Another Expensive War, Another Intelligence Failure?

The United States has been at war almost continuously since the founding of the nation in 1783. Some of the wars were undeclared like the centuries-long eradication of the native Americans, while others – the Mexican and Spanish-American wars – were glorified by including the names of the countries defeated by Washington’s war machine. America’s bloodiest war actually has multiple names, including the Civil War, the War Between the States, The War of the Rebellion and the War of Northern Aggression, allowing one to pick and choose reflecting one’s own political preferences.

More recently wars in Korea and Vietnam were named in straightforward fashion, though current conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan do not really have names. In fact, it has become somewhat politically incorrect to name a war after an ethnic group or a country in the old fashion way. But this shortage of wars has been somewhat made up for by an increase in the number of metaphorical wars to include a war on drugs, a war on poverty and a war on terror. Now Americans are confronting what might some day be called the War on Coronavirus. President Donald J. Trump has already declared himself to be a “wartime president” and he is preparing to prime the economy’s pump with $2.2 trillion, much of which will go to the salivating profiteers that are already lining up as well as to the greedy corporate constituencies who will do their best to use the cash to increase their value for potential shareholders.

That $2.2 trillion is considerably more than the Vietnam War cost in today’s dollars ($1 trillion) though it does not yet come close to the $5-7 trillion in borrowed dollars that the going-on-twenty-years engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq has cost. But for those who worry about being number one, Trump has promised additional tranches of more trillions, which means that the war on the coronavirus might well wind up being the most expensive conflict in American history. Plus, that is only the direct cost to the federal government with state and local jurisdictions also spending billions. The coronavirus will also have a devastating impact on the economy and actually threatens to directly damage entire communities and even states, something that has not occurred in the U.S. since the Civil War. And, of course, the money the White House winds up spending is all borrowed and someday will have to be repaid.

Along with the bottom line, there are already signs of the other American contribution to warfare, which is “intelligence failure.” In a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine, contributor Micah Zenko states that “The Coronavirus Is the Worst Intelligence Failure in U.S. History: It’s more glaring than Pearl Harbor and 9/11.” He also observes that “it’s all the fault of Donald Trump’s leadership.”

Zenko’s argument is basically that the intelligence agencies were warning about information derived from medical sources in China that suggested viruses were developing that might become a pandemic, but the politicians, most particularly those in the White House, chose to take no action. He writes that “…the Trump administration has cumulatively failed, both in taking seriously the specific, repeated intelligence community warnings about a coronavirus outbreak and in vigorously pursuing the nationwide response initiatives commensurate with the predicted threat. The federal government alone has the resources and authorities to lead the relevant public and private stakeholders to confront the foreseeable harms posed by the virus. Unfortunately, Trump officials made a series of judgments (minimizing the hazards of COVID-19) and decisions (refusing to act with the urgency required) that have needlessly made Americans far less safe.”

The article cites evidence that the intelligence community was collecting disturbing information on possibly developing pathogens in China and was, as early as January, preparing analytical reports that detailed just what was happening while also providing insights into how devastating the global proliferation of a highly contagious and potential lethal virus might be. One might say that the intel guys called it right, but were ignored by the White House, which, per Zenko, acted with “unprecedented indifference, even willful negligence.”

Trump responded to the warnings in his characteristic fashion by praising his own efforts and dismissing the “fake news.” On January 22nd, he claimed that “We have it [the virus] totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” The perception on Trump’s part that coronavirus did not pose a real threat unfortunately shaped the government response as senior officials scrambled to line up their positions on the virus with that of the president. The initial decision to reject the advice being given by the government’s health care officials came from Trump alone and it was backed up by the threat that anyone who did not toe the line might well be fired. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has recently been particularly targeted because he has several times contradicted the erroneous information being promoted by the president.

To be sure, Donald Trump is certainly not the first president to be at odds with his intelligence chiefs, and he certainly has good reasons to be suspicious of anything originating at CIA that might come across his desk. Bill Clinton notoriously had almost nothing to do with his own Agency Director James Woolsey, the two having met only once in two years. But Clinton, for all his faults, did have his staff reviewing and reacting to intelligence community (IC) reports and analysis, something that appears to be lacking in the current administration.

George W. Bush, a friend of the IC, also fumbled the ball like Trump in his administration’s failure to anticipate 9/11 in spite of the fact that “the system was blinking red” for the analysts at Langley in connection with a possible terrorist attack employing hijacked airplanes. However, the Bush failure consisted of a systemic inability to share information and connect the dots rather than unwillingness to respond to intelligence.

Zenko concludes with “The White House detachment and nonchalance during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak will be among the most costly decisions of any modern presidency. These officials were presented with a clear progression of warnings and crucial decision points far enough in advance that the country could have been far better prepared. But the way that they squandered the gifts of foresight and time should never be forgotten, nor should the reason they were squandered: Trump was initially wrong, so his inner circle promoted that wrongness rhetorically and with inadequate policies for far too long, and even today. Americans will now pay the price for decades.”

So, an already heavily indebted federal government will now go even deeper down a fiscal hole, possibly beyond the point of any real recovery. And we now know that there was plenty of warning from the intelligence community regarding what might be coming, but the information was deliberately ignored. As a side note relating to both money and intelligence warnings, a classified briefing on the coronavirus was provided to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee on January 24th. The Senators were so convinced by what they heard that a number of them proceeded to dump vulnerable shares in the stock market before it began its precipitous slide when the threat posed by the coronavirus eventually became too big a story to hide. Some have interpreted the sell-off, which involved both Democratic and Republican Senators, as insider trading, which is a felony. That the three leading Republican Senators involved were too intimidated by the White House that they were unwilling to go to the president and tell him that something had to be done is revealing, as is the fact that they acted secretly to protect themselves.


By Philip Giraldi, Ph.D.
Source: Strategic Culture

8 comments

  1. I beg to differ. Coronavirus has been around a long time and is an opportunistic infection, meaning the most vulnerable are most susceptible, while healthy people may not have any symptoms. It’s probably like the rhinovirus, or common cold, which people carry around in their respiratory tracts all the time, but which only causes symptoms when the individual becomes energetically depleted.

    This so-called “crisis” is manufactured by GoverCorp and the media, which are desperately seeking relevance and an excuse to lock down borders and exert draconian measures against individuals and, especially, groups. Why? The world-wide debt-backed economic bubble is popping, the circus tent is collapsing, and all the clowns in the tent are looking to save face while they block the exits for everyone else.

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    1. Viruses mutate. The basic virus may have been around for billions of years, but that doesn’t make it any less deadly. Nor is it only killing the weak. If it wasn’t infecting those in the prime of their lives, do you really think every government in the world would be would be shutting down their industries and businesses? Making people social distance and wear masks outside their homes?
      No, once it mutates into attacking human hosts, and spreading so easily amongst them, it becomes highly dangerous. And from the news out of China, it is mutating again, and starting to attack people who contracted the first wave. That is the way with viruses. If you don’t believe it, go out in public without a mask, and shake the hand or kiss everyone you see. How long do you think you will avoid the corona virus. And let us know how you fare…

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      1. By the way, it took about 100 days for the first million cases to be reported world wide. It took only 13 days to surpass the second million mark. How long will it take for the 3rd million, do you think?

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      2. Yes, viruses mutate. That’s why the flu vaccine doesn’t become available until well into flu season. The vaccine manufacturers don’t know which variant will be most prevalent in any particular year.

        Still, I claim that viruses are more or less pathological depending on the resistance of the host, that is, the underlying health status. We are only getting raw numbers in this particular “pandemic,” and little information about the underlying heath status of the people who succumb. I don’t trust the numbers by themselves. This whole situation reeks of government/media melodrama.

        I don’t wear a mask when I go out into Humanland, but neither do I kiss and hug anyone, ever. I’ve never been a touchy-feely person, and I self-isolate as a matter of habit.

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        1. I will grant you that we don’t get all the stats we need to understand exactly what is happening around us. You probably don’t remember the Spanish Flu pandemic. (Neither do I, but I have looked into since this one started.) Because World War I was going on, no nation involved in that even admitted to its people that the flu was killing more people than the war was. It wasn’t until the flu started ravaging Spain–a neutral country–that the world was being attacked by a common enemy, a virus that should have been named the Kansas Flu, because that is where it was traced to after the war. It swept the world in 3 waves over a 14 month (at least) period killing millions.
          This time the secret got out when the disease stuck China so violently it could not be kept a secret, yet the news was ignored. It is not YET the killer the Spanish Flu was, but there is lots of time for it to get worse.
          It is not melodrama. The world is trying to learn how to fight pandemics so they will not be as virulent in the future. We become a little bit smarter with each new virus that comes along, and maybe we don’t really have to self-isolate. But we won’t know unless we try. We cannot save individual people, but we need to learn how to save humanity, or any other species that is important to life all over this world.
          We are not doing this for any one of us–WE ARE DOING THIS FOR ALL OF US.

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          1. Actually, I have been reading up on the Spanish flu, which occurred at the same time Europe was depleted by World War I, with all the health stressors that come with war. A charming book, by the father of modern medical microbiology, Hans Zinsser, is “Rats, Lice, and History: The Biography of a Bacillus,” published in 1934. In it, Zinsser claims that germs have won more wars than armies. At that time, viruses hadn’t been isolated, but Zinsser’s point was that susceptibility is the determining factor in illness, and war-stricken areas are highly susceptible to all kinds of disease.

            This is my contention with the coronavirus scare. We live in a world that is already unhealthy (and old), one full of environmental toxins, nutritionally depleted food, unhealthy living habits, and constant stress.

            All this competition and struggle is not healthy or productive, but humankind is still immature and has a lot to learn from nature. Bacteria and viruses inhabited the planet millions of years before Homo sapiens showed up.

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            1. Not only were viruses and bacteria here before us, they are the basic building blocks which became us. We share our DNA with them, as well as our RNA. If we had the capability to go back in time, we would probably find that we are all derived from one microbe. And if those time-travelling researchers killed that one microbe, we would all disappear as if we never lived. There would be no life as we know it.There might be life from some other microbe, but nothing existant on this world right now would survive. Let’s hope we never learn to time travel.

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