U.S. intelligence agencies missed reporting on the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak in late January that would soon lead to a deadly global pandemic, according to White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien.
Mr. O’Brien said in an interview that National Security Council reforms involving staff streamlining and more efficient decision-making procedures that were put into place over the past several months were significant in helping President Trump recognize the seriousness of the coming pandemic in late January.
“The [intelligence community] first briefed the president on this on Jan. 23,” Mr. O’Brien told The Washington Times in a recent interview. “On Jan. 28 at the Oval [Office] briefing, the [intelligence community] was still saying this is something like the flu and not as serious as SARS.”
Getting consistent expert advice of the challenges posed by COVID-19 has been a challenge for public health officials and government leaders around the globe. Just this week, the World Health Organization was trying to clear up confusion caused by an official who said transmission of the virus by people showing no symptoms of the disease was “rare.”
Mr. O’Brien’s comments provided new details on the quality of the information U.S. intelligence agencies supplied to the White House in the crucial early days of the fight to contain the impending COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier reports and comments by Mr. Trump said spy agencies initially underplayed intelligence on the virus at the Jan. 23 briefing.
Mr. O’Brien indicated that the agencies continued to play down the danger for five additional days.
After the Jan. 28 briefing, Mr. O’Brien said he “elevated the issue” for the president, who immediately grasped the magnitude of what would eventually become the disastrous COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.S. now has recorded over 110,000 deaths related to the new virus strain, the most of any country in the world, and critics say the slow response of the Trump administration in the first weeks of the threat exacerbated the impact in the U.S.
Several advisers at the time recommended against imposing a travel ban on China in order to limit the spread. Two days after the Jan. 28 briefing, Mr. Trump went ahead with imposing a ban on most flights from China.
“There were, of course, concerns expressed over how the ban would affect the stock market and the world economy, but the president put the health of the American people first,” Mr. O’Brien said.
“Within two days of the president being told by the NSC that COVID-19 constituted a serious national security risk, on the 30th, he had made the decision to ban travel from China.”
The ban went into effect on Jan. 31, the same day the president announced the formation of the task force on the virus that eventually became the unit headed by Vice President Mike Pence.
“The stories about the president not moving quickly are just not true,” Mr. O’Brien said. “He moved very quickly. As soon as he was alerted by the NSC that this was a serious problem, he took decisive action.”
Focus of concern
The virus outbreak was an issue that Mr. O’Brien and other officials at the White House, including Deputy National Security Adviser Matt Pottinger, and Peter Navarro, the White House director of trade and manufacturing policy, were more focused on at the time. Mr. Navarro sent a memorandum on Jan. 29 warning of potentially dire consequences from the disease on both human life and the economy.
“This is not a criticism of the [intelligence community],” Mr. O’Brien said. Intelligence analysts were “going off of the information that [they] had. But the virus was something we saw a little bit more over the horizon on than some of our colleagues.”
A spokeswoman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had no immediate comment.
A senior U.S. intelligence official confirmed that the intelligence analysts underestimated the danger of the coronavirus outbreak, which Chinese government authorities officially acknowledged on Jan. 23 — more than a month after the first cases were detected in Wuhan, China.
The initial Jan. 23 report was provided by CIA analyst Beth Sanner, who in 2019 became the main presenter of Mr. Trump’s daily presidential briefing, or PDB, as the high-level, top-secret presidential intelligence briefing is called, The New York Times reported.
Mr. Trump, a frequent critic of the quality of U.S. intelligence, tweeted May 3 that intelligence agencies “just reported to me that I was correct, and that they did NOT bring up the coronavirus subject matter until late into January, just prior to my banning China from the U.S.”
The president also said in the tweet that intelligence briefers “only spoke of the virus in a very non-threatening, or matter of fact, manner.”
The comments followed several press reports, including a Washington Post article, defending intelligence agency responses to the coronavirus and noting that more than a dozen PDB reports carried articles on the virus in January and February.
A U.S. intelligence official said those reports were misleading and that the reporting increased only after the Chinese official announced the outbreak.
Critics say Beijing also provided false or delayed information to WHO that resulted in inaction around the world in response to the outbreak. For example, Chinese authorities told WHO that the virus was not transmitted from human to human and that travel should not be restricted. Both were wrong and yet were published in a Jan. 12 WHO statement.
Asked about published reports that intelligence reports from daily briefings discussed the threat of the virus, Mr. Trump said May 3 that other political leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, were playing down the danger.
The first information about the virus from intelligence agencies arrived on Jan. 23, he told Fox News Channel. The first U.S. response was made a short time later, “but I didn’t do it because of what they said,” he added.
Investigating the response
Mr. O’Brien said a number of federal agencies are conducting investigations into the response to the virus outbreak, and Mr. Trump and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows are considering the creation of a blue-ribbon commission to examine the issue.
Another option is for several agencies, including the CIA and other intelligence agencies, the State Department and the Department of Health and Human Services, to conduct a major inquiry and produce a report on their findings, he said.
“We are gathering a lot of information across a whole spectrum of agencies even now,” Mr. O’Brien said, adding that he is convinced that the truth about the virus and its origin will eventually be revealed.
“It is hard because the Chinese have clammed up and shared so little information about the virus,” he said. “And, so many people who were originally whistleblowers and mouthpieces about what was happening in Wuhan have been silenced.”
Mr. O’Brien said China has been linked to what he termed “five plagues” in recent years: COVID-19, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the H1N1 flu, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and the avian flu.
“The world needs to get the public health situation in China under control. China needs help, and we want to help them,” he said.
Mr. O’Brien said he believes Beijing would prefer him to say China “is terrible and launched this COVID-19 virus on purpose rather than suggest the Communist Party requires assistance from the rest of the world.”
“I am taking the tack that it is a public health problem in China — whether it is a wet market or a lab, neither one of them is a good answer as to where this virus started,” he said.
Mr. O’Brien said his efforts to streamline and downsize the NSC have worked well regarding U.S. policies toward China.
In recent weeks, the Trump administration has taken a number of significant actions regarding U.S.-Chinese relations, including pressing the federal workers’ retirement plan to stop investing in Chinese companies linked to human rights abuses or cyberattacks.
The NSC also led the way in the administration’s decision to restrict China’s Huawei Technologies Ltd. from acquiring advanced U.S. microchips.
“These steps and others will protect Americans from some of the unfair and anti-competitive conduct we have seen from China over the past 40 years,” Mr. O’Brien said.
Sign up for Daily Newsletters
Robert O’Brien: Trump countering China aggression with international consensus
DES MOINES, Iowa | The Trump administration is building an international consensus aimed at countering increased Chinese aggression in multiple forms, according to White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien. Mr. O’Brien argued in a speech Wednesday outlining the administration’s foreign policy that President Trump was the first U.S. leader to recognize the errors of…
DES MOINES, Iowa | The Trump administration is building an international consensus aimed at countering increased Chinese aggression in multiple forms, according to White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien.
Mr. O’Brien argued in a speech Wednesday outlining the administration’s foreign policy that President Trump was the first U.S. leader to recognize the errors of “conventional wisdom” toward Beijing that touted the inevitability of political liberalization there as its economy modernized.
Instead, the U.S. and other free nations have begun “standing up against Chinese aggression in all its forms,” Mr. O’Brien told a forum at Drake University that included state and local leaders.
U.S. officials say China in recent months increased its aggressiveness toward Taiwan with large-scale military exercises and jet and bomber incursions. In the disputed South China Sea, China’s military recently fired a salvo of four missiles, including intermediate-range missiles, into the strategic waterway. Beijing says the South China Sea is part of its sovereign maritime territory.
Critics say China has jettisoned a long-standing agreement that permitted the former British colony of Hong Kong to keep its independent legal system for 50 years. Instead, Beijing has imposed a harsh national security law after large pro-democracy protests.
Mr. O’Brien said the Trump administration also has refused to accept one-sided trade policies of the past that benefited China and imposed tariffs on Chinese goods instead. The tariffs sought to compensate for coerced transfers of U.S. technology, intellectual property theft and other tactics that he said slanted the international playing field in China’s favor.
China and the U.S. signed a “phase one” trade deal in January that prohibited forcing American companies to transfer technology to China as the price of doing business, and opened China’s market to billions of dollars in U.S. agriculture and financial services, he said.
The deal also called for Beijing to purchase $40 billion to $50 billion in farm products annually for two years.
Mr. O’Brien said the administration cracked down on the Chinese Communist Party’s large-scale intelligence and security apparatus, operating through state-linked companies such as telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies, from stealing Americans’ personal and private data.
The Justice Department “is prosecuting Chinese economic espionage aggressively,” and a recent White House directive limited the People’s Liberation Army from using student visas to send agents to steal American technology and weapons-related data, he said.
Foreign investment from China that threatens American national security is now restricted, he said, and export controls have been tightened.
The president has also “placed export restrictions on Chinese government entities and companies complicit in human rights violations and abuses,” Mr. O’Brien said.
Activists say China has been engaged in human rights abuses in the western Xinjiang region, including the imprisonment of more than 1 million ethnic Uighurs in what Chinese leaders call “reeducation camps.”
Following the U.S. lead
Mr. O’Brien said democratic nations have begun following the U.S. lead in pushing back against China.
Sweden closed Chinese cultural educational centers called Confucius Institutes, which critics say Beijing uses for covert spying and influence operations. Britain joined the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Sweden in limiting the purchase of telecommunications equipment to trusted suppliers for use in future 5G communications networks, effectively freezing out Huawei.
Huawei equipment, which U.S. officials say Chinese intelligence can use for electronic spying, has been banned by telecommunications carriers in India, Australia, South Korea and Japan.
Mr. O’Brien praised Australia’s government for cracking down on covert Chinese influence and infiltration operations targeting the political system. Australia has taken the lead in calling for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19, which first emerged in Wuhan, China.
Japan is backing tougher U.S. policies by offering incentives to Japanese companies to relocated manufacturing plants from China to Japan.
“From China to Russia to Iran to extremist groups, the United States faces great challenges, but under President Trump we are rising to the occasion,” Mr. O’Brien said. “The days of leading from behind are over, and the results speak for themselves.”
“Leading from behind” was the buzz phrase used during the Obama administration. Critics say it abrogated U.S. leadership around the world on many issues.
On the administration’s new approach to foreign affairs, Mr. O’Brien said the president was elected based on his different view of how to bring peace and prosperity. The policy is called “America First” and puts the highest priority on protecting the American people — “their needs, their safety, their rights and their values,” he said.
“The president believes, as did Ronald Reagan, that ‘peace through strength’ should be the cornerstone of U.S. national security policy,” Mr. O’Brien said.
Key elements of the Trump policy are strengthening alliances; rejecting agreements or organizations that do not serve U.S. goals; abandoning treaties that are violated by other signatories; and quitting corrupt international organizations, he said.
Mr. O’Brien said the Trump policies have produced a more peaceful and prosperous world.
Among the highlights were the defeat of the Islamic State group’s caliphate; the release of more than 50 Americans held hostage or detained overseas; the replacement of the North American Free Trade Agreement with a new trade accord; and stepped-up operations that denied drug traffickers nearly $4.7 billion since March.
After the speech, Mr. O’Brien was asked about how China’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic affected U.S.-Chinese relations.
“The whole relationship has been colored by COVID,” he said. “When you look at the track record of what China did, it’s deplorable, and there’s no excuse for it. And, at some point, an accounting has to be given.”
Mr. O’Brien said the Chinese government covered up the virus outbreak in its early days, permitting travel around the world that caused the global spread of the disease.
Internally, he said, Beijing silenced doctors who tried to warn people about the virus and at one point forced a Chinese laboratory to remove a DNA sequence for the virus that could have helped virologists handle the outbreak. The Chinese also blocked international virus investigators from going to Wuhan to study the epidemic’s origins.
China’s cover-up was similar to the Soviet government’s handling of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, he said.
“It’s pretty devastating what China has done to the world,” Mr. O’Brien said.
Sign up for Daily Newsletters
Robert O’Brien lays out stinging critique of threat posed by China
PHOENIX — Decades of coaxing China’s rulers into moderating the communist system backfired and instead have produced the “greatest failure of American foreign policy since the 1930s,” President Trump’s top security aide argued in a major policy address Wednesday. White House National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien said the failure was a result of misunderstanding the…
PHOENIX — Decades of coaxing China’s rulers into moderating the communist system backfired and instead have produced the “greatest failure of American foreign policy since the 1930s,” President Trump’s top security aide argued in a major policy address Wednesday.
White House National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien said the failure was a result of misunderstanding the nature of the Marxist-Leninist system that guides China’s rulers to this day.
The Trump administration has begun reversing policies toward Beijing that it says ignored massive theft of data and technology and abuse of conciliatory American trade and other policies, he said.
“The days of American passivity and naivete regarding the People’s Republic of China are over,” he told a group of business executives at the Arizona Commerce Authority in a speech introduced by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican.
The lengthy critique is the first in a series of speeches planned by senior U.S. officials laying out in extensive detail what they say is the threat posed by China. Others will be given by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray.
Mr. O’Brien argued Wednesday that Mr. Trump’s tougher approach has led the way for the United States to finally realize the dangers posed by China under the control of the Chinese Communist Party. “For decades, conventional wisdom in both U.S. political parties, the business community, academia and media held that it was only a matter of time before China would become more liberal, first economically and then politically,” Mr. O’Brien said.
Helping China by opening U.S. markets, investing capital in China, and training engineers, scientists and even military officers was based on a hope that “China would become like us,” he said.
Under the old approach, China gained entry to the World Trade Organization, which brought major concessions and trade benefits. At the same time, U.S. leaders played down massive human rights abuses in China, including the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, when Chinese troops suppressed unarmed pro-democracy protesters and killed hundreds.
“We turned a blind eye to China’s widespread technology theft that eviscerated entire sectors of the American economy,” Mr. O’Brien said.
Assisting China to grow richer and stronger was aimed at pressing the Communist Party to liberalize and fulfill the growing democratic aspirations of the Chinese people.
“This was a bold, quintessentially American idea, born of our innate optimism and of the experience of our triumph over Soviet communism. It also turned out to be naive,” he said. “We could not have been more wrong, and this miscalculation is the greatest failure of American foreign policy since the 1930s.”
To counter Chinese communism, the Trump administration is promoting diversity of thought and pushing back against all efforts to control speech or promote self-censorship while sheltering Americans’ personal data and continuing to “proclaim that all women and men deserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Mr. O’Brien said.
The question of how to confront a more assertive China is expected to be a major campaign issue for President Trump and presumed Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden.
Mr. O’Brien outlined several major changes in U.S. policy toward China carried out under Mr. Trump, including sanctioning telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies and imposing restrictions on the company to prevent U.S. semiconductors from facilitating Chinese electronic spying.
The State Department has designated nine Chinese state-controlled media outlets as propaganda outlets in a bid to limit influence operations. Sanctions also were imposed on 21 Chinese government agencies and 16 companies for what U.S. officials say was their role in repression of Uighurs and other minorities in China.
The Trump administration has also pulled out of the United Nations Human Rights Council to protest Chinese efforts to coopt the council, and terminated U.S. support to the U.N. World Health Organization, also citing its failure to confront Beijing.
To limit the Chinese military from benefiting from the U.S. education, visas are being refused for Chinese military students who are suspected of seeking to steal U.S. technology. The administration also pushed to halt the investment of federal employee retirement funds in Chinese companies, including military contractors and manufacturers of surveillance equipment.
The president “is also examining the opaque accounting practices of Chinese companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges,” Mr. O’Brien said.
The Pentagon will submit to Congress this week a list of companies and operations in the United States with links to China’s People’s Liberation Army, in a bid to inform Americans about Chinese military firms.
“These steps are just the start as America corrects 40 years of a one-sided, unfair relationship with China that has severely affected our nation’s economic and, recently, political well-being. There is more to come soon,” Mr. O’Brien said.
On Chinese communism, the national security adviser said past policy failures were direct results of misunderstanding the nature of the Communist Party and its ideology, which he described as a combination of Marxism-Leninism and coopted Chinese nationalism.
“Instead of listening to what CCP leaders said and reading what they wrote in their key documents, we closed our ears and our eyes,” Mr. O’Brien said. “We believed what we wanted to believe: that the party members were communist in name only.”
Mr. O’Brien charged that President Xi Jinping, the CCP general secretary and head of the Central Military Commission, “sees himself as Josef Stalin’s successor.”
Mr. O’Brien said the CCP is among the last communist parties to embrace the Soviet dictator, with the partial exception of the North Korean regime. Stalin remains a revered figure in China, and his statue is in the PLA’s museum in Beijing.
“As interpreted and practiced by Lenin, Stalin and Mao, communism is a totalitarian ideology,” Mr. O’Brien said.
Outdated communist ideas originated in Europe 150 years ago and were rejected in Russia 30 years ago as “the most costly failed political experiment in history,” Mr. O’Brien said.
“But in China, these ideas remain as fundamental to the Chinese Communist Party as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are to Americans,” he said.
The party in China is using propaganda to dominate political thought through aggressive policies, including “ideological security,” the White House adviser said.
In April 2013, the CCP issued a policy on ideological purity that called for “absolutely no opportunity or outlets for incorrect thinking or viewpoints to spread.” Mandatory study sessions are widespread, and using modern technology requires Chinese to study “Xi Jinping thought” on smartphone apps.
“It means complete state control of all media,” Mr. O’Brien said.
“Outside sources of information are banned, from foreign newspapers to Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp.”
Censorship within China is ubiquitous, and citizen bloggers, reporters, lawyers, activists and religious believers are imprisoned for expressing views that go against the CCP.
From January through April, nearly 500 people were charged with crimes for speaking out on the “Wuhan/COVID virus, its effects and the party’s cover-up of the disease,” the security adviser said.
On religious institutions, the party reinterprets texts such as the Bible to support communist ideology. Over 1 million Muslim Uighurs and other minorities are imprisoned in “reeducation” camps, where they are forced to undergo political indoctrination and forced labor.
“This process annihilates family, religion, culture, language and heritage,” Mr. O’Brien said.
Americans need to be concerned because Mr. Xi is seeking ideological control beyond China’s borders, Mr. O’Brien said, in a push to “remake the world according to the CCP.”
The outreach is advanced, and Chinese leaders have invested billions of dollars over the past decade in overseas propaganda designed to “eliminate ‘unfriendly’ Chinese media outlets worldwide.”
Mr. O’Brien said the effort is close to succeeding because nearly every Chinese-language news outlet in the United States is either owned by or works closely with the government in Beijing, and English-language media outlets are being targeted.
“More than a dozen American cities hear subtle pro-Beijing propaganda on their FM radio stations,” he said.
In one case in Maryland, “Chinese propaganda persuaded so many Americans that a U.S. solider brought the coronavirus to Wuhan — a complete fabrication by the CCP — that this soldier and her family needed a personal security detail to protect them from death threats,” he said.
The widely used Chinese social media platform TikTok, which boasts 40 million American users, routinely removes accounts of members who criticize the Communist Party leadership.
Twitter announced last week that more than 23,000 CCP-linked accounts were removed for spreading propaganda on Hong Kong democracy protests and COVID-19. Earlier, more than 150,000 CCP-related accounts were removed for reportedly spreading anti-American disinformation and for creating the illusion of popular American support for Beijing’s policies.
“These are just the accounts Twitter caught. How many are still out there undetected?” Mr. O’Brien asked.
China is preparing further controls in the United States through massive data theft, Mr. O’Brien said, including cyberattacks to gather personal and other data on tens of millions of Americans. Companies such as health insurer Anthem, credit company Equifax and hotel chain Marriott have sustained major data hacks.
“How will the Chinese Communist Party use this data? In the same way it uses data within China’s borders: to target, flatter, cajole, influence, coerce and even blackmail individuals to say and do things that serve the party’s interests,” said Mr. O’Brien, adding that the activities are “micro-targeting beyond an advertiser’s wildest dreams.”
The CCP is also using trade as a political tool to “coerce compliance with its dictates,” Mr. O’Brien said.
Australia invoked Beijing’s wrath after calling for an investigation into the origin of the coronavirus outbreak that first emerged in China. Beijing responded by threatening to halt purchases of Australian agricultural products and to prevent Chinese students and tourists from going to the country.
As part of its global strategy, China has stepped up its campaign for more influence in key international organizations. CCP-linked officials now are in charge of four of 15 U.N. specialized agencies, more than the United States, Britain, France and Russia combined.
Beijing is accused of using its influence to shield itself from scrutiny in international forums. Critics say WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus refrained from criticizing Beijing’s response to the coronavirus outbreak for fear of angering Chinese leaders.
Mr. O’Brien said the new U.S. direction in China policy makes a clear distinction between the ruling Communist Party and the Chinese people.
“We want good relations with China but not on the terms currently on offer from Beijing,” he said. “As Americans, I am certain that we will rise to successfully meet the challenge presented by the Chinese Communist Party, just as we have responded to all the great crises over our history.”
Sign up for Daily Newsletters
Robert O’Brien: No ‘systemic racism’ in U.S. police forces
White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said Sunday he doesn’t think there is systemic racism across the nation’s police forces as violent protests erupt in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. “No. I don’t think there’s systemic racism,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union. “But, you know what, there are some…
White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said Sunday he doesn’t think there is systemic racism across the nation’s police forces as violent protests erupt in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
“No. I don’t think there’s systemic racism,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union. “But, you know what, there are some bad apples in there, and, you know, there are some bad cops that are racist.”
He reiterated that view on ABC’s “This Week,” saying: “There are a few bad apples out there whether they’re racist or ill-trained or just vicious.”
His message clashed with that of many protesters, who argue fundamental changes are needed to reform American policing in the face of high-profile deaths of black Americans during interactions with white officers.
Protests across the country have boiled into violent riots in major cities across the country.
Mr. O’Brien scolded leftist radical militants for “crossing state lines” and burning cities. He said the president wants the FBI to look into the activities of Antifa.
“I don’t want them confused with peaceful protesters who have every right to go out to the streets,” Mr. O’Brien told ABC.
Mr. O’Brien said Mr. Trump took the issue seriously from the start, saying he was moved by the video of Mr. Floyd’s death and called on Attorney General William Barr to investigate.
“Our hearts and prayers are going out to the Floyd family,” Mr. O’Brien said. “What happened there is horrific.”
“We’re with the peaceful protesters who are demanding answers,” he added.
Sign up for Daily Newsletters
Politics7 years ago
In Spanish-Language Interview, Marco Rubio Says He Believes Obama’s Executive Amnesty ‘Is Important’
Politics7 years ago
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback Bans Cruises for Welfare Recipients in Sweeping Crackdown
Politics7 years ago
New Bill Seeks To Ban Former Lawmakers From Becoming Lobbyists
Politics7 years ago
Marco Rubio says ‘same-sex marriage is not a constitutional right’
Politics7 years ago
Obama signals support for medical marijuana bill backed by Rand Paul
Duterte2 years ago
Duterte presidency unravels as coronavirus ravages Philippines |NationalTribune.com
China's2 years ago
US says China’s South China Sea missile launches threat to peace |NationalTribune.com
Belarus2 years ago
Belarus heads to polls as protests rattle Lukashenko |NationalTribune.com