Medical Intelligence Sentinels

April 29, 2020

Analysts at the U.S. National Center for Medical Intelligence were concerned about the novel coronavirus well before most of the country. That is because researchers at the agency are good at their jobs; if only those in charge would listen to them. The Star Advertiser shares the article, “Medical Intelligence Sleuths Tracked, Warned of New Coronavirus.” A division of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the organization has been around since World War II, when it was part of the U.S. Army Surgeon General’s office. The article reports:

“At least 100 epidemiologists, virologists, chemical engineers, toxicologists, biologists and military medical expert — all schooled in intelligence trade craft — work at the medical intelligence unit, located at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland. … Most of the information they study is public, called ‘open source’ material. A local newspaper in Africa might publish a story about an increasing number of people getting sick, and that raises a flag because there’s no mention of any such illness on the other side of the country. A doctor in the Middle East might post concerns about a virus on social media. But unlike organizations such as the WHO, the medical intelligence team, part of the Defense Intelligence Agency, also has access to classified intelligence collected by the 17 U.S. spy agencies. The medical unit can dig into signals intelligence and intercepts of communications collected by the National Security Agency. It can read information that CIA officers pick up in the field overseas. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency can share satellite imagery and terrain maps to help assess how a disease, like Ebola or avian flu, might spread through a population.”

The quality and availability of information varies by region. Countries with underdeveloped health systems may not compile good data, for example, while some governments cannot be trusted to admit how serious an epidemic is. In such cases, researchers rely more heavily on reports from the local level. The scientists analyze data from these many sources on infectious diseases, natural disasters, toxic materials, bioterrorism, and different countries’ preparedness for each type of threat. They regularly report their conclusions to military commanders, defense health officials, and policymakers. Constantly on the lookout for threats to our armed forces overseas and our citizens at home, these professionals should really be given the consideration they deserve.

Cynthia Murrell, April 29, 2020

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