Today's D Brief: Soviet-era poison for Putin critic; Trump urges vote fraud; Fighting megafires; A missing COVID-test strategy; And a bit more.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent, the German government announced Wednesday, which is about 10 days after he arrived in Berlin for additional medical attention. “Tests conducted at a German military lab had proven beyond doubt that a variant of Novichok, a banned military-grade nerve agent and one of the world’s deadliest poisons, was used on Mr. Navalny,” the Wall Street Journal reports, citing remarks Wednesday from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Background: “Navalny, the fiercest critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, fell ill on a flight to Moscow from Tomsk in Siberia on Aug. 20, and aides said they were sure that he had been poisoned,” the Washington Post reminds us. “Navalny was flown to Charité hospital in Berlin two days later, with his family and aides accusing Russian doctors of blocking his transfer for 48 hours. He remains at Charité in a medically induced coma.”

FWIW: “Moscow has denied involvement in the matter,” Reuters reports.

President Trump’s National Security Council condemned the apparent poisoning, calling the act “completely reprehensible” and that the U.S. would work to hold “those in Russia accountable.” (As of press time Thursday morning, Trump himself has yet to make any remarks about Navalny’s case. More on that silence from CNN, here.)

Here’s the full statement from NSC Spokesman John Ullyot: “The United States is deeply troubled by the results released today. Alexei Navalny’s poisoning is completely reprehensible. Russia has used the chemical nerve agent Novichok in the past. We will work with allies and the international community to hold those in Russia accountable, wherever the evidence leads, and restrict funds for their malign activities. The Russian people have a right to express their views peacefully without fear of retribution of any kind, and certainly not with chemical agents.”

NATO’s SecGen Stoltenberg tweeted: “I utterly condemn the use of a military-grade nerve agent, which makes it even more urgent that Russia conducts full & transparent investigation. We’ll consult with Germany & all #NATO Allies on the implications.”

“There are very difficult questions that only the Russian government can and must answer,” German Chancellor Merkel said. “The world expects answers. The crime against Alexei Navalny goes against the common values and fundamental rights that we all stand for.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson: “It’s outrageous that a chemical weapon was used against Alexey Navalny. We have seen first-hand the deadly consequences of Novichok in the UK. The Russian government must now explain what happened to Mr Navalny – we will work with international partners to ensure justice is done.”

From Defense One

America Has No Coherent Strategy for Asymptomatic Testing // Caroline Chen, ProPublica: The federal guidance to not test asymptomatic carriers "is like saying we won’t fight the fire until it reaches the second floor.”

USAF Seeks Better Ways to Process Electronic Intelligence // Mila Jasper, Nextgov: The Air Force Research Lab is looking for white papers outlining new technologies and methodologies for signal processing.

Microscopes Powered by Google’s AI Could Change Cancer Diagnostics // Patrick Tucker: A DoD pilot program could help make artificial intelligence useful not just to researchers but to physicians.

We Know How to Prevent Megafires. We’re Just Not Doing It / Elizabeth Weil: This week has seen the 2nd- and 3rd-largest California wildfires ever. There’s near-total scientific consensus on how to stop the next one.

Honor World War II with a Better, Shared Future // Anatoly Antonov and Cui Tiankai: We believe that the best way to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the peace is to join hands.

Welcome to this Thursday 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 three years ago, North Korea detonated a thermonuclear bomb in its sixth, most powerful and most recent nuclear test.

More than 185,000 Americans have died from coronavirus complications, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University’s tracker. 

  • That’s more than three times the number of troops killed in America’s Vietnam war, according to statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

More than 50,000 people across the Middle East have died from the virus so far, AP reports from Dubai — noting that figure is likely much higher.
And now a seventh U.S. service member has died from the virus, Military Times reports, noting additionally that “There have also been 50 civilian deaths, seven dependent deaths and 20 contractor deaths due to COVID-19.” A tiny bit more, here.
New: 45% of DOD's listed 231 installations have now lifted coronavirus travel restrictions, according to the latest updated guidance (PDF) from the Pentagon, posted Wednesday.

The final day of SecDef Esper’s trip to the Pacific featured a WWII commemoration aboard the battleship Missouri in Honolulu. Military Times’ Meghann Myers tagged along and filed this Wednesday report on Esper’s keynote speech (implicitly aimed at China) and a later Zoom call with veterans to mark the 75th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in 1945.

President Donald Trump encouraged voter fraud on Wednesday, telling voters in North Carolina to vote by mail and in-person in order to test the system. And yes, that would be the same U.S. president who has spent the last several weeks warning — without evidence — that mail-in voting is rife with fraud and cannot be trusted. His new vote-twice advice came during a campaign stop in the southeastern battleground state that’s home to more than half a dozen military bases.
Let us all be clear: “It is illegal to vote more than once in an election,” NBC News reported after the president’s remarks in Wilmington, N.C.
Here’s Reuters’ headline:Trump suggests voting twice in North Carolina, which is illegal
What prompted the unlawful suggestion: Trump was asked whether he is confident in North Carolina’s mail-in system. He answered, “So let them send it in and let them go vote, and if their system's as good as they say it is, then obviously they won't be able to vote. If it isn't tabulated, they'll be able to vote. If it's as good as they say it is, then obviously they won't be able to vote.”
FWIW: Trump said something similar about voting twice in late October 2016.
“Multiple studies have debunked the notion of pervasive voter fraud in general and in the vote-by-mail process,” the Associated Press reports, rebutting what the country’s top law enforcement official told a major news network on the same day as Trump’s most recent vote-twice advice. “Elections that have been held with mail have found substantial fraud and coercion,” Attorney General William Barr told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday. But Barr “omitted necessary context,” AP writes, “and states that rely on the process say there is little evidence of such activity.” Read on, here.

Facebook wants to minimize the chances a candidate will declare early victory in this year’s election by implementing a few new changes to its platform, the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement Thursday morning.
Why? “[W]ith our nation so divided and election results potentially taking days or even weeks to be finalized, there could be an increased risk of civil unrest across the country,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post.
The changes include: 

  • not “accept[ing] new political ads in the week before the election”;
  • promising to “remove posts that claim that people will get COVID-19 if they take part in voting”; 
  • and “attach[ing] an informational label to content that seeks to delegitimize the outcome of the election or discuss the legitimacy of voting methods, for example, by claiming that lawful methods of voting will lead to fraud.” Read more, here.

BTW: This week Facebook deleted a post from Louisiana GOP Rep. Clay Higgins for inciting violence. In it, Rep. Higgins — who is a former police officer — threatened to shoot armed protesters in a message accompanied by a photo of black men with guns. “I’d drop any 10 of you,” Higgins wrote in his now-deleted post on Tuesday. “Nothing personal. We just eliminate the threat. We don't care what color you are. We don't care if you're left or right. if you show up like this, if We recognize [a] won't walk away.”
Higgins broke Facebook’s "Violence and Incitement" policies, the company told the Baton Rouge Advocate. A bit more on that episode, here.

The NSA’s massive U.S. surveillance program unveiled by Edward Snowden was declared unlawful by an appeals court on Wednesday. And not only that, but “U.S. intelligence leaders who publicly defended it were not telling the truth,” Reuters reported off the high-profile, 59-page decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
However, the ruling “will not have much immediate effect on the program it criticizes,” the Washington Post reports, “because that record-gathering effort ended in 2015, replaced by a different method for searching phone records that was also eventually shut down.”
Worth noting: “the case may not be over yet,” Politico reports. That’s because “Any of the defendants or the government could seek review from a larger, 11-judge en banc court. A Supreme Court petition is also possible.” Read on, here

A Trump-appointed USAID official wants more funding “to defend Christian minorities while shortchanging initiatives designed to help countries such as Bosnia and Ukraine survive transitions to democracy,” Foreign Policy reported Wednesday.
Why this matters: “The effort—if successful—would mark a dramatic shift in priorities for USAID’s new Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Stabilization, launched last year to promote peace building and conflict prevention in countries undergoing political transition.” Story, here.

Lastly today: QAnon is something of a historical echo, writes Vanderbilt University Assistant Professor of Anthropology Sophie Bjork-James in The Conversation. “In the 1820s, an anti-Masonic conspiracy theory dominated [U.S.] politics in the Northeast. It even birthed a political party, the Anti-Masonic Party, which ended up holding its own presidential convention and nominating the United States’ first third-party candidate.” More to that bit of American political trivia, here.
ICYMI: U. of Illinois professor Nicholas Grossman argues that the Q conspiracy theory is becoming a real threat.