Paper - Centre for International Governance Innovation

US Intelligence, the Coronavirus and the Age of Globalized Challenges

| Aug. 24, 2020


This essay is published as part of CIGI's Security, Intelligence and the Global Health Crisis series, which focuses on the role that security and intelligence institutions will play in protecting societies against future pandemics.

The US government's response to the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, has been one of the worst failures in modern US history. At the time of writing this essay, the coronavirus response has led to more American deaths than all US combat operations since the Korean War. It has also caused more damage — more quickly — than any contemporary hostile state or act of terrorism. The US administration's catastrophic failure to provide an effective, coherent public policy response to the coronavirus represents a failure to recognize the changed nature of threats to national security in the twenty-first century — and the intelligence needed to counter them. This century, national security threats will come from great power rivalries, in particular between the United States and China, amid the "return of history" they represent following claims that history had ended a quarter of a century ago, after the Cold War. However, threats will also come from fundamentally new globalized challenges: biological threats, such as pandemics, and climate change. This century will be an age of globalized threats.

This essay makes three arguments. First, the US government will need to establish a coronavirus commission, similar to the 9/11 commission, to determine why, since April 2020, the United States has suffered more coronavirus fatalities than any other country in the world. Second, the COVID-19 pandemic represents a watershed for what will be a major national security theme this century: biological threats, both from naturally occurring pathogens and from synthesized biology. Third, intelligence about globalized challenges, such as pandemics, needs to be dramatically reconceptualized, stripping away outmoded levels of secrecy. Reflecting the significance of open-source intelligence that already exists in today's digital world, and will only increase as future societies become more interconnected, the US intelligence community will need to become more open-facing, like its underlying intelligence today. Just as the Central Intelligence Agency was established in 1947 to confront a new threat (the Soviet Union), the United States needs to establish a new kind of public-facing intelligence to anticipate globalized threats, such as pandemics, hiding in the open....

For more information on this publication: Please contact Intelligence Project
For Academic Citation: Walton, Calder. “US Intelligence, the Coronavirus and the Age of Globalized Challenges.” Paper, Centre for International Governance Innovation, August 24, 2020.