The Pentagon and the intelligence community are more forcefully investigating the possibility that adversaries could use the novel coronavirus as a bioweapon, according to defense and intelligence officials, in a shift that reflects the national security apparatus’ evolving understanding of the virus and its risks.
Officials emphasized that the change does not mean they believe the virus was purposefully created to be weaponized—the intelligence community is still investigating the virus’ potential origins, but there is currently no hard intelligence or scientific evidence to support the theory that it spread from a lab in China, people briefed on the matter said.
Meanwhile, the intelligence community has also begun gaming out the potential for bad actors to weaponize the virus, particularly against high-level targets, and the Defense Department has recently shifted its focus toward monitoring the possibility more closely, said three people familiar with the matter.
The Pentagon’s Chemical and Biological Defense program, which plays a key role in executing the DoD strategy for countering weapons of mass destruction, continues to support DHA, HHS and FEMA Covid-19 countermeasures like testing, vaccines, masks, mask filters, and screening machines, said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews. This includes over $150 million of CBDP investments in diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics, and modeling capabilities, he said.
It’s not clear what led to the increased focus on the risks of Covid-19 weaponization—for example, whether officials received intelligence indicating a heightened threat. A Defense official said the weaponization risk still “seems to be a lower-risk concern,” with the primary questions revolving around the virus’ origins and what the Chinese government knew about it early on.
Defense and intelligence officials are throwing more resources at the possibility that adversaries will deploy the virus against U.S. targets.