Intelligence Community and COVID-19 Wuhan Patient Zero — for Junkies Only

FOR INTELLIGENCE JUNKIES ONLY. This is not the continuation of (CNN) Trump is wrong… About Hydroxychloroquine Studies…Facts. Part 1.

(ABC) Intelligence report warned of coronavirus crisis as early as November: Sources.  This was preceded by (Reuters) U.S. spies find coronavirus spread in China, North Korea, Russia hard to chart.

The data-intensive, technical collections that base IC efforts, possibly augmented by HUMINT, can’t be matched in open source. The logic is the same for both.

One purpose of this blog is to promote open-source analysis as skill that can be developed. Analysis is not a leap to an answer; it’s development of an inventory of questions. Some will be disposed of, others will lead to more questions, while some may lead to significant conclusions. So, questions:

The earliest open-source documentation of COVID  in Wuhan was authored by (Wikipedia) physician Ai Fen, with the date of 12/18:

On 18 December 2019, Ai came into contact with the first case of pulmonary infection showing “multiple patchy blurry shadows scattered in lungs” from a delivery person of Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. On 27 December, she received a second patient, but this person had no history of contact of Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. In the afternoon of 30 December, the test result of the second patient showed infection with a coronavirus. When she saw the words “SARS coronavirus,…

12/18 as the first official date is somewhat contradicted by the IC. Quoting Reuters,

As far back as late November, U.S. intelligence officials were warning that a contagion was sweeping through China’s Wuhan region, changing the patterns of life and business and posing a threat to the population, according to four sources briefed on the secret reporting.

A date difference of around around three weeks. How can this be resolved? Possibilities:

  • A hidden parallel care system in Wuhan, with a separate medical database. But how could it muster the diagnostic resources? How would it control the grapevine? It’s not impossible, but leaks would be expected.
  • A separate outbreak among rural communities that fed the Wuhan live animal market. Without the urban grapevine, local authorities could have concealed these outbreaks with minimal medical care and rapid burial.
  • Misdiagnosis on a massive scale, as happened in Moscow.

Mortality is a separate question. It could have been concealed by surreptitious editing of the medical records database.  Does it fit with either of the above? Stepping back from this detail, in the period of late November to mid December, were there:

  • One outbreak, heavily managed, so that even physicians such as Ai Fen would be out of the loop?
  • Multiple outbreaks. Concealed by local authorities, or Beijing?
  • Overlapping outbreaks, which grew into each other? This allows under counting or over counting by sheer confusion.

Deceit, usually for domestic reasons, is typical of governments which descend from former communist states. The only surprise is honesty. Nevertheless, the date discrepancy is not resolved to satisfaction. In place of the above, a simple question will suffice: What the hell was going on?

We’re done with annoying questions. Open source has a few basic hand tools to offer, Occam’s Razor, and combinatorics. This may help to redefine the quest for Patient Zero. In most cases, it is a quixotic quest. In Wuhan, combinatorics shows this.

There is an analysis tool, the sum of probabilities, that has been taught to CIA analysts. It is analogous to Feynman diagrams.  It assumes that the chance of an event is proportional to the sum of all the ways it could happen. The theory is very precise; the application is necessarily approximate.

Get the checkerboard out, to imagine a world of only 8 people. We want to know the origin of one case, the chain of transmission back to the first of these 8.

  • Number the red and black edges 1 to 8, the 8 inhabitants of this tiny world.
  • On the black edge, Number 4 is infected. We want to know the origin.
  • The infection proceeds from red to black.
  • Each step from red to black is a minimum of one unit of time.
  • You are permitted to draw a chain that duplicates a number, provided they are adjacent. For example, 1-2-2-2-2-2-2-4 is a valid chain of infection that implicates #1. But 1-2-3-2-2-2-2-4 is not, because it implies #2 was infected twice.
  • All the chains are assumed equally probable.
  • The order of the chain members matters.
  • What is the probability that Red #2 is the origin of #4’s infection?
  • It is the sum of all possible chains connecting Red #2 to Black #4, divided by the total number of possible chains that connect the Red side of the board to Black #4.

Skipping to the obvious answer evades the point of the exercise. The counting reveals a form of transmission  where individual identity is meaningless, replaced from the outset by large-number statistics. The significance of Patient Zero is zero.

This model has little real-world utility. It appears that the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market is an exception. Described as a slosh-pit of infectious blood and guts,  it  has intuitive use. Anybody can infect anybody, with back-and-forth animal-human-animal-human transfer likely. The model cannot be accurate, but it is compatible with multi-focal outbreaks, and the discrepancies noted by the IC.

There is always a Patient Zero. For the Wuhan outbreak, the significance of  Patient Zero is supervened by the statistical characteristics of the Huanan market. These characteristics, not those of a Patient Zero, are determinant of what the IC may have identified as a multi-focal outbreak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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