1st US ‘community’ transmission of Covid-19; Budget hearings; Afghan gov’t, Taliban to meet; DOD & 5G; And a bit more.

The first U.S.“community” transmission of Covid-19 was found in California. A resident of Solano County is the first known American sickened by the SARS-CoV-19 coronavirus without an obvious connection to other infected people, CDC officials said Wednesday.

The patient had been at UC Davis Medical Center for a week before being tested for the disease, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Indeed, relatively few Americans have been tested for the virus. That reflects federal policy choices, a small supply of testing kits, and flaws in many of the kits that do exist, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

“Experts fear the small number of U.S. Covid-19 cases reflects limited testing rather than a lack of infections,” the Post wrote. Adds STATnews: “As of Feb. 23, the CDC had tested just 479 people, not including those who were evacuated from other countries. Testing kits sent out by the CDC nationwide turned out to be faulty, which means that just 12 labs across the country can currently run tests outside of the CDC.” Read on, here.

In a new first, the U.S. and South Korea cancelled military drills over fears related to the virus, AP reported Wednesday evening. This covers all drills for the first six months of the year. “Experts say the postponement of the drills was inevitable because the potential spread of the virus into military barracks could significantly weaken military readiness.” More here

VP Mike Pence will now lead the U.S. effort to fight the virus, President Trump announced in a Wednesday evening press conference. As governor of Indiana, Pence’s responses to disease outbreaks were noted for delays and for not following best practices or expert public-health advice. (New York Times, Daily Beast)

U.S. stockpiling masks. The Department of Health and Human Services is planning to add up to half a billion masks and respirators to the 30 million in its Strategic National Stockpile of drugs, vaccines, and other emergency medical supplies, Quartz reports.

Misinformation from the president and his administration. Trump, who has a long record of uttering untruths, has made several false or misleading statements about Covid-19 and the U.S. response to it. For example: “We’re very close to a vaccine,” he said during his recent India trip. But CDC officials have estimated that a vaccine is unlikely to be ready in the next 12 to 18 months. The Verge has more about that particular untruth. And STATnews rolls up other whoppers from Trump and senior administration figures — and explains why they may be dangerous to Americans’ health, here.

More new cases outside China than inside it. “Yesterday, the number of new cases reported outside China exceeded the number of new cases in China for the first time,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Wednesday. “Outside China, there are now 2,790 cases in 37 countries, and 44 deaths.” NPR has a bit more, here.


From Defense One

Pentagon Wants To Start Testing New 5G Tech Soon // Patrick Tucker: The Defense Department is about to get serious about evaluating next-gen networking gear.

Lawmakers Fire Back at Trump’s Plan to Divert Military Funds to Border Wall // Katie Bo Williams: But the bipartisan team of Smith and Thornberry have attracted few other GOPers to the effort.

Trump’s War on the Intelligence Community Is Also About US Elections // Mike Giglio, The Atlantic: With a loyalist as acting director of national intelligence, the official line on issues like Russian election meddling could bend closer to the president’s.

Trump Freezes Hiring at Another DHS Agency // Eric Katz, Government Business Council: TSA is the second Homeland Security component agency to suspend taking on new employees.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1942, the British airborne mission, Operation Biting, began after about four days of bad weather around the mission objective, a German radio site near the northern French city of Saint-Jouin-Bruneval.


Happening now on Capitol Hill: U.S. Navy leaders are testifying about the FY21 budget request before the House Armed Services Committee. Present: Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly; Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday; and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger. Catch the livestream via HASC’s YouTube channel, here
Speaking of the Marines: Gen. Berger “ordered all Confederate-related paraphernalia to be removed from Marine Corps installations,” Task & Purpose reported Wednesday after the order was tweeted by B.A. Friedman
Esper explains delay in Navy shipbuilding plan: “Ongoing problems with the Navy’s Optimized Fleet Response Plan delayed the release of the service’s new force structure assessment and long-term shipbuilding plan, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. (Via USNI News)

Happening this afternoon on Capitol Hill: A window into America’s new posture toward space. At 2:30 p.m. ET, HASC’s Subcommittee on Strategic Forces will hear from Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood… actually: scratch that. 
Rood has now been fired by the WH for insufficient loyalty, according to Politico, and Rood has been replaced this morning by Dr. James Anderson, whose DoD bio page tells us is “Performing the Duties of Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.”
Beside Anderson today: U.S. Space Command’s Gen. John Raymond; and Strategic Command’s Adm. Charles Richard. Catch that live, here

  • Do you have Qs about the Space Force, or what it means to “deter aggression” in space? (Space Force reps go before HASC next Tuesday.) Send your Qs our way since we’ll be turning our attention to space for an upcoming podcast episode. 

Then later this afternoon, the Air Force will talk about its FY21 budget at 3:30 p.m. ET. That one involves Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Will Roper; and Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Programs, Lt. Gen. David Nahom. You can catch that live, here
ICYMI from Wednesday: AEI’s Mackenzie Eaglen wrote about the “Top 5 Things to Watch in Congress’ 2021 Defense Budget Hearings,” here.

ATTN: The Afghan government is meeting with the Taliban for the first time ever. A six-person team is headed today to Qatar “to establish initial contacts” with the Taliban “at the request of the Taliban and the United States,” Afghanistan’s Tolo News reports. “This meeting will be the first between the Afghan government and the Taliban.”
Still lingering: the status of a Taliban request to free 5,000 prisoners. 
If everything remains on track, some kind of U.S.-Taliban deal will be signed Saturday in Kabul. “US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg are expected to be in Kabul for the announcement of the declaration,” Tolo writes. Tiny bit more, here

Afghanistan RIV plan, day five: “At least four civilians and one security force member [were] killed in separate Taliban attacks in five provinces on the fifth day of the reduction in violence plan,” Tolo reported off a statement late Wednesday from the Afghan Ministry of Interior.
An IED also exploded in Kabul on Wednesday, wounding nine people but reportedly killing no one. The Taliban denied involvement in that attack. 
And Afghan war commander, U.S. Army Gen. Scott Miller walked the streets of Kabul on Wednesday. The Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe traveled along and filed this report.
For all five days of the RIV, “19 security force members and four civilians have been killed in the Taliban attacks,” and another “35 security force members were wounded in these attacks by the Taliban,” Tolo writes, citing Afghan government data. More here
BTW: We’re still looking at about an 80 percent reduction in violence during this RIV, the New York Times reports.
“Plant trees, not bombs,” is reportedly the Taliban’s message today.
At the U.S. request, President Ashraf Ghani postponed his inauguration ceremony planned for today, U.S. Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted Wednesday. “This will allow time for necessary consultations so that the best interests of Afghanistan and its people are reflected and preserved by the new government,” Khalilzad wrote. “As the electoral process has concluded, President Ghani, as the declared winner, and other leaders should ensure that the new government is inclusive and reflects the aspirations of all Afghans.”
And today President Ghani reportedly met with the man he bested in the recent presidential elections, Abdullah Abdullah. It’s unclear just yet if the two men have worked past Abdullah’s objections to the election results. Stay tuned… 

Now for something completely different: The Russians want our attention, so they unveiled designs for a massive new submarine — the Laika class, which “will replace the existing Alfa-class boats, which have been in production for nearly 50 years,” according to Popular Mechanics. By comparison, “The submarines will displace 11,340 tons, making them considerably larger than the U.S. Navy’s current Virginia class submarines at 8,700 tons.”
Two big unknowns: “how long it will take to develop the sub—or how many the Russian Navy will eventually receive.” And FWIW, “Of the 16 nuclear-powered attack submarines in operation, almost all were built by the Soviet Union before the end of the Cold War,” PM notes. Read on, here

Did someone say spies? Because more TV and film writers should actually consult real spies (or at least former ones) if they want their narratives to stand up to scrutiny in the world of former spooks (admittedly, probably not a common goal). That, anyway, is the amusing POV of former CIA-er John Sipher, writing in “Standpoint” magazine. Find his fun essay, “Murdering reality: the spurious spies of fiction,” here

Don’t look now, but “A facial-recognition company that contracts with powerful law-enforcement agencies just reported that an intruder stole its entire client list,” The Daily Beast reported Wednesday, noting the company “fixed the vulnerability and that the intruder did not obtain any law-enforcement agencies’ search histories.” 
The name of the company: Clearview AI, which “drew national attention when The New York Times ran a front-page story about its work with law-enforcement agencies. The Times reported that the company scraped 3 billion images from the internet, including from Facebook, YouTube, and Venmo.” More here

And finally today: A reminder to watch your inbox security because “Email Scammers Are Savvier, and More Successful, Than Ever,” the Wall Street Journal reports today. For a sense of how nefarious activity seems to be on the rise, “In 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation received 23,775 complaints of business-email and email-account compromises, up from 20,373 the prior year,” according to bureau data published this month. “Annual estimated losses increased as well, to more than $1.7 billion in 2019 from $1.2 billion in 2018.” More here.

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