According to sources familiar with an intelligence reporting, U.S. spy agencies are finding it hard to put together a precise picture of the world’s coronavirus outbreaks. There are serious gaps in their ability to assess the situation in China, North Korea, and Russia.
They also have limited insight into the full impact the pandemic is having on Iran. Although information on infections and deaths, among the ruling class and public is becoming more accessible on official and social media, said two sources.
Because these four countries, known by U.S. spy agencies as “hard targets”, heavily censor information, collection of intelligence from within their closed leadership circles becomes a challenge.
An accurate assessment of the impact the Wuhan Coronavirus is having on these countries would help U.S. and international efforts to limit the human and economic tolls from COVID-19 disease, say experts.
Agencies are not just looking for accurate numbers but also for any signs of the political ramifications of how the crisis is being handled.
“We want to have as close an accurate, real-time understanding of where the global hotspots are and where they are evolving,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, an expert at the Center for Global Development thinktank, who led the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance from 2013 to 2017, including the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak. “The world is not going to get rid of this thing until we get rid of it everywhere.”
According to sources, U.S. intelligence agencies first began reporting on the Wuhan coronavirus in January 2020 and provided early warnings to lawmakers on the outbreak in China, said sources on the condition of anonymity since it is intelligence related matters.
The COVID-19 pandemic has grown to nearly 740,000 cases across 200 countries and territories with the United States reporting most cases at more than 152,000.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, declined to comment.
Incidentally, North Korea claims to have had not even a single case of the disease despite the fact that it shares a border with China. However it has asked international aid agencies for supplies including masks and testing kits.
According to a U.S. source, “we don’t know” anything about the scale of the problem in the hermetic country. “It’s a nuclear-armed country where things that could destabilize the government would be of great interest to the United States,” said Konyndyk, who also led the U.S. response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
Russian authorities are weighing the option of a nationwide lockdown after recording the biggest one-day rise in COVID-19 cases for the sixth day in a row. So far there have been a total of 1,836 cases with 9 deaths.
U.S. agencies are skeptical that Chinese has the virus under control, said a source, especially since Beijing concealed the severity of the initial outbreak among other things.ever.
China “seems to be the most successful country in terms of taking very large-scale growth and rapidly extinguishing it,” said Konyndyk. “If their case numbers are real, it’s really important to understand their approach and adapt it.”