelligence officials have said China initially failed to disclose the seriousness of the outbreak, robbing the rest of the world of information that might have led to earlier containment efforts.
Looping WHO into this investigation is a clear shot across Beijing’s bow. Not only are they going after China, but also China’s best mouthpiece on their COVID-19 operation. The message here is clear — stop the propaganda campaign before we really embarrass you. In fact, I’d bet that the intel communities probably already have enough information to humiliate Xi’s government; otherwise, letting the probes slip out into public would hamper intel agencies’ ability to operate them. This is likely just a throat-clearing exercise designed to force Beijing to back off … or suffer the consequences in the public square.