World sees record COVID jump; DoD sets base-reopening rules; Shooter at Texas naval base; US drops airborne-laser research; And a bit more.
The world just saw its biggest single-day increase in coronavirus cases. 106,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the 24 hours ending Wednesday morning, WHO officials said.
WHO’s current worry is “the rising number of new coronavirus cases in poor countries, even as many rich nations have begun emerging from lockdown,” Reuters reports.
There's also a new outbreak in China's northeastern Jilin City, which "has prompted authorities to lock down the area and replace some officials," the Wall Street Journal reports today. “Residents in some parts of Jilin province are being ordered to stay home, and traffic into and out of some localities is being curtailed in an effort to prevent the virus that causes Covid-19 from spreading.”
Back stateside, U.S. military base commanders told "to begin planning to return to normal operations in the COVID environment," according to a memo sent by Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday.
Commanders must weigh "guidance from the CDC; collaboration with state, territorial and local health authorities; and advice from the command Public Health Emergency Officer and local Military Treatment Facility," which includes base clinics and hospitals.
And before relaxing restrictions, bases must see a 14-day "downward trajectory” of:
- reported cases of influenza-like and COVID-like illnesses and
- COVID-19 cases or of positive tests as a percent of total tests.
Commanders also have to certify that they have an adequate way to test “at-risk healthcare workers and those exhibiting symptoms,” and that military or local hospitals can treat patients.
Now more than one in every five Americans are unemployed, ABC News reports today off the latest jobless claims data, which brings the tracked total to nearly 39 million Americans who have filed unemployment claims since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic in March.
However, the true number is likely much higher, the Wall Street Journal reports, since “Hundreds of thousands of self-employed and gig-economy workers are receiving unemployment benefits for the first time through a temporary coronavirus-related program, but those claims aren’t reflected in overall totals.” (The Associated Press reports the self-employed numbers total 2.2 million people.)
What’s more, the U.S. economy is shrinking at a 38% annual rate for the current April-June quarter. “That would be by far the worst quarterly contraction on record,” according to AP. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Sunday the unemployment rate could peak as late as June and come in as high as 25%. More here.
Here’s a curious fact: Coronavirus death rates “in Democratic areas are triple those in Republican ones,” with the former registering 39 coronavirus deaths per 100,000 residents, and the latter 13 deaths for every 100,000 people, according to Reuters this morning. More on what may help explain some of the partisan divide over reopening, here.
From Defense One
It’s Only Going to Get Harder to Recruit and Retain Troops in a Post-Pandemic World // Emma Moore and Capt. Mike Martinez, USN: The Pentagon needs to accelerate its transition from industrial-age to information-age personnel policies.
DOD’s Top Scientist Shoots Down Airborne Lasers for Missile Defense // Patrick Tucker: What’s needed, Griffin says, is more research into how to use weapons of various strengths in other kinds of combat.
China is a Serious Issue, Not a Campaign Meme // Kevin Baron: 'Beijing Biden' is a baseless political smear, trivializing one of America’s most complicated challenges.
Pompeo Defends Firing Of State IG // Katie Bo Williams: Charges that the dismissal was retaliatory are “patently false,” he says.
What Google’s New Contract Reveals About the Pentagon’s Evolving Clouds // Patrick Tucker: For one thing, it disproves fears that the massive JEDI contract meant one company would get all the work.
The Pentagon's $800M Effort to Embed AI In Decisions in 'All Tiers' // Aaron Boyd, Nextgov: That's the goal of a five-year task order from the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center to Booz Allen Hamilton.
Welcome to this Thursday 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 1946, a second Western scientist — 35-year-old physicist Louis Slotin — was killed by radiation from the “demon core” at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Alex Wellerstein recounted the day, writing in The New Yorker back in 2016, here.
An active shooter was “neutralized” this morning at the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station in Texas, the U.S. Navy announced today on Facebook and Twitter. One person was injured in the encounter, which Reuters summarizes, here.
Here's the latest on America’s increasingly desperate diplomacy in Afghanistan. U.S. Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted Wednesday evening that he finally met with President Ashraf Ghani and his now-former rival, Abdullah Abdullah. Abdullah — previously the country’s CEO, a position created after the previous election — currently has the title of “Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation,” a title recently bestowed upon him after months of refusing to accept defeat in the most recent Afghan election.
Khalilzad said he met both Ghani and Abdullah “together and separately [Wednesday] in Kabul,” and said everybody agreed violence should be reduced — but he stopped short of saying violence would be reduced. Khalizad also wants Kabul to release more Taliban prisoners so that “intra-Afghan negotiations” can begin, per that Feb. 28 deal the U.S. signed with the Taliban (but not with Afghan officials) in Qatar.
BTW: SecState Pompeo appears to have been bluffing about withholding a billion dollars in U.S. aid to Afghanistan, Reuters reported Wednesday, citing five sources “familiar with the matter.” Pompeo made the vow on March 23, saying the money would be cut “immediately” in large part because Abdullah was at the time refusing to stop operating his own parallel government alongside Ghani. More from Reuters, here.
Spotted on TikTok: Taliban rockets being shot down in Afghanistan by a C-RAM system (date unknown; but the video was posted on Monday). Observe (reposted to Twitter), here.
Gen. Haftar is pulling back from his Russia-, Egypt- and UAE-backed offensive on Tripoli, Reuters reported Wednesday. “The decision to withdraw follows a series of military setbacks that underscore the shifting dynamics of the conflict since Turkey intervened in January to help the U.N.-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) stave off Haftar’s assault.”
Worth noting: a GNA spox alleged “six Russian-supplied air defence systems [were] destroyed on Wednesday alone,”
Haftar is far from finished, though. He still “holds all of eastern Libya and much of the south, including most oil facilities.”
Not that that stopped Turkey’s defense minister from bragging on Wednesday, “the balance in Libya changed significantly.” More here.
President Trump will reportedly withdraw from the Open Skies treaty, according to the New York Times, citing unnamed “senior administration officials” who say the official announcement will arrive Friday. The agreement allows its signatories — 34 countries, but most pertinently the United States and Russia — to fly reconnaissance aircraft over each others’ territory to look for signs of military activity.
In recent years, Russia has upgraded the sensors on its Open Skies planes, while the Pentagon has not. Michael Krepon, among others, has argued that that’s no reason to abandon a pact that has measurably increased American security.
The move is the latest hint that Trump will not move to renew New START, the last remaining agreement limiting U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons.
This week in cyber actors’ TTPs: “Infamous surveillance firm NSO Group created a domain that looked like it belonged to Facebook's security team, in order to entice targets to click on links that would install the company's phone hacking tech,” Vice Motherboard reported Wednesday.
By the way, just to make you even more uneasy: “NSO sells [its phone hacking software] in either 0- or 1-click versions, with the former needing no interaction from the target, and the latter requiring the target to click a link.” Continue reading, (we promise it’s an OK link), here.
And finally today: Motorcycles and tequila are the pull in this Task & Purpose microprofile of former Navy SEAL Louis Bremer, who “could become the Pentagon's first permanent top civilian overseeing special operations since June.” Bremer was officially nominated for the position on May 4.
However: “A former Pentagon official told Task & Purpose that Bremer’s experience is very limited, especially considering Bremer left the Navy before the Afghanistan and Iraq wars started. Moreover, the job for which Bremer has been nominated covers much more than just special operations,” to include “humanitarian missions, detainee issues, United Nations peacekeeping missions, and other matters for which Bremer has few qualifications.” Read on, here. Or find a bit more about Bremer at Defense News, here; and from Politico back in September, here.