President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have publicly said the coronavirus could have originated in a Chinese laboratory, leading taxpayer-funded National Public Radio (NPR) to compare that connection to intelligence underpinning the decision to invade Iraq after 9-11.
NPR drew this comparison by using sources who question Trump’s relationship with the intelligence community and other critics of the president and his administration:
Over the past week, President Trump and his team have repeatedly claimed to have intelligence showing that the new coronavirus accidentally escaped from a lab in China.
But an official statement from America’s intelligence chief says there’s not yet conclusive evidence for that theory. Outside scientists, meanwhile, say that the chances of a lab accident are very small, while the odds of a natural infection are high.
Some former intelligence officials and independent analysts now say that the disconnect echoes missteps that led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. While the circumstances are different, the analysts warn that the administration’s continued pursuit of the lab theory could signal an unhealthy relationship between top administration officials and the agencies tasked with giving them information.
“President Trump has put a lot of pressure on the intelligence community over the last three years to see the world the way he sees it,” Michael Morell, a former deputy director of the CIA and host of the Intelligence Matters podcast, said in the NPR report. “I am concerned that the president’s pressure may lead intelligence community leaders to say things publicly — or to say things to him — that reinforce what he thinks.”
“This thing does not need to have come from a lab in order for there to be a perfectly legitimate case to be made that a lot of this illness and economic devastation is the fault of the Chinese government,” Rebeccah Heinrichs, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute said in the NPR report.
“The Chinese city of Wuhan, where the pandemic began, is also home to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a top-tier Chinese research center that studies coronaviruses from bats,” NPR reported. “The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 is 96 percent similar to a natural bat virus that the institute had on file — leading some to suspect the lab itself could have been the source.”
NPR also cited an intelligence community statement that says, while not completely denying the laboratory scenario, concedes the likelihood is small.
“The [intelligence community] will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan,” the statement read in part.
NPR also interviewed John McLaughlin, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies. who served as deputy and acting director of the CIA from 2000 to 2004.
“What it reminds me of is the dispute between the CIA and parts of the Bush administration over whether there was an operational relationship between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida,” McLaughlin said.
“Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Project at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey says that in the case of Iraq, the administration’s interests warped intelligence,” NPR reported. “He fears it could be happening again.”
“They are creating these enormous incentives within the intelligence community to tell them what they want to hear, so they can do what they want to do,” Lewis said.U.S. Department of State / Facebook
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