US evacs citizens from China; Yemeni AQ chief dead?; FBI: Neo-Nazis as dangerous as ISIS; Arms sale to Ukraine delayed; And a bit more.

The Pentagon’s latest response to the global coronavirus epidemic involves receiving “two Department of State-chartered evacuation flights from Wuhan, China” some time today, the Pentagon announced Thursday evening. One of the planes is headed to Omaha; while the other will land at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in Calif. 

About 300 passengers are on board the two incoming flights. Upon arrival, “these individuals will be subject to a CDC-managed 14-day quarantine.”

The Defense Department also chose 11 installations across the country where future patients could be routed as a backup to the backups, “should [the Department of Health and Human Services] facilities become filled,” DoD said in a Thursday afternoon statement. “These are tertiary locations, and HHS already has primary and secondary locations identified that are not DOD facilities.” 

No more than 20 people can stay at each location “as they undergo a period of quarantined observation,” according to the Pentagon. Find the full list of facilities, here.

Meanwhile, the White House is trying to curb disinformation around the virus, asking American scientists and medical researchers on Thursday “to investigate the scientific origins of the novel coronavirus, as misinformation about the outbreak spreads online,” ABC News reported

And China’s communist leadership is trying to scrub its internet of critical citizens’ responses, CNN reported Thursday. Among other measures, it is banning users who talk about the outbreak on WeChat, the “super app” that has in the past seven years become China’s leading social center, online bank, and online shopping mall. The South China Morning Post has more on recent CCP censorship, here.

The People’s Liberation Army has taken a surprisingly limited role in containing the virus and caring for its victims, New America’s Peter Singer reports at Defense One.

The largest incidence of coronavirus outside China? A cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan, with 61 cases. (Quartz)

Back stateside, hundreds of Chinese academics are having trouble traveling to a big AI conference in New York held by the American Association for Artificial Intelligence, WIRED reported Thursday. In response, “many of the Chinese researchers who will miss the event have chosen to stay up all night in order to present via video call instead.”

Bigger picture: “The effect of the outbreak on the AAAI conference shows the strength that China has built up in fundamental AI research in recent years. China already produces more scientific papers on AI than the US, and research published last March by the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence suggests that the quality of those papers is rising rapidly.” Read more, here

BTW: The U.S. Navy conducted more freedom of navigation operations last year “than in any year since the U.S. began more aggressively challenging China’s claims in the South China Sea in 2015,” Defense News reported this week off data from U.S. Pacific Fleet. 

That includes seven FONOPs in the South China Sea. More recently, "The Navy conducted its first FONOP of 2020 on Jan. 25, sending the littoral combat ship Montgomery past Chinese claims in the Spratly Islands. During that operation, China sent two fighter-bombers scrambling overhead to intimidate the Montgomery."

For what it's worth, "So far the FONOPs have not caused China to back down on its claims... to maritime rights and dominion over several island chains in the region, which have put the U.S. and its allies at loggerheads with China." Read on, here

One more thing: The U.S. is considering buying stakes in Ericsson AB and Nokia Corp “as a way of countering the dominance of China’s Huawei Technologies Co. in the market for 5G,” the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. 

So…which one should it be? Unclear, but one consultant told the Journal “a U.S. investment in Ericsson could pose fewer hurdles than a deal with Nokia because the Swedish company doesn’t have state ownership. Finland holds a 3.8% stake in Nokia through its Solidium holding company, which holds stakes in nationally important listed companies.” More behind the paywall, here

From Defense One

As Coronavirus Spreads, China’s Military Is Largely MIA // Peter W. Singer, Peter Wood, and Alex Stone: The PLA’s anemic participation is odd given its past performance, planning, and pronouncements.

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: $5.7B in DOD cuts; M&A wrap, Coronavirus slims air show plans; and more.

Explainer: What is the Pentagon's Fourth Estate? // Bradley Peniston: In essence, everything except the military branches.

17 Sailors and Six Marines Died in Avoidable Accidents. Congress Asks: Are the Problems Fixed? // Robert Faturechi, ProPublica: After ProPublica wrote about inadequate training and faulty equipment, lawmakers grilled Navy and Marine leaders about the accidents and whether America is ready for war.

Welcome to this Friday 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 1990, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union relinquished its monopoly on political power. Within months, six Soviet republics declared their independence.

The U.S. says it killed al-Qaeda’s leader in Yemen. The militant involved: Qasim al-Raymi, who was the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. You may recall about a week ago SITE Intelligence Group Director Rita Katz claimed "al-Rimi was killed in a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 25 east of Sana'a," in Marib province, the Wall Street Journal reports. “The drone strike wasn’t conducted by the U.S. military, people familiar with the matter said, suggesting it was carried out by the CIA.” However, “The CIA declined to comment.” 
In a statement, the White House called it "a counterterrorism operation" that killed al-Rimi, and it gave no specific date or province. 
Al-Rimi "trained terrorists at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan in the 1990s under Osama bin Laden before becoming an AQAP military commander," according to ABC News. He was also "linked to the deadly 2008 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sana'a and the 2009 attempted suicide bombing of 'underwear bomber' Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab aboard a U.S.-bound airliner."

Turkey just sent more tanks and troops into Syria. A "long line of armored vehicles and trucks, carrying tanks, [entered] into rebel-controlled rural areas of Idlib province on Friday," and they were headed "deployed west of the town of Saraqeb," AP reports today. "It was fifth known deployment of new troops into Syria over the last week."
One very probable reason why this fifth deployment happened: “Syrian government troops took control of the former rebel town of Saraqeb this week. The town is strategic because it sits on the intersection of two major highways, one linking the capital, Damascus, to the north, and another connecting the country’s west and east. The Turkish military posts erected around Saraqeb didn't stop the military advance, which left some of those Turkish posts are now behind Syrian lines.”
As for what’s next, “Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said a Russian delegation is scheduled to arrive in Ankara on Saturday to discuss the situation in Idlib.” Continue reading, here

Ukraine: U.S. is holding up $30M in guns and ammunition. “The Trump administration is currently withholding approval for at least six commercial orders for arms and ammunition from US companies to Ukraine,” Buzzfeed reports, citing “three current Ukrainian officials and a former senior US official who have direct knowledge of the sales.” 
Five of the orders were placed up to a year ago; the other more than a year ago. Approval typically takes about two months. 
U.S. officials have offered no explanation to Ukraine or to Buzzfeed. Last year, President Trump ordered other aid to Ukraine delayed while he sought political favors from his Ukrainian counterpart. Read on.
FWIW: Violations of the ceasefire between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces are on the rise, reports the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission.

White nationalists are as deadly to Americans as ISIS, FBI Director Chris Wray told lawmakers of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. “We’re particularly focused on domestic terrorism, especially racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists,” he said. “Not only is the terror threat diverse, it’s unrelenting.”
Wray also said the Bureau launched a domestic terrorism and hate crimes fusion cell to “bring together the expertise of domestic terror folks and hate crimes folks," Vice News reports. Story here.

“Signs of white supremacy, extremism up again in poll of active-duty troops,” Military Times’ Leo Shane III reported Thursday off a recent poll of readers. The poll found that “More than one-third of all active-duty troops and more than half of minority service members say they have personally witnessed examples of white nationalism or ideological-driven racism within the ranks in recent months.”
How does this compare to previous years? It’s definitely increasing. “The 2019 survey found that 36 percent of troops who responded have seen evidence of white supremacist and racist ideologies in the military, a significant rise from the year before, when only 22 percent — about 1 in 5 — reported the same in the 2018 poll.”
Specific examples cited include “swastikas being drawn on service members’ cars, tattoos affiliated with white supremacist groups, stickers supporting the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi-style salutes between individuals.” 
Happening next week: House lawmakers will host two panel discussions Tuesday to discuss “Alarming Incidents of White Supremacy in the Military—How to Stop It?” Details, here. Read more about the Military Times poll, here

Get to better know the latest U.S. trends in online disinformation via this incredible #LongRead from The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins, published Thursday. 
In a rush? Read McKay explain his findings in a Twitter thread over here

And finally today: Just two months after his resignation, former U.S. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer says he’ll endorse Michael Bloomberg for president, the New York Times reported Thursday. You probably remember Spencer “was ousted as Navy secretary in November after he publicly disagreed with Mr. Trump’s intervention in an extraordinary war crimes case involving a member of the Navy SEALs.” 
Said Spencer to the Times, “This is not about a party. This is not about left and right. It’s about where can we find a solution to get the country working together and be unified, with an operable political system.” Read on, here

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!