Covid in the White House; Riots and car attacks across America; Trump eases US drone restrictions; Ceasefire day in Ukraine; And a bit more.

BREAKING: National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien has tested positive for the coronavirus, Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs first reported this morning. “He has mild symptoms and has been self-isolating and working from a secure location off site,” the White House said in a statement. “There is no risk of exposure to the President or the Vice President. The work of the National Security Council continues uninterrupted.”

He left work Thursday. His staff were not informed. “No email was sent out informing NSC staff that their boss, Robert O'Brien, had tested positive for coronavirus. He abruptly left the office last Thursday. Some found out from press reports,” tweets CNN’s Kaitlin Collins. 

O’Brien met with European officials two weeks ago — including French, German, Italian and British allies — and photos from the trip show O’Brien without a mask and not social distancing, CNN’s Manu Raju tweeted this morning (w links to the pics). 

O’Brien’s positive test “comes as Mr. Trump has begun to pivot toward a more cautious posture with the pandemic, saying last week that ‘it will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better,’” the Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold reports.

From Defense One

There’s a Bigger Threat Than Big Tech. It’s Big China // Emily de La Bruyère, Nathan Picarsic: As lawmakers grill U.S. technology CEOs, they should ask not just about their near-monopoly power today, but also about staving off Chinese dominance tomorrow.

Trump Eases Restrictions On Armed Drone Sales Abroad // Marcus Weisgerber, Patrick Tucker: US says changes needed to compete with China, but critics say it may only alienate allies.

The November Election Is Going to Be a Mess // Norm Ornstein: Disaster is avoidable—if lawmakers act now.

Trump Is Putting On a Show in Portland // Anne Applebaum: The president is deploying the kind of performative authoritarianism that Vladimir Putin pioneered.

Why Isn’t the US Compensating Families Torn Apart By Its Air Strikes? // Daphne Eviatar: The military’s first report on ex gratia payments reveals a dangerous stinginess.

Justice Official Explains Why Law Enforcement is Worried about 5G // Mariam Baksh: As the government works to deploy next generation networking technology, policy discussions highlight rifts between agency stakeholders.

Trump Is Determined to Split the Country in Two // Ronald Brownstein: He’s trying to rally red America by portraying blue cities as a threat, and then positioning himself as the human wall against them.

America’s Innovation Engine Is Slowing // Caleb Watney: Universities are in trouble and the influx of brainpower from overseas is shrinking. The long-term consequences could be disastrous.

It’s 99 days until the U.S. election. Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Kevin Baron. 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 1789, the U.S. established its Department of Foreign Affairs — later renamed the Department of State.

Security forces faced off against protesters and ‘riots’ turned deadly across America this weekend, by guns and cars driving into crowds. Associated Press reports today “A protest against police violence in Austin, Texas, turned deadly when police said a protester was shot and killed by a person who drove through a crowd of marchers. And someone was shot and wounded in Aurora, Colorado, after a car drove through a protest there.”
Seattle police declared a riot Saturday and retreated to a precinct early the next morning, “near where weeks earlier people had set up an ‘occupied protest zone’ that stretched for several blocks,” AP also reported. Most of the protesters cleared out a short time later early that morning. Seattle police said Sunday they arrested 45 protesters "for assaults on officers, obstruction and failure to disperse. Twenty-one officers were hurt, with most of their injuries considered minor," according to Seattle police Chief Carmen Best.
Portland police declared a riot early Sunday and begged for peace, after protesters breached a fence around the courthouse.
“If you want to support Portland then stop the violence, work for peace,” said Portland’s police chief Chuck Lovell, in a video message to the public on Saturday night. “Portland police officers and police facilities have been threatened. Now more than ever, Portland police need your support. We want to be with you in the community and working on the real relationships that will create change. We want to get back to the critical issues that have been hijacked by people committing crimes under the cover of the crowds.”
Federal forces are “performative” — and they're only making things worse, argues the Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum in this commentary on Defense One. “The administration’s behavior makes no sense as law enforcement, [but] it makes perfect sense as a new kind of campaign tactic,” she writes. “The purpose of these troops is not to bring peace to Portland. The purpose is to transmit a message.”
One protester was shot and killed by a car attacker in Austin, when someone drove through a march against police violence and fired a weapon Saturday night. According to the New York Times, “The police and witnesses said the man in the car turned it aggressively toward the marchers, and [the now-deceased 28-year-old Garrett Foster] then approached it. The driver opened fire, shooting Mr. Foster three times. He was rushed to a hospital and was later pronounced dead.”
...and the crowd fired back. According to Austin’s police chief, Brian Manley, “as the motorist turned, a crowd of protesters surrounded the vehicle, and some struck the car. The driver, whose name has not been released, then opened fire from inside the car as Mr. Foster approached.” He added, “Another person in the crowd pulled out a handgun and shot at the vehicle as it sped away.”
ICYMI: There were 66 vehicle-ramming attacks across the country in the nearly six weeks immediately after the police killing of George Floyd in late May. The New York Times reported that eye-opening stat on July 7. It’s a tactic that began in the West Bank and was employed by Hamas about a decade ago. ISIS followers picked it up later, terrorism scholar Mia Bloom wrote in Just Security on July 16.
Protests took a destructive turn across multiple other U.S. cities this weekend, too — including Richmond, Va., Oakland, Calif., and Atlanta. More from AP, here.

America recorded its second highest day of new coronavirus cases on Friday, with 73,400 newly-infected residents. Florida continues to take it on the chin. “On average, Florida has added more than 10,000 cases a day in July while California has been adding 8,300 cases a day and New York has been adding 700 cases,” Reuters reports today.
Masks still optional in Fla.: “The surge in Florida has continued as the state’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has repeatedly said he will not make mask-wearing mandatory and that schools must reopen in August. On the contrary, New York state has managed to get the virus under control, with stores and restaurants shuttered and the wearing of masks mandatory.”
And Starr County, Texas, is now “forming ethics committees to help determine which patients should be treated and which should be sent home to die instead,” the New York Times reported Friday.
Big picture, presently: “More than 146,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 - nearly a quarter of the global total — and there are nearly 4.2 million confirmed cases in the country, or at least 1 in 79 people have been infected,” Reuters writes.
Take a short trip inside the U.S. Navy’s base in Bahrain, which Reuters toured recently to find out how the service is working to protect its personnel from the coronavirus. 

Today: Aussies at the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Mark Esper welcomes his Australian counterpart, Defense Minister Linda Reynolds, at 4 p.m. ET today. 

Mustache alert! U.S. Amb. Harry Harris shaved off his world-famous one this weekend...but why? The former admiral said the facial hair was hot and uncomfortable in a facemask (which Kevin Baron confirms is true.)  Apparently, it also “became a source of criticism from some politicians and anti-U.S. activists who compared it with those of Japanese officials during their 1910-45 colonial rule,” Reuters reports. “The controversy came as the allies have been at odds over a raft of issues in recent years, including South Korea’s desire to restart inter-Korean economic cooperation. Relations between North and South Korea have been dogged by stalled nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang, as well as by international sanctions imposed over the North’s weapons programmes.” A bit more, here

And finally: Ceasefire in Ukraine day is tomorrow. A “full and comprehensive ceasefire” is scheduled to take effect across the troubled eastern part of the country, Reuters reports from Kyiv.
It’s set for just after midnight local, “just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, discussed the conflict in eastern Ukraine,” RFE/RL reports today.
Background: "Germany and France have mediated between Ukraine and Russia since a peace agreement was signed in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, in 2015, but efforts at implementation have faltered. The leaders of the four countries met at a summit in Paris in December 2019 to revive the peace process, leading to Kyiv and Russia-backed separatists in the east of Ukraine conducting a series of prisoner exchanges."=
If the ceasefire holds,
which is a big if, RFE/RL reports the following priorities would still need to be worked out, presumably between Ukraine and Russia: 

  • “a timeline for local elections” 
  • determining who has “control over borders in the separatist-controlled regions,” 
  • coordinating “the withdrawal of Russian military units and equipment,”
  • and somehow disarming separatist groups. More here