Matt Pottinger worked for Cheetolini as Deputy National Security Advisor. Normally I would automatically discount anything coming out of anyone who worked for Cheetolini. But enough of what he says matches what was in the news here in Taiwan and press releases from Taiwan’s Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) that it’s worth reading or watching the video interview (on the CBS website link below).
Interspersed with parts of the transcript are my own commentary and links to other sources.
Transcript: Matt Pottinger on “Face the Nation,” February 21, 2021
POTTINGER: The Chinese government was not sharing useful data with anyone in the world. The World Health Organization was parroting misinformation about this virus. They were- they were claiming that it is not featuring significant human-to-human spread. They continued for weeks, even months, to claim that there was not a significant amount of asymptomatic spread. So that misled our public health experts. I was able to call doctors on the ground in China in late January. And they were already telling me, look, this thing spreads asymptomatically. Half of the cases or more are asymptomatic. That was a different story from what the Chinese government was telling.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Why is it that you were seeing and hearing things from doctors that the official health organizations were not getting
POTTINGER: We had about a dozen CDC officers in China. We have lots of CDC officers in the United States who deal with Chinese doctors. I had covered the SARS epidemic back in 2003 when I was living in China, writing for The Wall Street Journal. So I dusted off some of my old contacts and talked to Chinese doctors who had firsthand information about this pandemic. And they were very open. They said, yeah, this thing is not going to be like SARS 2003. It’s going to be like the 1918 flu pandemic because it’s spreading silently.
This is what Taiwan’s CDC and CECC did. They heard rumours coming out of China, and several doctors went to Wuhan for first hand information. As seen with whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang, there were individual medical doctors focused on stopping the disease, not playing politics. It was they that the CDC and CECC obtained information from and put into action.
POTTINGER: Well, U.S. intelligence wasn’t focused on these kinds of questions. They were relying on the CDC. The problem was the Chinese Communist Party did not turn to their CDC to deal with this crisis. They turned to their military. And our CDC did not have relations established with the Chinese military. So the director of the Chinese CDC, based on public reporting, didn’t know either. I mean, the Chinese CDC director did not know that this thing was circulating until the last day of December, which is incredible when you think about that. So it looks like the Chinese CDC to some extent was cut out because the Chinese Communist Party turned to its military to try to cover this thing up, to try to contain it until it was too late.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So the Biden administration and their national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said he has deep concerns about the World Health Organization’s recent report and Chinese interference in it.
POTTINGER: Look, the World Health Organization made all sorts of- of un-untruthful or misinformed claims about this virus. So the WHO has a lot to answer for. When it comes to this investigation into the origins, unfortunately, we’re seeing a panel that’s been sent to China that is deeply conflicted. You have people who were hand selected by the Chinese government. They had a veto over who could come in.
MARGARET BRENNAN: U.S. intelligence has said COVID, according to wide scientific consensus, was not man-made or genetically modified. You are not in any way alleging that it was, are you?
MATT POTTINGER: No. If you weigh the circumstantial evidence, the ledger on the side of an explanation that says that this resulted from some kind of human error, it far outweighs the- the side of the scale that says this was some natural outbreak. We have very strong reason to believe that the Chinese military was doing secret classified animal experiments in that same laboratory, going all the way back to at least 2017. We have good reason to believe that there was an outbreak of flu-like illness among researchers working in the Wuhan Institute of virology in the fall of 2019, but right- immediately before the first documented cases came to light.
With the 1979 Sverdlovsk incident in mind (the Soviet Union illegally developed anthrax as a bioweapon, and it leaked into the populace) it’s not a stretch to believe the Chinese military is or was involved in bioweapons research and an accident could happen. From JStor, March 2002:
MARGARET BRENNAN: So in preparing for the worst inside the National Security Council, you started telling your staffers to wear masks. Yet the American public wasn’t told definitively by the CDC to wear masks until April, why?
POTTINGER: Remember, we misjudged the nature of this thing to think that it was like flu, one of the mistakes that followed on from that was the misjudgment by public health officials in this country to- to not advocate for the widespread generalized use of face coverings, cloth masks, surgical masks and what have you. That was, they feared shortages, rightly. We’d put all of our mask making supply chains into, guess where, China. And China was not making it easy for us to get access to- to additional supplies. So the CDC, that was an understandable thing to do. But it then made the mistake of conflating that with a- a set of advice that masks don’t work effectively for the general public. That was a big mistake. Robert O’Brien and I weren’t really willing to wait. And so we thought that the risk of a outbreak in the White House could be potentially devastating for the United States. It would- it would- that would create a national security risk. And so in early April, we started looking for supplies of masks. I ended up calling a foreign government. I called some senior officials in Taiwan just to- just to ask for lessons learned. Taiwan had done better than probably any other country in the world at containing this- this virus. And so in the course of my conversation, I asked whether they had masks available. They agreed to send a shipment of half a million masks just a couple of days later. We put those masks into the national stockpile so they’d be available to frontline medical workers. I made sure that one box got delivered to the White House and was disseminated through the NSC and- and the White House medical unit.
People in Cheetolini’s white house may have talked to Taiwan, but they didn’t take it and run with it. In January and February, even after Taiwan was sharing information, the US’s focus was still on “the economy”.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I’ve heard you on all the criticisms of the CDC and you’ve highlighted some really specific areas for them to improve.
POTTINGER: My view is that they should establish a new super body for pandemic preparedness and response within the CDC, probably move it from Atlanta into Washington, D.C., so that- that- that person who’s in charge of that can also be attached to the White House.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So this is your prime reform to the CDC to prevent us from being sucker-punched the next time?
POTTINGER: That’s- that’s one of them. The other one would be to create a centers for lessons learned like- like- like the military has for each of its service branches. You have a quasi-independent body of investigators who can go in and talk to anybody and everybody, collect lessons learned in real time and then report. It’s important that the director of the CDC and the other senior leadership actually listen to those reports and implement the- the lessons learned so that you’ve got a living organization that’s learning. That is not, unfortunately, what the CDC is today. There’s- so the final thing really about the CDC is cultural. The CDC has developed over the years, even though it’s got great talent in there and- and well-meaning people and a lot of expertise, it’s developed an academic kind of mindset.
Which is exactly what Taiwan did after the 2003 SARS outbreak. The CECC was established in 2005, the first time the DPP were in power and not the KMT.
MARGARET BRENNAN: When you say the CDC, are you talking about Director Redfield?
POTTINGER: Bob Redfield did the very best that he could with what he had. I’m talking about institutionally in the- in the belly of this institution, the CDC was unwilling to- to partner with industrial labs to do tens of thousands of sequences so- so that you could actually see where this thing was going. They wanted to do it internally. And- and I think the reason for that is they want the data themselves so that they can publish. There’s a very powerful incentive within CDC culture to partner with academic institutions rather than private institutions and- and to collect data, submit for peer review articles that burnish your credentials. That’s a very slow process. That’s not the- the kind of incentive you want for dealing with a fast moving pandemic.
Considering that Cheetolini crippled and hamstrung the CDC to prevent it from doing its job, it sound more like Pottinger is covering his own posterior.
MARGARET BRENNAN: How much of this is a question of if this should be handled by public health officials at all, or whether a pandemic should be handed over to intelligence officials and handled like a national security threat?
POTTINGER: The intelligence community does need to prioritize the collection of intelligence on these kinds of bio threats rather than relying strictly on- on sister-to-sister relationships between our CDC and public health officials in other countries. But I don’t think that the intelligence community is going to be able to do more than that critical role of collecting and analyzing the information.
It doesn’t need the military. Taiwan’s success came from multiple government agencies cooperating: the CDC, a national government-run health care system, and the National Communications Commission (which oversees cell phones and telecommunications) connected people’s cell phones with the health care system, to track virus hot spots and whether or which people have been there.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You’re clearly thinking a lot of what could have been done differently. Do you think that the Trump administration did the best it could?
POTTINGER: We had an impeachment, the first impeachment trial taking place as the coronavirus task force was meeting at a time when the country wasn’t focused on- on this pandemic. People in the White House were. People at Health and Human Services and at the CDC were. I- I never encountered anyone at a senior level who was not deeply seized by the- the major weight of what we were facing. I do think that people did their best. I’m doing this Hot Wash, as I call it, in the- in the spirit of trying to help understand that the narrative that it was all political failures at the top is not true. And so what I’m trying to- to bring to light here is that we have a deeper problem with the permanent government in how we are organized culturally and- and organizationally to deal with this pandemic and with future ones. I want us to succeed at getting better.
A weak and pathetic finish as CBS’s talking head lobs Pottinger a softball question that he uses to obviate himself and Cheetolini of responsibility. Clinton was impeached and he still managed to keep doing his job, so that’s no excuse.
Pottinger is clearly covering for some of his own and for the Trump administration mistakes. He is right about the CDC early on, the CDC trusted the information provided by China about the situation far too long. Even once it was clear that the information from China wasn’t good the CDC didn’t make the necessary assumption that the situation in China was worse then it appeared.
He is wrong about moving some of the CDC to DC. The Trump White House didn’t listen to anybody else, even their own advisors. Having he CDC closer wouldn’t have helped as long as Trump didn’t take the situation seriously. Expanding intelligence services to watch for disease is just a play for budget. They are already be watching filtering their feeds for any significant disaster but that information should be passed out to the services that can understand it rather then kept in house.