As the administration of Donald Trump shudders itself to pieces like an old jalopy, among the wreckage has been a series of prematurely declassified intelligence reports — in some cases being released decades early.
As we reported last week, the ABC received a leak of the Trump administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy, setting out in particular a tougher stance on China.
Now, according to a report in the UK Telegraph, the administration is planning to release intelligence that alleges China’s People’s Liberation Army was “running research projects that involved ‘cultivating dangerous coronaviruses’ in a series of animal species” in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The report apparently doesn’t specifically allege that the coronavirus ravaging the world in 2020 was among them, but the intelligence does chime with a pet theory of Trump’s (not to mention his favoured “China virus” rhetoric).
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Indeed, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen leaked intelligence pushing this theory to the media. In May last year we got Sharri Markson’s “bombshell” report, apparently based entirely on a five-page “dossier” which seemed to allege that the coronavirus escaped from a Wuhan lab. The report was later hosed down by the US embassy.
Elsewhere, late last year Trump and his intelligence chief pushed — over serious objections from intelligence agencies — for early declassification of a document which disputes 2017 intelligence community findings that Russia helped Trump win the 2016 general election.
University of Sydney modern history Professor James Curran said he wasn’t aware of any previous administration that left “documents like this strewn across the front lawn of the White House”, adding it “sets an alarming precedent”.
“My sense is that the administration wants to show that for all the dysfunction and chaos in the White House, officials got on with the job of formulating a long-term strategy for US Asia policy, one predicated on the US retaining its primacy in the region,” he said.
“Primacy runs too deeply within US DNA to let go. They cannot begin to comprehend a region in which they are not number one.”
Curran suspects that “the Trump team, as it heads out the door, wants to reassure allies like Australia that as we were being beaten around the chops by the Chinese in terms of economic coercion, Washington really was paying attention and they really were worried and they were really were thinking long-term.”
As such, Curran echoed concerns of other experts Crikey spoke to, that sections of Australia’s media and analysts had been duped by the US administration strategy: “[They] played right into the American game here. They’ve fallen for it.
“I really am quite astonished by the salivation over this one document amongst some Australian analysts … What codswallop. They are like seagulls feasting on dropped hot chips on Bondi Beach,” he said.
“What we have here is the glimpse that Washington wants us to see, a kind of barrage of dizzying bullet points with no supporting argument or analysis. The document … lacks coherence, context and fails to flesh out the detail of how, precisely, these end states are to be achieved.”
The flurry of documents, regardless of their context or credibility, appear to be doing double duty — lending credibility to Trump’s theories through the media of allied countries, and attempting to lock the incoming Joe Biden administration into continuing Trump’s policies in the region.
“The only problem I foresee for Biden is that should he depart significantly from this document — he is unlikely to — the Republicans have a stick to beat him with,” Curran said.