Acting SecNav slams fired CO; Trump has stake in drug he touts; Is Zoom safe?; And a bit more.

Acting SecNav Modly slams fired skipper, apologizes. On Monday morning, Guam time, Acting Secretary Thomas Modly boarded the COVID-stricken aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, turned on the public-address system, and told the crew that their former commanding officer — the one he had fired just days earlier — was either a) “naive or stupid” or b) had deliberately acted to publicize sensitive information. Either way, Modly said, Capt. Brett Crozier’s decision to send Navy people outside his chain of command an urgent plea for help in evacuating his ship was a “betrayal” of all aboard. Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams has the story.

Captured on an audio recording of the speech were sailors’ reactions, including “What the fuck?” and “He was trying to save us!”

The speech tilted some leaders’ perceptions of Modly’s already controversial relief-for-cause of Capt. Brett Crozier. As criticism and calls for his removal rolled in from Capitol Hill, Modly issued a midday statement: “I stand by every word I said.” 

Those leaders included President Trump, who went from castigating Crozier on Saturday (“I thought it was terrible, what he did”) to talking about saving his career on Monday. 

Modly himself ultimately flip-flopped, issuing an apology for the words he doubled-down on hours earlier: “Let me be clear, I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naïve nor stupid. I think, and always believed him to be the opposite,” he wrote. “I believe, precisely because he is not naive and stupid, that he sent his alarming email with the intention of getting it into the public domain in an effort to draw public attention to the situation on his ship. I apologize for any confusion this choice of words may have caused.”

In his speech, Modly slammed the press, saying that there’s never a good reason to go outside the chain of command with problems or complaints — notwithstanding the many situations that have gotten fixed only after the media brought them to light.

Responded Military Reporters and Editors, an association of defense journalists: “Secretary Modly’s comments show a breathtaking disregard for and misunderstanding of the role of the press in a democracy–or just a disdain for coverage that does not make him look good–or all of the above.”


From Defense One

Acting Navy Secretary Under Fire For Speech Calling Fired Captain ‘Stupid’ // Katie Bo Williams: ‘What the f-ck?’ a sailor can be heard yelling in the background of Modly’s speech over the ship’s PA system.

So Much for Keeping the Military Out of Politics  // Kevin Baron: Acting Navy Secretary Modly’s Trumpian approach to the military and his firing of a carrier captain has gone over like a lead anchor. Now members of Congress are calling for his own firing.

The Pentagon Is Using Zoom. Is it Safe? // Patrick Tucker: Experts say the ubiquitous videoconferencing tools bear some risk of accidentally exposing mundane details, and even inviting a new wave of deep fakes. But the risks can be managed.

National Security in the Age of Pandemics // Michael Hunzeker  and Gregory D. Koblentz : We cannot reduce the danger and damage of the next pandemic by merely adding it to the ever-expanding laundry list of missions we expect the military to handle.

What Will Iran Do As the US Negotiates a Withdrawal from Afghanistan? // Colin P. Clarke and Ariane Tabatabai: Tehran is eager to deepen its influence on Kabul, the Taliban, and other Afghan actors.

We Were Warned // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: When the inevitable inquiry into the government’s response to COVID-19 happens, it will conclude that signs of a coming crisis were everywhere.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1948, the United Nations established the World Health Organization — which is why today is also known as World Health Day.


U.S. Army special operations support soldiers are now making masks and other personal protective equipment in Washington, the Army announced Thursday. The other equipment includes “creat[ing] prototypes for reusable respirator masks, face shields, and surgical masks for [Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s] Madigan Army Medical Center and its regional partners.”
The effort has pulled in the sewing soldiers of the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne)’s parachute riggers, who are trying to crank out 200 masks a day with just five sewing machines. The ultimate goal is to “be able to produce 1,000 to 1,500 during a normal work week,” according to Army Lt. Col. Christopher Jones. Read on, here.
Models and forecast update: One COVID-19 projection used by White House officials (from the University of Washington) now “forecasts 81,766 U.S. coronavirus fatalities by Aug. 4, down about 12,000 from a weekend projection,” Reuters reports today. 

The president’s family and friends have a “financial interest” in a manufacturer of the unproven drug Hydroxychloroquine, the New York Times reported with the help of more than a dozen reporters Monday evening. Various parties within the Trump orbit that have financial stakes of Sanofi include:

  • Trump himself has a small personal financial interest in Sanofi, the French drugmaker that makes Plaquenil, the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine.”
  • “As of last year, Mr. Trump reported that his three family trusts each had investments in a Dodge & Cox mutual fund, whose largest holding was in Sanofi.”
  • “Sanofi’s largest shareholders include Fisher Asset Management, the investment company run by Ken Fisher, a major donor to Republicans, including Mr. Trump.”
  • “Another investor in both Sanofi and Mylan, another pharmaceutical firm, is Invesco, the fund previously run by Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary.”
  • Relatedly, “Several generic drugmakers are gearing up to produce hydroxychloroquine pills, including Amneal Pharmaceuticals, whose co-founder Chirag Patel is a member of Trump National Golf Course Bedminster in New Jersey and has golfed with Mr. Trump at least twice since he became president.”

By the way, “The professional organization that published a positive French study cited by Mr. Trump’s allies changed its mind” about that study on Friday, the Times reports. What’s more, “Some hospitals in Sweden stopped providing hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus after reports of adverse side effects.”
One big national security concern from all this: “[T]he president’s assertiveness in pressing the case over the advice of advisers like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease specialist, has driven a wedge inside his coronavirus task force and has raised questions about his motives.” Continue reading, here.
Warnings from inside the White House. Way back on Jan. 29, Trump’s adviser, Peter Navarro, wrote a memo warning the president’s National Security Council that “the coronavirus crisis could cost the United States trillions of dollars and put millions of Americans at risk of illness or death,” the NYTs Maggie Haberman reported Monday evening.
Why this matters: “[I]t came during a period when Mr. Trump was playing down the risks to the United States, and he would later go on to say that no one could have predicted such a devastating outcome.” 
But that’s not all. Navarro penned another warning on Feb. 23, this time aimed directly at POTUS45. That memo warned of an “increasing probability of a full-blown COVID-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1.2 million souls.” Axios has that memo, here
Related: Dive deeper into the “lost” and “mishandled” 70 days the White House let pass before taking the coronavirus seriously — from its “first formal notification of the outbreak of the coronavirus in China on Jan. 3” to the national emergency declaration on March 13 — via this historical #LongRead from six reporters at the Washington Post, published Saturday.
And go even further back in this historical tally of “history’s deadliest pandemics,” from the Antonine Plague of 165-180 A.D. to COVID-19 today, via the Post’s history, science and culture reporter, Michael Rosenwald.

Best wishes to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is today in stable condition at the St Thomas’ Hospital’s ICU. He was admitted late Sunday “after suffering persistent coronavirus symptoms, including a high temperature and a cough, for more than 10 days,” Reuters reports today from London. “But his condition rapidly deteriorated over the next 24 hours, and he was moved on Monday to an intensive care unit, where the most serious cases are treated, in case he needed to be put on a ventilator.” He is still conscious. More from Reuters here, or from AP, here.

U.S. Africa Command says it killed a senior Al-Shabaab leader five days ago in Somalia. That U.S. military airstrike hit Yusuf Jiis, whom AFRICOM says “was one of the foundational members of the terrorist group,” and he’s believed to have been killed “in the vicinity of Bush Madina, Somalia, which is located in the Bay Region, approximately 135 miles west of Mogadishu.”
A more recent strike on Monday killed five more militants and (as usual) zero civilians near the city of Jilib, in the far south. Tiny bit more from AFRICOM here
From the region: Kenya is restricting movement of people from four particularly hard-hit regions of the country for the next three weeks. Reuters has more here
See also a useful data-viz of “Risk Factors for the Spread of COVID-19 in Africa” from the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, which published the work online Friday.

And lastly today: The Pentagon’s top spokeswoman could soon be called to work for the White House, CNN reports. Alyssa Farah is reportedly being considered for a communications role now that “White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham is leaving the job without ever having briefed the press.”
Farah has been at the Pentagon since August, having come over from a previous gig as Vice President Pence’s press secretary. Farah is also close pals with new White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, since she hopped to the Pence job after serving as spokeswoman for the House Freedom Caucus, of which Meadows was a founding member back in early 2015.
Worth noting: It’s been more than a year since the White House press secretary has taken questions from reporters in the briefing room. “It is the longest an administration has gone without an on-camera briefing since they were first aired during President Bill Clinton’s administration.” Continue reading, here.

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