Updated: Apr 30, 2020
• A specific "tasking" seeking information about the outbreak's early days was sent last week to the Defense Intelligence Agency. The CIA got similar instructions.
• WHO officials have said they gave the world enough time to respond to their early warnings about the coronavirus. Chinese officials have criticized what they describe as a delayed response by Trump.
The White House has ordered intelligence agencies to comb through communications intercepts, human source reporting, satellite imagery and other data to establish whether China and the World Health Organization initially hid what they knew about the emerging coronavirus pandemic, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the matter told NBC News.
A specific "tasking" seeking information about the outbreak's early days was sent last week to the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency, which includes the National Center for Medical Intelligence, an official directly familiar with the matter said.
The CIA has received similar instructions, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter.
Asked about the inquiry Wednesday, President Donald Trump told reporters he was receiving information.
"It's coming in and I'm getting pieces already," he said. "And we're not happy about it, and we are by far the largest contributor to WHO, World Health. And they misled us...Right now, they're literally a pipe organ for China. That's the way I view it. So we're seeing and we're looking and we're watching."
WHO officials have said they gave the world enough time to respond to their early warnings about the coronavirus. Chinese officials have criticized what they describe as a delayed response by Trump.
As part of the tasking, intelligence agencies were asked to determine what the WHO knew about two research labs studying coronaviruses in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus was first observed.
NBC News has previously reported that the spy agencies have been investigating the possibility that the virus escaped accidentally from one of the labs, although many experts believe that is unlikely.
The move coincides with a public effort by the White House, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump's political allies to focus attention on China's inability to contain the virus shortly after it emerged. As NBC News previously reported, U.S. intelligence officials have said China initially failed to disclose the seriousness of the outbreak, robbing the rest of the world of information that might have led to earlier containment efforts.
"As the president has said, the United States is thoroughly investigating this matter," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said. "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."
The CIA and DIA declined to comment. An official from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said, "We are not aware of any such tasking from the White House."
Trump has shifted from initially praising China's handling of the outbreak to sharply criticizing it as the threat the pandemic poses to the U.S. economy and his re-election prospects has crystallized.
Blaming China for America's economic struggles has proven effective for Trump with his political base, and his allies believe it's a message that could resonate in November with voters in the Midwest.
"The president is now running against China as much as anyone," said a person close to the president.
Credit to Source: NBCnews