A gobstopping exclusive showed up via Reuters on Wednesday afternoon: The White House has apparently classified top-level Dept. of Health and Human Services meetings about the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.
Why shouldn't they? Well, per Reuters' sources within the White House, it makes things significantly more difficult on the government to act smartly and quickly on the matter.
The Reuters report showed up just hours after the World Health Organization officially declared the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on Wednesday.
The reason it's such a problem: The higher the level of classification, the fewer the number of people who can contribute to those meetings, have the outcomes of those meetings shared with them, and share the outcomes of those meetings. It gunks up the channels of communication, and inherently slows down any response.
This classification order, according to Reuters, comes via the National Security Council, which got it directly from the White House. Per Reuters:
Staffers without security clearances, including government experts, were excluded from the interagency meetings, which included video conference calls, the sources said. “We had some very critical people who did not have security clearances who could not go,” one official said. “These should not be classified meetings. It was unnecessary.”
Experts on the COVID-19 coronavirus as well as experts on government classification levels have both decried the move.
But these two Tweets should give you some decent context:
As anyone who has ever had to work with classified material will tell you, this is TREMENDOUSLY counterproductive. It impairs efforts to share information, to coordinate, to hold meetings -- everything you have to do to respond to the coronavirus. https://t.co/bBJdVaBuoO
— Nicholas Bagley (@nicholas_bagley) March 11, 2020
Our research @citizenlab shows that the Chinese government also tried to hide information about #COVID19 as the epidemic began exploding. We all know how that turned out. https://t.co/8nPn0w6YMe
— John Scott-Railton (@jsrailton) March 11, 2020