Dozens of discussions about the scope of infections, quarantines, and travel restrictions were held in a high-security meeting room at the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) since mid-January and classified.
Staffers without security clearances, including government experts, were excluded from the meetings with the step preventing the response to the infection in the U.S. and restricting information, 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.”
According to the sources the National Security Council (NSC), which informs the president on security issues, ordered the classification.
The meetings at HHS were held in a secure area called a “Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Facility,” or SCIF.
SCIFs are usually reserved for intelligence and military operations. Ordinary cell phones and computers can’t be brought into the chambers. HHS has SCIFs because theoretically, it would play a major role in biowarfare or chemical attacks.
One of the administration officials suggested the security clearances for meetings at HHS were imposed not to protect national security but to keep the information within a tight circle, to prevent leaks.
“It seemed to be a tool for the White House - for the NSC - to keep participation in these meetings low,” the official said.
The Trump administration was criticized for its response to the coronavirus outbreaks and for its lack of transparency, including removing experts and providing false or incomplete information to the public.
COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, has killed almost 38 people in the U.S. and infected more than 1,000 people.