Today's D Brief: 157,000 Americans have died from COVID; Port explosion ravages Beirut; Army plans laser battalion; Trump’s vote-by-mail reversal; And a bit more.

More than 157,000 Americans have now died from the coronavirus, according to the New York Times. And the Associated Press reports today that the summer’s "surge in infections, hospitalizations and deaths" suggests President Donald Trump is “increasingly out of step with the federal government’s own medical and public health experts.” Of course, that’s not exactly news

Update: 174,000 Americans could be dead from the virus by August 22, according to the latest composite forecast from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which AP reports “projects an average of nearly 1,000 deaths per day through Aug. 22.” (Worldwide, more than 700,000 people have died from the virus.)

South Texas is getting hit particularly hard, with Hidalgo County registering 600 deaths in July. Houston is five times larger and had fewer deaths in July. AP has more from Rio Grande City, Texas, here.  

About 30,000 National Guardsmen are still deployed in support of coronavirus response efforts, Military Times’ Leo Shane III reported Tuesday. (Politico puts that number closer to 25,000.) They are all federally authorized through August 21. At that point, nearly every state will have to put in 25% of the costs to support the National Guard in their state, the White House announced Monday evening — with no mention of two key Republican states. 

Texas and Florida are exempt from that 25% cost sharing. “While all other states and territories will have to shell out millions to cover 25 percent of their National Guard costs starting later this month, Texas and Florida will be fully covered,” Politico reported Tuesday. 

Why those two? While both “are struggling to contain the coronavirus surges,” Politico points out that “other states are worse off by several metrics — including total Covid-19 cases and the percentage of people testing positive.” 

Neither the White House nor the Pentagon would explain the disparity; but a nameless White House official told Politico the Texas and Florida exceptions are “common sense.” National Guard Association officials said "they know of no other time states were asked to pick up part of the tab for a mission like this." More to all that, here.

What about Bob? Robert O’Brien, Trump’s national security adviser, is back at work after a mild case of COVID-19, Politico reports.

From Defense One

Trump: U.S. To Withdraw 4K Troops From Afghanistan By Election // Katie Bo Williams: “It’s already planned,” the president said in an interview with Axios.

US Missile Defenses Are About to Level Up // Patrick Tucker: Pentagon officials announce laser-armed Strykers, new Eastern European batteries, and sea-based interceptors are all coming in the next two years.

NATO Needs to Focus on the Black Sea  // Robert E. Hamilton: William of Ockham would like a word with those who worry more about a potential Russian invasion of the Baltics than ongoing interventions in the Balkans.

The Coronavirus Is Never Going Away // Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic: No matter what happens now, the virus will continue to circulate around the world.

Welcome to this Wednesday 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 1816, the British Admiralty rejected Francis Ronalds’ new electric telegraph, insisting their new French semaphore system was sufficient.

Election security: Trump reverses stance on vote-by-mail — for one GOP-led state. Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, the president has been pushing the notion that absentee and mail-in voting invites corruption. On Tuesday, however, Trump said these forms of voting are safe in Florida because the governor is a Republican.
Related: The top seller of voting machines in America is raising the hood, as it were, for the first time to “unveil the company’s outreach effort to security researchers at the annual Black Hat hacker convention that is taking place virtually this year,” the Wall Street Journal reports. The gesture “follows the Department of Homeland Security last week urging increased cooperation between security researchers, election officials and vendors as it released guidance for election administrators on coordinating to address security vulnerabilities” — not to mention years of reporting on those vulnerabilities. Story here

For six years, 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate was kept at a port in Beirut without proper safety measures. Then it all went up in a massive explosion on Tuesday, killing at least 100 people and wounding more than 4,000 others. “The intensity of the blast threw victims into the sea where rescue teams tried to recover bodies,” according to Reuters. “Many of those killed were port and custom employees and people working in the area or driving through during the Tuesday evening rush hour.” More on the source of that ammonium nitrate, also via Reuters, here.
Read more: A “Russian floating bomb is how The Daily Beast described the ship whose contents ignited so violently on Tuesday. That’s because the ammonium nitrate came from a Russian-owned cargo ship flagged in Moldova. 

The NSA has some tech advice for the U.S. military: Disable location-sharing services on your mobile devices. “The NSA also recommends limiting mobile web browsing, adjusting browser options to not allow the use of location data, and switching off settings that help track a misplaced or stolen phone,” the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
What’s more, “The agency’s warning extended beyond phones, noting that fitness trackers, smartwatches, internet-connected medical devices, other smart-home devices and modern automobiles all contain location-tracking potential. That data is used by commercial entities for targeted advertising, marketing research and investment decisions. But governments world-wide, including the U.S. government, are increasingly interested in collecting commercial information harvested from cellphones to do surveillance and track criminal suspects.”

Happening today: SecDef Esper is scheduled to deliver remarks for the digital Aspen Security Forum at 1:30 p.m. ET. More here.