Today's D Brief: China’s growing power; Russia’s Facebook infowar; Fort Hood shakeup; New Zealand under cyber attack; And a bit more.

Afghan authorities just released about 200 more Taliban prisoners in the hope of jumpstarting the lagging intra-Afghan peace talks with the Taliban, Reuters reports. “Two officials said the releases from the main jail in the capital Kabul took place on Monday and Tuesday, at the same time that the Taliban freed six Afghan special forces.”

That leaves about 120 so-called "hardcore" Taliban whom the group wants released before entering into talks with Kabul officials. The problem, as before, remains that some "Western governments,” including Australia, “have objected to releasing” those last 120 Taliban.

Meanwhile a team of negotiators from Kabul is reportedly packing today for a Thursday flight to Qatar, which was the venue for previous Afghan talks, including the U.S.-brokered deal in late February. However, no one knows when exactly the next round of talks will even happen. More on all that from Reuters, here.

China’s growing military: The Pentagon’s latest annual assessment of Chinese military power says the country is set to double its nuclear stockpile over the next decade, operates the world’s largest Navy, is surging its space capabilities, and embedding artificial intelligence across everything that it does. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker examines several key trends highlighted in the 2020 China Military Power report: expanding naval power, the movement toward a more integrated joint force, and an embrace of AI and other emerging information technologies.

Nukes: Released Tuesday, the report presents DoD’s assessement that China will “at least double” its nuclear stockpile to about 400 warheads and is strengthening its nuclear deterrence. Read on, here.

From Defense One

China Rapidly Increasing Nuclear, Naval, and Next Gen Tech, Pentagon Warns // Patrick Tucker: Under Xi, the PLA is preparing for modern, networked warfare with more artificial intelligence, warships, and even a space station.

Fear of a Black General?  // James Joyner: The case of one superstar colonel doesn’t prove anything about the Marines. But the larger pattern is worrisome.

Trump's Halt to Election-Security Briefings Worries Many // Courtney Bublé, Government Executive: DNI Ratcliffe’s edict comes just two months ahead of Election Day, with Russia, China and Iran all intent on influencing the outcome.

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 1958, a U.S. Air Force C-130A was shot down by four Soviet MiG-17s during a recon mission along the Turkish-Armenian border. An NSA remembrance of the incident recalls that “Of all Cold War air incidents involving the Soviets, the shoot down of [this flight] is the most controversial.”

Indiana National Guard soldiers are helping operate a prison near the northern city of Bunker Hill, and they’ve been doing it for about the last two weeks, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. “The Guard members are working in control pods inside the prison and do not have contact with any inmates,” said Miami Correctional Facility spokesman James Frye.
FWIW: “Guard members are also presently stationed at central Indiana’s Pendleton prison and northwestern Indiana’s Westville prison.” More here.
How are the military academies dealing with the pandemic? AP talked to leaders at the three big ones. “If you look at COVID as a threat, it helps you frame it in a way that I think you can then conduct action against it,” said Brig. Gen. Curtis Buzzard, West Point’s commandant. The cadets, he said, are getting lessons in “leading through uncertainty and adversity. I’ve had to do that throughout my career in the Army, particularly in combat, and they’re getting a little dose of it.” Read on, here

Shake-up at Fort Hood in the wake of Vanessa Guillen’s death. The base has a new acting commander, Maj. Gen. John B. Richardson IV, Army officials announced Tuesday. And now “Army Futures Command boss Gen. John Murray will also lead an in-depth investigation into the actions taken by the post’s chain of command following the disappearance of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, a Fort Hood soldier who prosecutors say was murdered in an armory and then dismembered by a fellow soldier,” Military Times reported Tuesday. “The investigation will assess ‘all of the actions taken and every echelon of the command,’ said Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville, who stressed that so far no one has been relieved as part of the leadership change.”
Former base commander Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, "was previously slated to go to Fort Bliss, near El Paso, to take the helm of the 1st Armored Division." Now he'll stay at Hood ostensibly to help returning soldiers integrate back into base life. "The adjustment shouldn’t be read as a punishment, according to the Army chief of staff," Military Times writes. A bit more, here.

Today: The Association of the U.S. Army hosts its fourth discussion on race in the service. And this time the guests include West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams; U.S. Army Cadet Command’s Maj. Gen. John Evans Jr.; and Sgt. Maj. Julie Guerra. It all gets underway at noon ET. Details and registration here.
ICYMI: Watch the prior three discussions on race in the Army at the YouTube links below:

  • Part one, from June 17, featuring Under Secretary of the Army James McPherson and Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Martin;
  • Part two, from June 26, with retired GO's Vincent Brooks, Dennis Via, and Nadja West, as well as retired Command Sgt. Maj. James Sims;
  • And part three, from Monday, featuring Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston.

Meanwhile, over at the Marine Corps: The case of one superstar colonel doesn’t prove anything about why the Corps has never had a Black four-star. But the larger pattern is worrisome, writes James Joyner, professor at the Marine Corps University’s Command and Staff College. He leaps off from a New York Times story about one Col. Anthony Henderson, folds in research from a new RAND report, and makes some recommendations. Read that on Defense One, here.
How is SecDef Esper adjusting his approach to “unconscious bias” across the department? Military Times traveled with the defense secretary to Hawaii recently and filed this

For neo-Nazis, U.S. protests point to “a new and desired phase in the societal collapse they seek to push,” extremist researcher Rita Katz writes in The Daily Beast. The latest twist involves the 17-year-old from Illinois who faces homicide charges across the state line in Kenosha, Wisc. Far-right groups in the U.S. praised the teenager as a “hero” and a “living legend.” Read more behind TDB’s paywall, here.

DHS reportedly balked at circulating a warning about Russian disinformation in the U.S. election. Russian entities are promoting “allegations about the poor mental health” of Joe Biden, but the Department of Homeland Security withheld publication of that intelligence bulletin to U.S. law enforcement agencies in July, ABC News reports, citing “internal emails and a draft of the document.”
According to the draft bulletin that ABC News obtained, U.S. intelligence analysts determined with “high confidence” that “Russian malign influence actors are likely to continue denigrating presidential candidates through allegations of poor mental or physical health to influence the outcome of the 2020 election.”
For the record, a DHS spokesperson told ABC News that the report “failed to meet the agency’s standards,” and that “After briefing the Acting Secretary and he asked questions, [Office of Intelligence and Analysis] career leadership decided to delay the product for further review.”
The big concern among critics is that DHS may be politicizing intelligence, since that Russian approach is also "a line of attack also utilized by both President Donald Trump and his reelection campaign," ABC News reports, “particularly after an announcement over the weekend that senior intelligence leaders will cease congressional election security briefings due to alleged leaks from lawmakers, and will instead provide only written reports.” Continue reading, here.

The White House’s social media director Dan Scavino tweeted a manipulated video of Biden on Sunday; and for the second time this year, Twitter had to place a “manipulated media” label on the tweet. The Washington Post unpacks the latest deliberate deception, here.

BTW: Russian trolls never abandoned Facebook, which is why the firm on Tuesday said it “found and removed about a dozen [new] deceptive campaigns connected to individuals associated with the IRA,” or the Internet Research Agency, which is the Russian group that U.S. authorities say interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
Facebook gave itself props in its statement, which claimed that “Since 2017, we have removed over 100 networks worldwide for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior, including ahead of major democratic elections. The first network we took down was linked to the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA), and so was the 100th we took down in August.”
Worth noting: “This network was in the early stages of building its audience, primarily on the left of the political spectrum, and saw nearly no engagement on Facebook before we removed it,” the company said in its separate, longer report on the matter (PDF).
Posing as news from Romania. Two of these pages taken down in August “create[d] Pages purporting to be news entities to appear more credible… and drive people to their off-platform site masquerading as an independent news outlet based primarily in Romania.” Fortunately, those efforts were allegedly “largely unsuccessful on Facebook, but it tricked unwitting freelance journalists into writing stories on its behalf.”
Some of the topics these Russian trolls emphasized: 

  • social and racial justice in the US and UK;
  • President Trump and his policies; 
  • QAnon; 
  • the Biden-Harris campaign; 
  • NATO and EU politics; 
  • alleged Western war crimes and corruption; 
  • environmental issues; 
  • Wikileaks;
  • the coronavirus pandemic;
  • criticism of fracking; 
  • French influence in Africa;
  • and U.S. military policies in Africa.

One last thing: The FBI kickstarted the investigation that uncovered the new IRA-linked posts when it shared “off-platform activity” with Facebook. Read over the full report, here

New Zealand is facing an “unprecedented” wave of cyber attacks, “targeting everything from the stock market to the weather service,” AP reports from the capital of Wellington.
So-called “distributed denial of service attacks are being routed through thousands of computers,” and some are followed by ransom requests, Justice Minister Andrew Little told AP. “New Zealand’s foreign spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau, is helping with the investigation and working to protect companies targeted in what it says appears to be part of a global campaign.” Read on, here.

Lastly today: Miami-Dade County Public Schools were hit with a cyber attack this week, too, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said Tuesday. The school week began with a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack Monday morning, simultaneously with a software glitch that blocked access to the district’s servers, rendering multiple online school district features useless and teaching nearly impossible,” the Miami Herald reports. Fortunately, the county’s online school operations are back up and running.
“Carvalho said the FBI and Secret Service have been called in and Comcast, the school district’s internet provider, was subpoenaed around 3 p.m. He said he did not know who the perpetrator may be, but vowed to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.” More, including what’s known about that software glitch, here.