The final draft of the annual 2020 Worldwide Threat Assessment report from the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) remains classified, and no unclassified version has yet been released. However, according to Time, officials who have read it say it contains pandemic warnings similar to those in last year’s report – published in January 2019.
The 2019 report warned on page 29 that, “The United States will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or large-scale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support.”
Last year’s assessment was the third time in three years where the nation’s intelligence experts warned that a new strain of influenza could lead to a pandemic and that the U.S. and the world were unprepared.
ODNI adds, “Although the international community has made tenuous improvements to global health security, these gains may be inadequate to address the challenge of what we anticipate will be more frequent outbreaks of infectious diseases because of rapid unplanned urbanization, prolonged humanitarian crises, human incursion into previously unsettled land, expansion of international travel and trade, and regional climate change.”
The report also warns about regional health dangers, stating that the ongoing crisis in Venezuela has reversed gains in controlling infectious diseases, and increased the risk these diseases could spread to neighboring countries Brazil, Colombia, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Likewise, the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—the country’s largest-ever—underscores the risks posed by the nexus of infectious disease outbreaks, violent conflict, and high population density, including large numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs),” also known as refugees.
The Global Health section of the report concludes, “The growing proximity of humans and animals has increased the risk of disease transmission. The number of outbreaks has increased in part because pathogens originally found in animals have spread to human populations.”
Clearly, as we see with the current Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, both the United States and the international community need to focus much more on global health threats – and the conditions which can lead to them. The next pandemic may be much worse.
Paul Crespo is a defense and national security expert. He served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. He holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. Paul is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and a Contributor to American Defense News.