Should we believe our intelligence services on China?

Two more scandals:

1. It looks like the intelligence service’s views on Russia are changed to reflect the political preferences of Trump:

The White House last year forced changes in a pointed intelligence conclusion that the Kremlin wanted President Donald Trump reelected, according to The New York Times Magazine.

Wording was dramatically watered down concerning Russia’s strong backing for Trump shortly after then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was forced into early retirement when he refused to make the changes, the Times reported. The classified document reportedly also discussed Russia’s ongoing efforts to influence U.S. elections in 2020 and 2024.

“I can affirm that one of my staffers who was aware of the controversy requested that I modify that assessment,” Coats told the Times. “But I said, ‘No, we need to stick to what the analysts have said.’”

A short time later, Coats was surprised to learn in a tweet by Trump that he was being forced into early retirement, several weeks before he planned to leave his position, the magazine reported. The language was changed after Coats left, according to the Times.

Let’s all remember this when Trump tries to gin up some sort of “Gulf of Tonkin crisis” right before the November election.

2. The Trump administration likes to blame China for covering up the Covid-19 epidemic. They also like to suggest that Taiwan is our friend and mainland China is our enemy. But actions speak louder than words.

On January 14, 2020, Taiwanese officials held a news conference to warn the US (and indeed the entire world) that the coronavirus could be transmitted between humans. This fact became obvious after Taiwanese officials visited Wuhan and evaluated the situation first hand.

But the Trump administration ignored these warnings, choosing to believe the lies of the communist Chinese government. While the Taiwanese installed tight controls to protect their island, US officials took no meaningful steps to prevent an epidemic:

Taiwan was ready. On Jan. 20, a Taiwanese woman returned from Wuhan with a fever, cough and shortness of breath. Health officials knew exactly what to do: She was taken from the airport to a designated hospital by a quarantine officer and treated in an isolation room.

Her test came back positive. Health officials alerted the public and contacted 46 people from her flight, Taiwan’s CDC said in a detailed news release.

Later that day, the United States reported its first case — but did not raise the same alarm. In a Jan. 22 interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, President Trump said everything was “totally under control.”

“It’s one person coming in from China. We have it under control,” he said. “It’s going to be just fine.”

Trump praised China’s handling of the crisis 14 times in late January and all through February. Today, Taiwan has had 7 deaths from Covid-19. The US toll exceeds 167,000.

The Chinese government is wrong to criticize the visit of a US health care delegation to Taiwan. We need to learn from the Taiwanese. I wish the Taiwan visit had occurred in mid-January. Although I suppose even if we had known of the problem we probably would have done nothing—which is exactly what we did do once we found out (January 23rd) that the disease could be transmitted between humans.



14 Responses to “Should we believe our intelligence services on China?”

  1. Gravatar of Mark Mark
    11. August 2020 at 20:02

    The story of the Taiwan warning is another example where the media is not fairly describing the primary sources. The Washington Post article cited here makes it sound like the Taiwanese authorities had sirens blaring to warn the world. But if you click on the link in that Washington Post article to the original Taiwanese article from January 14 (, it seems that the Washington Post article is badly distorting and exaggerating what the Taiwanese were actually saying. The original Taiwanese article read “limited human-to-human transmission within a household cannot be ruled out. … Limited human-to-human transmission means that people in close contact with an infected person have a high risk of contracting the virus, according to Chuang. Chinese authorities have asked people who have had close contact with infected patients not to leave Wuhan during the quarantine period, to prevent the spread of the virus.” Taiwan also did not even tell people to avoid Wuhan; the original Taiwanese article said “people planning to travel to Wuhan should avoid crowded traditional markets and hospitals there and should not touch wildlife or poultry.”

    This language from the Taiwanese authorities sounds like “there might be some risk of transmission between close contacts; please be careful, exercise common sense and good hygiene, and follow the directions of the Chinese authorities, but otherwise keep calm and carry on.” It is not, like the Washington Post is making it out to be, saying “there is a deadly contagious disease spreading like wildfire that will become the worst pandemic in a hundred years, everyone get ready.” Notably, Taiwan actually banned travel from China on February 6, a week after the United States did on January 31.

    I used to be fairly trusting of mainstream media, but the coverage of COVID and China issues more generally this year has been very bad. I would encourage everyone to read primary sources where possible and not rely on media descriptions of them.

    (Of course Taiwan did a great job containing the virus and we should all learn from them and add them to the WHO—I am not criticizing Taiwan, only the Washington Post).

  2. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    11. August 2020 at 21:19



    Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post evidently believe that when hobnail boots from Beijing jail the publisher of the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, Jimmy Lai, that’s a one-day story. More than 200 gunsels ransacked Apple Daily HQ.

    The blackest day in Hong Kong history?

    No doubt the WaPo is still giving slavish coverage to the Washington Wizards of the NBA (No Balls Association). Watch that man dribble! He’s really good!

  3. Gravatar of rayward rayward
    12. August 2020 at 04:29

    China has a long history, a history marked by periods of foreign domination that coincided with internal division. China’s obsession with unity might be better understood with a little knowledge of China’s history. Consider America’s current internal division and how foreign powers are attempting to magnify and exploit it.

  4. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    12. August 2020 at 05:58

    Our host should go back to blogging about what he knows best, metaphysics aka monetarism. Re security services lying: in the book “Legacy of Ashes” by Tim Weiner (and elsewhere) it’s been pointed out that prior to the advent of satellite technology, the CIA and other US spy agencies were routinely lied to, and they themselves lied to defectors, about how the USSR operated. It got lots of such spies killed. So lying in HUMINT is well known, old news.

    Rayward is right: China and the western borders are a well known problem area. Going back 500 years to the Tibetians and even a 1960 book by French historian Braudel mentioned the troublesome western regions. So “same as it ever was”.

    Dr. Ben Cole spotlights how the mass media is indifferent to the real forces that shape the world, one reason I doubt WaPo or the NY Times even mentions the world “PATENT” more than about a dozen times a year, despite the fact it’s the first thing on most term sheets in an M&A acquisition. As some CNN executive once said, it’s easier to generated all important page clicks by leading with a story about Trump than to do a deep dive about some important topic. The nature of Yellow Dog / Rag journalism since the days of W. Hurst if not before.

  5. Gravatar of cbu cbu
    12. August 2020 at 08:24

    “choosing to believe the lies of the communist Chinese government”

    What lies? the Chinese government announced human-human transmission on Jan. 19.

    Before that, there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support SUSTAINED human-human transmission.

    After the Iraq WMD fiasco, if anyone still believes the Western government-intelligence-think tank-main stream media complex, they are really living in their own world.

  6. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    12. August 2020 at 09:43

    Mark, Thanks for that info. Very informative.

    cbu. I had thought it was January 23rd, but I’ll accept it might have been the 19th. Even so, there was a Chinese cover-up for several weeks. Local doctors were silenced. It was clear there was human to human transmission.

    Having said that, the Chinese are certainly not to blame for what happened in the US. We could have done the same as Taiwan, so I certainly don’t agree with those who blame China for our problems.

  7. Gravatar of Postkey Postkey
    12. August 2020 at 09:53

    “Western government-intelligence-think tank-main stream media complex”

    Look, look over there. It’s the wicked Russians, Chinese, Iranians, or ………. {fill in the next suggested bogeyman}.

    Don’t look over there at the plutocrats or the M.I.C., there is nothing to see!

    “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism. “

  8. Gravatar of copans copans
    12. August 2020 at 10:04

    I don’t think Mr. Cole knows what “gunsel” means.

  9. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    12. August 2020 at 13:06

    @Postkey – Adam Smith could have told you that, what the paper you cited talks about. Adam Smith: (businesses, aided by the government they lobbied, conspire to rip off the public)

    @copans – gunsel: “a criminal carrying a gun” – sounds like Dr. Cole got it right to me.

  10. Gravatar of cbu cbu
    12. August 2020 at 16:49

    “Even so, there was a Chinese cover-up for several weeks. Local doctors were silenced. It was clear there was human to human transmission.”

    There wasn’t a Chinese cover-up for several weeks. China provided info to WHO on Jan. 3 and released the draft genome of COVID-19 on Jan. 11.

    Dr. Li Wenliang was not even a real whistleblower because instead of notifying relevant authority through official channel, he talked with his friends on WeChat instead. That was the reason he was initially reprimanded. It was very unfortunate that he died later.

    It was not clear at all if there was human-human transmission, or if there was, what kind of human-human transmission at the beginning. Limited human-human transmission and sustained human-human transmission are two different things. The latter case for COVID-19 was not established until Jan. 19. Below is an example of non/limited human-human transmission:

    Sustained human-human transmission is not something that can be established right away. You probably need a certain sample size to make sure. China probably tried to be cautious and waited the cases to build up before making an announcement on Jan. 19. I don’t think it’s fair to accuse the Chinese government deliberately covered-up for several weeks.

  11. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    13. August 2020 at 13:18

    cbu, I find your claims about Dr. Li to be very implausible. That sounds like CCP propaganda. The “official channels” were trying to cover up the truth.

  12. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    13. August 2020 at 23:52

    cbu is really funny, he himself linked to the AP article as “proof” that there was no lying but the article clearly says:

    The Chinese government initially tried to conceal the severity of the SARS epidemic, but its cover-up was exposed by a high-ranking physician.

    Followed by a quote from a CCP newspaper that said:

    “In the early days of SARS, reports were delayed and covered up,” said an editorial in the nationalistic Global Times.

    And according to German press reports, Li has since been acquitted of all charges even by the CCP Supreme People’s Court and praised for his sacrifice.

    Some guys are so hardcore wannabe CCP, they want to be even more CCP than the CCP members and CCP leaders themselves.


  13. Gravatar of cbu cbu
    14. August 2020 at 08:11

    “The “official channels” were trying to cover up the truth.”

    Or they were just investigating. It takes time to establish the case for SUSTAINED human-human transmission.

    @Christian List,

    SARS and COVID-19 are different things. Did I deny that the Chinese government tried to cover up SARS initially?

  14. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    14. August 2020 at 08:36


    You’re right, they really seem to be talking about the old epidemic, which doesn’t make much sense.

    But the same thing happened again with Covid-19: Authorities tried to cover up the outbreak and local physicians exposed the gravity of the situation. That’s how the story was told in all serious Western media outlets, some even had detailed background reports, and there is no reason to assume that all Western media conspired together. It really did happen.

    And Li was reviled as a traitor and criminal by the authorities until he became a popular hero and martyr, then Li has been acquitted of all charges even by the CCP Supreme People’s Court. At least that’s what German media said according to wikipedia, and the question arises why they should invent such detailed stories completely from scratch.


    your story is just wrong. Taiwan carried out tracing and isolation very early on, so they knew how serious the situation was.

    Taiwan’s statements must be read correctly. Taiwan is under massive pressure from a fascist system. They have to weigh every single word.

    Add to this the culture in this part of Asia, even if CCP China were not a fascist regime that threatens Taiwan with an invasion every few weeks, it would be completely unusual to openly accuse the other side of lying.

    The statements by Taiwan were as clear and unambiguous as they can be under these circumstances.

    If the Western authorities cannot read such a statement correctly, it’s not the fault of Taiwan.

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