The pandemic is accelerating; CENTCOM on bounties; FBI: China wants to be the lone superpower; Esper’s 1-year mark; And a bit more.

More than 131,000 Americans have died from coronavirus complications, according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracker. And the epidemic is accelerating in the United States, with a record 60,000-plus infections discovered on Tuesday — many of them in the three most populous states: California, Texas and Florida. 

By comparison, the April “peak” that led to a countrywide shutdown topped out around 32,000 new cases and 2,200 deaths per day. Currently, the 7-day rolling average for deaths is around 550, and has been rising for three days.

The U.S. is formally withdrawing from the World Health Organization. The long-teased move won’t be official until next July, and follows weeks of allegations from President Trump that the WHO has a pro-China bias. 

For the record, “The U.S. is the single largest donor to the WHO, giving about $450 million a year,” the Wall Street Journal reports

WHO latest: The coronavirus “outbreak is clearly accelerating and we haven’t reached the peak,” Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday. As the Journal writes, “more than 400,000 new cases of coronavirus had been recorded globally over the past weekend, a number that had taken 12 weeks to reach at the beginning of the outbreak.”

Also: WHO will take a closer look at evidence that the virus can travel by air, and not just by sneezed-out droplets, after more than 200 scientists wrote a letter noting, among other things, an April paper from the National Institutes of Health titled “Airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2: The world should face the reality.” More on that from the New York Times, here.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday. And today the Associated Press reports he says he’s going to beat the infection with hydroxychloroquine. 

Russia dug a trench around an infected city in Siberia to keep people from driving in or out, Reuters reports

From Defense One

Does the Pentagon Understand What a Navy Is For? // Sam J. Tangredi: Fleet-force planning has been seized by a Joint Staff and Defense Secretary who put budget-slicing before strategy.

Democrats, Be Bold on National Security // Joe Cirincione and Erica Fein: Even before the pandemic, it was clear that more money didn’t mean more real security.

The NDAA Should Prompt a Rethinking of Costly U.S. Foreign Policy // Daniel DePetris: The annual defense authorization bill offers a chance to end wars and programs that are not worth their price.

Why China Wants Trump to Win // Michael Schuman, The Atlantic: Four more years might present tantalizing opportunities for Beijing to expand its influence around East Asia and the world.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with 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 1994, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Il-sung died of a heart attack at the age of 82, ending 45 years of rule and leaving his 53-year-old son, Kim Jong-il, in control.

A Taliban suicide bomber detonated his truck outside of a governor’s compound in southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar province today about an hour before sunrise.
"Three members of the security forces were killed and 14 people wounded, including civilians, in the attack in the Sha
Wali Kot district," Reuters reports, adding, "the police headquarters and governor’s compound suffered severe damage."
And as before, the date for possible Kabul-Taliban peace talks is unclear. Especially since, “Disagreement over a release of prisoners - with Kabul refusing to free 600 of the 5,000 Taliban it holds - is proving to be one of the last major hurdles to the start of full peace negotiations in the Qatari capital Doha,” Reuters writes. 

CENTCOM’s Gen. Frank McKenzie isn’t convinced alleged Russian bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan actually led to the death of American service members, AP’s Lita Baldor reported. “I found it very worrisome. I didn’t find that there was a causative link there,” he said.
“We should always remember, the Russians are not our friends,” he said while reportedly traveling around the Middle East on Tuesday. “They are not our friends in Afghanistan. And they do not wish us well, and we just need to remember that at all times when we evaluate that intelligence.” Tiny bit more, here

After one year as SecDef, Dr. Mark Esper says he’s doing a pretty good job. The Defense Department posted last night a summary of Esper's accomplishments to date — beginning with a meeting in July 2019 between Esper and DoD civilian and military leaders. They all met one year ago to develop plans to: 1) improve the force’s lethality and readiness; 2) strengthen allies and build partners; and 3) increase efficiency and accountability. “We created a list of ten targeted goals," Esper says in that DoD release, "each with sub tasks, and we set out to accomplish most of these by the end of 2020. They are as follows:

  • Review, update, and approve all China and Russia plans;
  • Implement the Immediate Response Force, Contingency Response Force, and Dynamic Force Employment enhanced readiness concepts;
  • Reallocate, reassign, and redeploy forces in accordance with the NDS;
  • Achieve a higher level of sustainable readiness;
  • Develop a coordinated plan to strengthen allies and build partners;
  • Reform and manage the 4th Estate and DOD;
  • Focus the Department on China;
  • Modernize the force—invest in game changing technologies;
  • Establish realistic joint war games, exercises, and training plans; and,
  • Develop a modern joint warfighting concept, and ultimately, doctrine.

Esper: “I am proud to report that we’ve made real progress on these goals, with most on track to be accomplished on time.” He limns this progress in a press release, here.

China wants to become the "world's only superpower,” according to FBI Director Christopher Wray. Those remarks came during a nearly hour-long speech and interview with the Hudson Institute’s Walter Russell Mead. The FBI released a transcript of his prepared remarks on Tuesday, and you can read over those, here. Some additional highlights include:

  • “We’ve now reached the point where the FBI is opening a new China-related counterintelligence case about every 10 hours. Of the nearly 5,000 active FBI counterintelligence cases currently underway across the country, almost half are related to China.”
  • “China is engaged in a whole-of-state effort to become the world’s only superpower by any means necessary.”
  • “China—the Chinese Communist Party—believes it is in a generational fight to surpass our country in economic and technological leadership.”
  • Economic espionage "cases were among more than a thousand investigations the FBI has into China’s actual and attempted theft of American technology—which is to say nothing of over a thousand more ongoing counterintelligence investigations of other kinds related to China. We’re conducting these kinds of investigations in all 56 of our field offices. And over the past decade, we’ve seen economic espionage cases with a link to China increase by approximately 1,300 percent."
  • “China doesn’t hesitate to use smoke, mirrors, and misdirection to influence Americans.” Read the full transcript, here.

Lastly today: The results from an audit of hate speech, misinformation and bias on Facebook are finally in (PDF). And it’s pretty bad for Facebook Inc. Background: “Facebook commissioned the audit in 2018 as part of its response to a range of criticism over issues such as data privacy, voter suppression, incitement of violence and a lack of transparency in political advertising,” Reuters reports, noting, “The audit was led by Laura Murphy, a former director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s legislative office.”
In short, “the report faulted Facebook for not investing more in fighting organized hate against Muslims and Jews, inadequately policing political speech, and failing to root out many strains of white nationalist activity,” the Wall Street Journal reported off the findings, which were released publicly this morning.
‘Does Facebook even care?’ The authors very nearly asked, writing, “The Auditors do not believe that Facebook is sufficiently attuned to the depth of concern on the issue of polarization and the way that the algorithms used by Facebook inadvertently fuel extreme and polarizing content.”
Said Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg in a statement: “As hard as it has been to have our shortcomings exposed by experts, it has undoubtedly been a really important process for our company. We would urge companies in our industry and beyond to do the same.”
Some important context: “More than 900 companies have joined an advertising boycott of Facebook to protest its handling of hate speech and misinformation,” AP reminds us.