CDC: ‘This could be bad’; Tough start for Esper, Milley on Hill; US ops in Somalia, charted; USAF seeks flying cars; And a bit more.

A coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. is likely and “could be bad,” federal health officials said Tuesday. “It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters. 

“Disruption to everyday life might be severe,” she said. “We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare, in the expectation that this could be bad.”

How to get ready: Local governments should plan for “social distancing measures,” said Messonnier; for example, “dividing school classes into smaller groups of students or closing schools altogether.” Businesses and academia may have to cancel meetings and conferences; employers should prepare to have employees work from home. Read more from the New York Times and STATnews.

So far, the CDC says Covid-19 is not “spreading in the community.” As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the agency reported 57 cases in the United States, including 39 infected Americans brought home from China and from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. 

The first U.S. servicemember diagnosed with Covid-19 is at Camp Carroll in South Korea, officials from U.S. Forces-Korea said Tuesday.

Disinfo watch: On Wednesday morning, President Trump tweeted that the media was “doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus [sic] look as bad as possible.” Recent Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Rush Limbaugh told his listeners, falsely, “The coronavirus is the common cold,” notwithstanding a mortality rate that appears to be at least seven times deadlier than the flu.

White House presser: Trump announced that he would hold a press conference with CDC officials at 6 p.m. EST.

WHO: Still not a pandemic — but get ready. At a Tuesday briefing, senior World Health Organization officials “spoke with palpably greater urgency” about the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, STATnews reports

“It is time to prepare” said Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s health health emergencies program. “It is time to do everything you would do in preparing for a pandemic.”

In China, the disease apparently peaked around Jan. 28 to Feb. 2, WHO officials said, limning a report that they have yet to release. But Covid-19 continues to spread around the world. 

WHO: Can’t stop it, can only try to contain it. “Countries should be working on trying to reduce the risk of imported cases, reduce the risk of spread from cases that get in, and increase the chance that people who get sick survive the infection,” STATnews wrote. Ryan: “But I think we have to be very, very careful in trying to suggest that we could absolutely stop the virus from spreading from one country to the next. I don’t think that’s possible.”

By the numbers: 81,191 cases, 2,768 deaths, 30,310 recovered, per Johns Hopkins’ dashboard. The vast majority are still in China, though the number of cases in South Korea has jumped to 1,261 and the number of deaths in Iran to 19.

Nomenclature watch: Officially speaking, the coronavirus has been named SARS-CoV-2; the disease it causes: coronavirus disease 2019 or Covid-19 for short. A bit more on who names what, here.

And: Wash your hands, please and thank you.


From Defense One

Will Flying Cars Help the US Beat China? The Air Force Hopes So // Patrick Tucker: Service officials say giving American manufacturers first-mover advantage is just as important as the military benefits of vertical-lift buses.

2020 Dems Reject Military Use In Idlib // Katie Bo Williams: On paper, Democrats have remained open to the use of military force for humanitarian purposes.

Top 5 Things to Watch in Congress' 2021 Defense Budget Hearings // Mackenzie Eaglen: On Wednesday, military and civilian leaders of the Defense Department will testify before Congress on their $705 billion budget request for 2021.

NATO Has ‘Growing Realization’ About Risks of Using Huawei Gear, Top General Says // Kevin Baron: But USAF’s Wolters offered no evidence that U.S. officials are persuading allies to shun Chinese 5G networking products.

The US Intelligence Community Is Caught in a Collector’s Trap // Zachery Tyson Brown: The information haystack in which we search for useful needles is growing faster than we could ever catch up. Gathering more hay isn't the answer.

Trump Is Politicizing the Intelligence Community // Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic, The Atlantic: The president spent the week reshaping America's IC to serve his political needs. What does that mean for the 2020 election, and for national security?

Trump’s New Spy Chief Failed to Report $100,000 from a Group Funded by Hungary // Isaac Arnsdorf, ProPublica: Richard Grenell’s past clients could raise concerns about his access to state secrets, according to his own office’s rules.

Welcome to this Wednesday 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 1935, Adolph Hitler secretly ordered the re-establishment of Germany’s air force, the Luftwaffe. It wouldn’t stay a secret for long, because Hitler revealed it to the world the following month — just after Britain announced plans to bolster the Royal Air Force. Roughly four and a half years later, the world would be at war with itself for the second time in a generation. 


Tough start for Esper and Milley today at HASC. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley are about half an hour into their testimony on the Defense Department’s FY21 budget request before the House Armed Services Committee this morning. (Livestream here.)
In a letter dated Tuesday, Reps. Adam Smith and Mac Thornberry told Esper and Milley they are jointly rejecting the Defense Department’s effort to reprogram military funds again this year to finance President Trump’s desired border wall with Mexico. CNN reported this morning that the letter says firmly, “The committee denies this request.” 
“The Congress alone has the constitutional authority to determine how the nation spends its defense dollars," the lawmakers wrote in their letter. “When Congress acts, the Department of Defense cannot ignore congressional will in pursuit of their own priorities.” 
By the way: Thornberry and Smith said the same thing last year, too, Mackenzie Eaglen of AEI tweeted in reax. Read Mackenzie’s “Top 5 Things to Watch in the 2021 Defense Budget Hearings,” published Tuesday in Defense One, here
Three very good Qs of Thornberry at this point, from Connor O’Brien of Politico: “Does he vote to terminate the national emergency? Does he support cutting DoD’s transfer authority in the NDAA? And most importantly: does he bring any Republicans with him?”
Catch the rest of the Esper/Milley hearing over on C-span, here

The U.S. military killed an alleged al-Shabaab leader who was associated with the attack on American forces at Kenya’a Manda Bay in early January. U.S. Africa Command announced Tuesday that “the two terrorists killed in the Feb. 22 precision airstrikes [announced initially here] were an individual associated with the attack on Manda Bay and his wife, who was also a known al-Shabaab member.”
FWIW: Manda Bay is about 700 kms from where the two alleged militants were killed — near Saakow, Somalia — in the U.S. airstrike on Saturday. AFRICOM did not elaborate on the names of those killed, or on the background of the wife, whom the command described as “a witting and active member of al-Shabaab responsible for facilitating a wide range of terrorist activities.”

Don’t miss a new mega-feature on U.S. operations in Somalia from the analysts, journalists and researchers at Airwars. They’ve gathered and published a collection of nearly 300 “declared and claimed air and ground events [including airstrikes and counterterrorism operations, e.g.] since 2007” into one data-packed and pretty easy-to-read webpage. 
One big takeaway from all their effort: “Local communities say civilian harm is far higher than U.S. Africa Command has acknowledged.” (The Intercept’s Nick Turse has more from that angle, here.) For example, the U.S. military believes its killed only two civilians across more than 200 actions and 13 years of counterterrorism work in Somalia. However, Airwars estimates the number of civilians killed in that time from U.S. actions to be closer to 72 and possibly as high as 140. Dig around for yourself in a database searchable by date range; civilian harm; militant deaths; strike target; and strike location.
Taken together, "the result is the most comprehensive understanding yet of U.S. military and CIA actions in Somalia against al Shabaab, ISIS and al Qaeda," Airwars Director Chris Woods tells The D Brief. "Overall, there are 280 declared and alleged U.S. kinetic actions in Somalia since 2007 in our data — and 61 alleged civilian harm events."
A few other takeaways from the data: 

  • Every year of the Trump era has been unlike any year previous in terms of both declared and alleged U.S. action in Somalia, as well as reported and alleged civilian casualties. 
  • 2019 was the busiest year to date, and perhaps the bloodiest (or deadliest) for militants in the al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab and ISIS networks that operate in and around Somalia.
  • Learn more in an explanatory Twitter thread from Airwars, here; or check out the full report, here

And finally today: Historic occasion for the Green Berets. A soldier is on the verge of becoming the first woman to pass the U.S. Army’s famously tough special forces qualification course as an engineering sergeant, the New York Times reported Tuesday. “Her graduation is almost guaranteed, officials said, although occasionally soldiers have failed the course this late in the training or withdrawn because of injuries.”
What's more, "The soldier is one of only a handful of women who have passed the initial 24-day assessment program that acts as a screening process before the qualification course... At least one other woman, a medical sergeant, also is in the qualification course."
And for the record, the Times writes that “More than a dozen women have graduated from the Army’s arduous Ranger school, including Capt. Kristen M. Griest, who became the Army’s first female infantry officer in 2016.” Continue reading, here.

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