The White House has ordered US spy agencies to investigate whether China and the World Health Organization initially covered up what they knew about the nascent coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report.
A specific “tasking” seeking information about the emerging outbreak was sent last week to the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency, an official directly familiar with the matter told NBC News.
The CIA received similar instructions, current and former US officials told the network, which reported that the agencies were ordered to comb through a variety of data, including satellite photos and communication intercepts in the effort.
President Trump appeared to allude to the matter during a White House briefing Monday, when he was asked about holding China accountable for the outbreak that has infected more than 3 million people around the world.
“We’re doing very serious investigations,” the president said. “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.”
Among other things, the spy agencies were asked to find out what the WHO knew about two labs studying coronaviruses in China’s Wuhan Province, where the deadly bug first emerged.
The National Institutes of Health has revealed it is investigating a Chinese lab where the outbreak is speculated to have emerged.
The director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology recently denied that the virus accidentally spread from his facility.
American intelligence officials have said China initially failed to disclose the seriousness of the outbreak, NBC News previously reported, robbing the world of vital information that might have limited its spread.
“As the president has said, the United States is thoroughly investigating this matter,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told the network.
“Understanding the origins of the virus is important to help the world respond to this pandemic but also to inform rapid-response efforts to future infectious disease outbreaks,” he said.
The CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment to the network.