Afghan deal ends presidential standoff; COVID returns to Roosevelt; State Dept. IG ousted; Infowar, Russia-China-Iran-style; And a bit more.

U.S. sailors get COVID-19…again. Thirteen sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt have tested positive for the coronavirus since recovering from the virus and returning to the ship, Politico’s Lara Seligman reported this weekend. Oh, and a fourteenth sailor now has tuberculosis.

Germany wants people to be able to vacation in Europe; but how to do that safely isn’t clear just yet. Italy is opening shops, churches and restaurants today. Greece has reopened some churches. Spain’s not ready to reopen just yet.

Sweden is famously trying “herd immunity,” and the country now has its highest monthly death count in 27 years, with a total of 10,458 Swedish lives lost in April — roughly 3,700 from COVID-19, government officials announced this morning. The previous peak — 11,057 deaths in a single month — was delivered via a seasonal flu outbreak in December 1993. A similarly deadly one hit in January 2000 as well. More here.

Danish officials feel pretty good about the country’s reopening, which began last week. “With a population of only 5.8 million,” Reuters reports from Copenhagen, “the death rate in Denmark is on par with that of Germany with around nine per 100,000 — less than most other European countries, including 36 in neighbouring Sweden, 33 in the Netherlands and 52 in both Britain and Italy.” You may recall “Denmark was one of the first European countries to announce a lockdown on March 11, restricting public gatherings and closing schools, restaurants and bars.”

Why the apparent success in Denmark? “The quick shutdown and the fact that Danes actually listened to messages from authorities about good hygiene and social distancing are the main reasons we’ve come this far,” a professor in clinical microbiology at the University of Southern Denmark told Reuters. The same professor also explained that, “Contrary to the French and Italians, Danes are less likely to hug and kiss as a form of greeting, which has also been a factor in limiting the spread.” Continue reading, here.

The WH is making vaccine promises it may not be able to deliver on, public-health experts say. On Friday, President Trump announced a new effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine and produce many millions of doses by year’s end, “a goal that many scientists say is unrealistic and could even backfire by shortchanging safety and undermining faith in vaccines more broadly,” the Washington Post reports. 

The announcement came the day after a former top U.S. vaccine official testified before Congress that he was doubtful about even a 12-to-18-month timeframe. More from WaPo, here.

Update: The U.S. military is planning to help distribute a vaccine quickly — if it appears under “Operation Warp Speed,” Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams reported Friday.


From Defense One

Afghanistan Drawdown Continues Despite Violence, Ghani Announcement // Katie Bo Williams: The Afghan president said that his side would be resuming “offensive” operations against the Taliban.

The Miner’s Canary: COVID-19 and the Rise of Non-Traditional Security Threats // Anca Agachi : To face them, we need new definitions of security and a global approach.

On Arms Control, Little Reason for Optimism / Steven Pifer: Officials in Moscow and Beijing will read Mr. Billingslea’s interview and see nothing to give them reason to negotiate.

Hong Kong Is Losing its Freedom // Doug Bandow: What should Washington do as the PRC increases pressure on Hong Kong — and Taiwan?

2020 Could Be ‘Darkest Winter in Modern History,’ COVID Whistleblower Says // Russell Berman, The Atlantic: The United States dropped the ball early in the pandemic, and remains unready for painful months to come, Rick Bright tells Congress.

Putin Is Well on His Way to Stealing the Next Election // Franklin Foer, The Atlantic: RIP democracy.

Welcome to this Monday 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 1917, the U.S. formally enacted the draft for World War One — a war that would lead to the deaths of nearly 45,000 U.S. troops not from combat, but from the 1918 influenza.


Afghan president to share power with rival. NYT: “Afghanistan’s monthslong election dispute, which resulted in the bizarre reality of two men taking the oath of office as president, reached a resolution on Sunday when President Ashraf Ghani gave his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah, the leading role in the country’s peace process with the Taliban and the right to appoint half the cabinet.”
Distraction, removed: The deal may allow the Afghan government to more effectively negotiate or confront the Taliban, with whom the United States has signed an agreement for a gradual withdrawal. More, here.
Taliban kills 9, injure 40 in eastern Afghanistan. A suicide bomber in a stole Humvee blew it up at a Ghazni base owned by the government’s intelligence service. AP has a bit more.

Troops with Libya’s internationally recognized government seized an airbase outside of Tripoli in what Reuters says “could be their most significant advance for nearly a year.”

Trump ousts another independent watchdog. State Department Inspector General Steve Linick has been replaced with an ally of Vice President Mike Pence, “the latest in a series of moves against independent government watchdogs in recent months,” Politico reports.

You are the target: Where Iran, China and Russia’s messaging operations converge. Former FBI man Clint Watts and others at the Foreign Policy Research Institute just reviewed more than 8,700 news stories and articles from Russia Today, Sputnik News (Russia), PressTV (Iran) and Global Times (China). All 8,700-plus were published since Jan. 1, 2019. 
“Several patterns are apparent in this dataset,” Watts writes. Among those: 

  • “All three countries promote narratives that cast the United States as an aggressive, imperialist country seeking to dominate the world.” 
  • But “Bilateral convergence between Russia and China arises in their denigration of American technology companies and of the relationship between Washington and Silicon Valley, as well as vocal support for Chinese tech companies like Huawei.”
  • “Russian and Iranian efforts converge in opposition to U.S. foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, but also in other areas of overlapping interest like Latin America.” 
  • “Chinese and Iranian narratives focus on highlighting racial injustice in America, and casting it as a fundamentally racist country with no standing to promote democracy or human rights.”

Worth noting: Each country “aims to influence a different segment of the American electorate,” Watts warns. And each nation’s apparent targets include: 

  • For Russia, as in 2016, it’s forming “people-to-people and party-to-party alliances with white nationalists, Christians, and other supporters of ‘traditional values.’” 
  • Iran, without a majority white population, “seeks out common cause with American minority groups oppressed or disenfranchised based on race, religion, or economic status.”
  • And China’s influence targets are “primarily economic, and leverages its enormous market of consumers to cultivate influence within U.S. multinational corporations.” Think LeBron James. In fact, Watts writes, “China’s standoff with the NBA in 2019 should be seen as a canary-in-the-coal-mine for coming clashes between democracy and authoritarianism in the social media space.”

Now for the coronavirus update, the messages emphasized include:

  • “emphasizing aid efforts to other countries afflicted by the virus and citing the trade war as a barrier to fighting the pandemic” for China;
  • For Russia, it’s “inciting fears of martial law, class warfare, and government takeovers, while simultaneously alleging that coronavirus hysteria represents yet another attempted media takedown of President Trump.”
  • And for Iran, state media outlets are claiming “U.S. sanctions are to blame for their inadequate response to coronavirus, while also suggesting that an Israeli-U.S. partnership might have created the virus.”

One idea (among three) about what to do about all this: “Work with tech companies to downrank, demonetize, and de-platform authoritarian state-sponsored news outlets and social media accounts spreading manipulated information that threatens public safety and public health. Twitter has done this on several occasions in recent weeks, removing fringe news sites for coronavirus violations.” Read on for the other two, here.
And don’t miss our December podcast on influence operations in 2020, featuring an interview with Clint Watts, here.

Report: cellphone links Pensacola gunman and al Qaeda. The FBI investigation into the December shooting at the Florida naval air station has found that 2LT Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, a Saudi Air Force cadet training at the base, had communicated with an al Qaeda operative who had encouraged the attacks, the New York Times reports, citing unnamed American officials briefed on the investigation who spoke ahead of an 11 a.m. news conference by Attorney General William P. Barr. 

An F-22 Raptor crashed Friday during a routine training flight near Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; the pilot ejected safely, Military.com reports.
The crash brings the number of operable F-22s down to 190, by Jerry Hendrix’s count.

Canada loses a Snowbird. “A member of the Canadian air force’s acrobatic Snowbirds team was killed Sunday and a pilot injured after a plane crashed in western Canada while performing in support of front-line health-care workers,” the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday evening. The accident occurred near the airport in the city of Kamloops, 260 miles (418 kilometers) northeast of Vancouver,” according to AP
“This is the second fatal crash in recent weeks involving a Canadian military aircraft,” the Journal writes. “All six service members aboard a helicopter were killed after crashing off the coast of Greece in late April while conducting a training exercise as part of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization deterrence mission in the Mediterranean and Black seas.”

And finally today: The U.S. Air Force’s mystery space plane heads back to work. “Officials aren’t saying how long the spacecraft will remain in orbit this time or the purpose of the mission,” AP reports. “But a senior vice president for X-37B developer Boeing, Jim Chilton, noted each mission has been progressively longer.” And the last mission took two years to complete.
So what’s going on up there? Just 12 days ago, Defense One Tech Editor Patrick Tucker reported on how the USAF’s X37-B is “Part of A Plan to One Day Shoot Microwaves to Earth.” Read all about it, here.

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