In short – the answer is NO. Obama officials have been using the mainstream media to falsely claim that President Trump, and his then-national security adviser, John Bolton, “dissolved the office” at the White House in charge of pandemic preparedness.
Not only is this politically motivated, it is dishonest and false. According to Tim Morrison, the former senior director for counterproliferation and biodefense on the National Security Council (NSC), this accusation is totally “specious.”
As Morrison wrote in the Washington Post on March 16, when he joined the NSC staff in 2018, he inherited a strong and skilled staff in the counterproliferation and biodefense directorate.
“This team of national experts together drafted the National Biodefense Strategy of 2018 and an accompanying national security presidential memorandum to implement it; an executive order to modernize influenza vaccines; and coordinated the United States’ response to the Ebola epidemic in Congo, which was ultimately defeated in 2020.”
Clearly, the White House’s pandemic response capabilities were in no way reduced or impaired.
Yes, the Trump administration since 2017 has rightly been shrinking the bloated NSC staff which had quadrupled from the Clinton Administration through Obama. But former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, congressional oversight committees, and even former members of the Obama administration, all agreed the NSC was too large and too operationally focused. It needed to be pruned and streamlined.
Morrison explains that part of this NSC streamlining was to create the “counterproliferation and biodefense directorate,” which was the result of consolidating three directorates into one, due to the obvious overlap between the areas.
“It is this reorganization that critics have misconstrued or intentionally misrepresented. If anything, the combined directorate was stronger because related expertise could be commingled.” He states.
“The reduction of force in the NSC has continued since I departed the White House. But it has left the biodefense staff unaffected,” Morrison adds, “perhaps a recognition of the importance of that mission to the president, who, after all, in 2018 issued a presidential memorandum to finally create real accountability in the federal government’s expansive biodefense system.”
President Trump has been doing what is needed to ensure a proper national biodefense posture.
As described elsewhere, the NSC is designed to ensure that the President gets all the options he needs from all departments and agencies to make an informed decision and then coordinates the implementation across these same departments and agencies. Morrison does say that he worries that “further reductions at the NSC could impair its capabilities,” but believes “the current staffing level is fully up to the job.”
Let’s stop spreading politically motivated disinformation during a crisis, and ensure the NSC continues to have the right size staff and structure to effectively pursue its mandated function to provide options and coordinate policy implementation on a strategic level.
This includes the current counterproliferation and biodefense directorate, which is key to helping the White House face the current Chinese coronavirus pandemic and even worse pandemics that may be looming in the future.
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.