A Washington Post article Friday night reported that the U.S. intelligence community issued multiple classified warnings throughout January and February about the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus from China to other countries, the Chinese government’s initial efforts to play down the severity of the looming crisis and the increasing likelihood it would reach America’s shores. Throughout this time, President Trump continued to play down the threat in public.Of course, there’s much we still don’t know. Nevertheless, Trump’s apparent decision to ignore his own intelligence experts’ warnings in the early stages of this crisis — to say nothing of the warnings from other experts and organizations — has important implications for how we think about the relationship between policymaking and intelligence broadly, and with respect to public health in particular.The intelligence community and public healthFor much of the Cold War, the U.S. intelligence community’s top priority was assessing information about America’s chief rival, the Soviet Union, and its activities around the globe. Infectious diseases and pandemics did not garner much systematic attention. In at least one chronology of the 1976 swine flu outbreak in the United States, for example, U.S. intelligence agencies are not mentioned at all.Here’s why this changed.


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