COVID-19: The Security Implications

Assuming that the explanations coming from the Chinese government have no credibility, the true origins of COVID-19 are not yet known.  This has encouraged a great deal of online idle speculation, including conspiracy theories ranging in terms of Chinese deception from low to high: (1) tainted "wet market" bat meat; (2) tainted "wet market" bat meat originating from the Wuhan Institute of Virology; (3) a laboratory accident, (4) an intentionally concealed laboratory accident; (5) a bioterror attack by a rogue individual; and (6) intentional bioterror attack by a belligerent regime.

Not knowing whether this event is a zero-level national security threat versus a high-level national security threat is a direct function of our not having sufficient information, the blame for which can be firmly placed on the Chinese government and its failure to provide critical information at critically important times.  This lack of credibility is alarming because there is a direct inverse relationship between Chinese credibility and the conspiracy theory continuum, such that the lower the credibility of the Chinese government, the greater the likelihood that the true origin of the virus is higher on the continuum.

As tempting as it might be to join the chorus of idle speculation and conspiracies (what is the internet for, after all?), there are some things that are known about COVID-19 and potential bioterror attacks, and so far there has not been much discussion of these things, most of which have very serious national security implications.  Here are two points worth considering.

First, even if this pandemic was not intentional, it could have been.  In other words, China and a lot of other bad actors have the capability of unleashing a pandemic of this nature upon the earth, and it is a threat the USA is clearly unprepared for.  This is an existential threat that cannot be dealt with by increasing the number of aircraft carriers or fighter jets.  As the daily pressers reveal the horrific numbers of new cases and deaths, it is very clear how unprepared government at all levels was to deal with this particular threat.  This raises very serious questions about the national defense system up and down the line, beginning with intelligence agencies’ inability to properly assess the level of threat, to its preparedness in dealing with the threat once it became apparent it was coming to our shores.

It might be argued that this was a medical emergency, not bioterror, so the deficiency was not in the national defense.  But the intelligence community did not know that, and in all likelihood, it still does not know.  If the decision was made to treat the pandemic as a medical emergency then the federal apparatus was deficient in its response.  If at the highest levels of decision-making there was concern that it might be a bioterror attack, then the response was not just deficient, but inept.  This is not a criticism of the president, but the deep state and its ability to assess threats and provide for the common defense.

Secondly, even if the unleashing of COVID-19 was not intentional, the Chinese and other potential enemies have now seen how the U.S. government would react to a bioterror attack, and they have learned that the decision-makers will default on the side of short-term humanitarian concerns, sacrificing long-term damage to our economy and the freedoms that are the bedrock of our civilization. This means that the response will catalyze any future attack because the decision apparatus will destroy itself and wipe out the sources of its advantage as the world’s only superpower.  Enemy knowledge of this response increases the likelihood that there will be an intentional bioterror attack in the future.

The biggest mistake has been that critical decisions have been based on the assessments of health care professionals only, and have not properly evaluated the benefit of being able to adequately care for all of those who need care against the cost of ruining our economy and compromising constitutional freedoms.  Ruining the economy is going to have disastrous effects on the health care system and all other systems.  These costs may well pale in comparison to the short-term benefit of having enough ventilators.

As Trump pointed out early in the crisis, government makes these trade-offs all the time. The interstate highway system is open despite the fact that there are 38K deaths from auto accidents every year.  The calculation has been made that having an interstate highway system is worth the cost of 38K lives per year.  The same has been true of the flu.  The economy is not shut down in flu season despite the fact that tens of thousands die each year from the flu.

If the number of dead Americans from coronavirus turns out to be 200K, a number that many are skeptical of, then the percentage of Americans dead from the pandemic will be .057 percent of the total population.  Will someone in the mainstream media at least consider whether closing the economy down and compromising our way of life is worth the price of .057 percent of the population?

If someone says, "if it saves one life to lose the economy, it's worth it," that person needs to be flogged.  As callous as it sounds, the calculation needs to be made, not in terms of dollars, but in terms of lives.  How many lives is the government willing to trade for having a professional sports industry, a restaurant industry, an airline industry, or a manufacturer of air defense weapons?  The answer to that question is not zero.  It never has been.

A leader who is willing to make this calculation is not a profile in callousness, as the media would suggest, but a profile in courage.

This is not to say that the U.S. government and state governments should not have taken prudent measures.  But it is very clear the cost/benefit to all of this was not adequately anticipated.  Government at all levels may well be cutting off the right arm when it could have gotten by with losing a few fingers.

Remember that "flattening the curve" does not mean fewer people get the virus.  It means the period over which people get the virus will be stretched out to a longer period of time. Paradoxically, the flatter the curve the more damage is intentionally inflicted to the economy.

If the United States of America looks like Venezuela a year or two from now, people are not going to feel better knowing a few thousand people had access to ventilators.  The cost to the USA becoming Venezuela -- including in terms of the loss of human life -- will far surpass the loss of lives from lack of ventilators.

It is apparent President Trump sees this clearly, but the political pressure is just too great.  He cannot buck the medical experts because every subsequent death will be blamed on him.  From a political standpoint, he is doing what he has to for political survival. 

But his instincts on this are right.

Assuming that the explanations coming from the Chinese government have no credibility, the true origins of COVID-19 are not yet known.  This has encouraged a great deal of online idle speculation, including conspiracy theories ranging in terms of Chinese deception from low to high: (1) tainted "wet market" bat meat; (2) tainted "wet market" bat meat originating from the Wuhan Institute of Virology; (3) a laboratory accident, (4) an intentionally concealed laboratory accident; (5) a bioterror attack by a rogue individual; and (6) intentional bioterror attack by a belligerent regime.

Not knowing whether this event is a zero-level national security threat versus a high-level national security threat is a direct function of our not having sufficient information, the blame for which can be firmly placed on the Chinese government and its failure to provide critical information at critically important times.  This lack of credibility is alarming because there is a direct inverse relationship between Chinese credibility and the conspiracy theory continuum, such that the lower the credibility of the Chinese government, the greater the likelihood that the true origin of the virus is higher on the continuum.

As tempting as it might be to join the chorus of idle speculation and conspiracies (what is the internet for, after all?), there are some things that are known about COVID-19 and potential bioterror attacks, and so far there has not been much discussion of these things, most of which have very serious national security implications.  Here are two points worth considering.

First, even if this pandemic was not intentional, it could have been.  In other words, China and a lot of other bad actors have the capability of unleashing a pandemic of this nature upon the earth, and it is a threat the USA is clearly unprepared for.  This is an existential threat that cannot be dealt with by increasing the number of aircraft carriers or fighter jets.  As the daily pressers reveal the horrific numbers of new cases and deaths, it is very clear how unprepared government at all levels was to deal with this particular threat.  This raises very serious questions about the national defense system up and down the line, beginning with intelligence agencies’ inability to properly assess the level of threat, to its preparedness in dealing with the threat once it became apparent it was coming to our shores.

It might be argued that this was a medical emergency, not bioterror, so the deficiency was not in the national defense.  But the intelligence community did not know that, and in all likelihood, it still does not know.  If the decision was made to treat the pandemic as a medical emergency then the federal apparatus was deficient in its response.  If at the highest levels of decision-making there was concern that it might be a bioterror attack, then the response was not just deficient, but inept.  This is not a criticism of the president, but the deep state and its ability to assess threats and provide for the common defense.

Secondly, even if the unleashing of COVID-19 was not intentional, the Chinese and other potential enemies have now seen how the U.S. government would react to a bioterror attack, and they have learned that the decision-makers will default on the side of short-term humanitarian concerns, sacrificing long-term damage to our economy and the freedoms that are the bedrock of our civilization. This means that the response will catalyze any future attack because the decision apparatus will destroy itself and wipe out the sources of its advantage as the world’s only superpower.  Enemy knowledge of this response increases the likelihood that there will be an intentional bioterror attack in the future.

The biggest mistake has been that critical decisions have been based on the assessments of health care professionals only, and have not properly evaluated the benefit of being able to adequately care for all of those who need care against the cost of ruining our economy and compromising constitutional freedoms.  Ruining the economy is going to have disastrous effects on the health care system and all other systems.  These costs may well pale in comparison to the short-term benefit of having enough ventilators.

As Trump pointed out early in the crisis, government makes these trade-offs all the time. The interstate highway system is open despite the fact that there are 38K deaths from auto accidents every year.  The calculation has been made that having an interstate highway system is worth the cost of 38K lives per year.  The same has been true of the flu.  The economy is not shut down in flu season despite the fact that tens of thousands die each year from the flu.

If the number of dead Americans from coronavirus turns out to be 200K, a number that many are skeptical of, then the percentage of Americans dead from the pandemic will be .057 percent of the total population.  Will someone in the mainstream media at least consider whether closing the economy down and compromising our way of life is worth the price of .057 percent of the population?

If someone says, "if it saves one life to lose the economy, it's worth it," that person needs to be flogged.  As callous as it sounds, the calculation needs to be made, not in terms of dollars, but in terms of lives.  How many lives is the government willing to trade for having a professional sports industry, a restaurant industry, an airline industry, or a manufacturer of air defense weapons?  The answer to that question is not zero.  It never has been.

A leader who is willing to make this calculation is not a profile in callousness, as the media would suggest, but a profile in courage.

This is not to say that the U.S. government and state governments should not have taken prudent measures.  But it is very clear the cost/benefit to all of this was not adequately anticipated.  Government at all levels may well be cutting off the right arm when it could have gotten by with losing a few fingers.

Remember that "flattening the curve" does not mean fewer people get the virus.  It means the period over which people get the virus will be stretched out to a longer period of time. Paradoxically, the flatter the curve the more damage is intentionally inflicted to the economy.

If the United States of America looks like Venezuela a year or two from now, people are not going to feel better knowing a few thousand people had access to ventilators.  The cost to the USA becoming Venezuela -- including in terms of the loss of human life -- will far surpass the loss of lives from lack of ventilators.

It is apparent President Trump sees this clearly, but the political pressure is just too great.  He cannot buck the medical experts because every subsequent death will be blamed on him.  From a political standpoint, he is doing what he has to for political survival. 

But his instincts on this are right.