Today's D Brief: CDC rebuts WH vaccine promises; Taliban’s insulating wealth; New arms sales to Taiwan?; Allies flock to DOD AI project; And a bit more.

Don’t expect a coronavirus vaccine to be widely available until mid-2021, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told senators Wednesday. “If you're asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public so we can begin to take advantage of [a] vaccine to get back to our regular life,” Redfield said, “I think...late second quarter — third quarter 2021.”

Once obtained, the idea is to start distributing a vaccine to “first responders and those at greatest risk for death, and then eventually that will expand,” Redfield said

That lines up with Dr. Anthony Fauci’s input when he said to CNN on Friday, “It won’t be until we get into 2021 that you’ll have hundreds of millions of [vaccine] doses [widely available in the U.S.],” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told Wolf Blitzer on Sept. 11. “It’s going to take months to get enough people vaccinated to have an umbrella of immunity over the community so that you don’t have to worry about easy transmission.”

President Donald Trump did not like hearing Redfield’s time estimate when asked for his reaction by Fox reporter John Roberts shortly after the Wednesday hearing. “I think [Director Redfield] made a mistake when he said that. It's incorrect information,” Trump said, adding, “when he said it I think he was confused.” 

Then Trump made a fairly big promise about vaccine availability, telling reporters, “we'll be able to distribute at least 100 million vaccine doses by the end of 2020.”

Redfield responded to that on Twitter, writing, “The best defense we currently have against this virus are the important mitigation efforts of wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing and being careful about crowds.”

Biden’s reax: “Let me be clear: I trust vaccines, I trust scientists, but I don't trust Donald Trump. At this moment the American people can't [trust the president] either,” said Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden on Wednesday, via C-SPAN.

The big picture, according to the Washington Post: “If a vaccine is swiftly approved,” and approved before the election, “it could upend the campaign, and both sides are increasingly bracing for how to deal with the political uncertainty of the coming weeks. Still, experts have questioned whether it is realistic for one to become available before the election.”

As for us commoners: “These facemasks are the important, powerful public health tool we have,” Redfield told senators. “I might even go so far as to say that this facemask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.” 

And for those asking, “No one advised the president to downplay this crisis,” Redfield told lawmakers. 

BTW: After one unfortunate, paranoid rant on Sunday, two top HHS aides are stepping aside — one temporarily and another permanently — in “the latest accountability measure for political officials over-stepping,” the Washington Post reported Wednesday.

President Trump will spend the evening in Wisconsin, where he’ll speak at another airport hangar — this time in the city of Mosinee. He was supposed to speak at Bemidji, Minnesota, this evening; but that’s now been pushed to Friday. And that may be just as well; Trump faces a much tighter race in Wisconsin than ABC News poll numbers suggest he faces in Minnesota. 

“One factor in Biden's strength in Minnesota,” ABC reports, is “how much he's trusted to handle the pandemic — 58%-36% over Trump among registered voters, compared with a close 49%-42% in Wisconsin. That gap in Minnesota overwhelms a dead heat in trust on the economy.”

BTW: For the Wisconsin campaign speech this evening, USA Today reports “Attendees must agree to waive the campaign from liability if they are exposed to COVID-19.” The Wall Street Journal reported Friday of these increasingly frequent hangar events that “The Trump campaign defends the rallies, saying that hand sanitizer and masks are regularly provided.”

For the record, of course: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends keeping a distance from others of at least 6 feet, both indoors and outdoors, to reduce the risk of infection,” the Journal notes, adding, “According to the CDC, indoor spaces are more risky than outdoor spaces, where it is harder to keep people apart and there is less ventilation.”

From Defense One

Who is Secretly Building the USAF’s New Fighter? // Marcus Weisgerber: Officials are mum, so here’s a roundup of clues.

Defense Intel Head: We ‘Did What We Were Supposed To’ With COVID Warning // Patrick Tucker: DIA chief hints that the public doesn’t yet know just what the military knew about the coronavirus.

France, Israel, S. Korea, Japan, Others Join Pentagon’s AI Partnership // Patrick Tucker: 13 countries took part in DoD’s two-day dialogue about the future of responsible

The Abraham Accords: Who Benefits? // Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic: From authoritarian leaders to White House aides to the Palestinians, tallying the winners and losers of the new agreement.

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 1787, the U.S. Constitution was signed in Philadelphia. “Every member of the U.S. military swears an oath to support & defend the Constitution & the values embedded within it,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff tweeted this morning. “This document is founded on the essential principle that all men & women are born free & equal and should be treated with respect and dignity. We, in uniform, remain committed to our national values and principles embedded in the Constitution.”

The U.S. is about to offer $7 billion in drones and cruise missiles to Taiwan, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. “A notification to Congress is expected within weeks,” according to Reuters.
Why this matters: “Earlier sales to Taiwan, including tanks, reflected Taipei’s requests but were seen as largely symbolic, since the island nation isn’t likely to engage in a land war with China.” Aircraft and missiles, however, are an almost entirely different consideration.
And this new deal is on top of the $15 billion in arms sales to Taiwan already worked out under Trump, the Journal notes.
Correction: An earlier version of today's The D Brief cited incorrect reporting about a contract awarded on Aug. 14 to Lockheed Martin. The contract’s total potential value of $62 billion includes not just 66 F-16s to be delivered to Taiwan over 10 years but also additional aircraft that might be ordered and delivered to multiple countries.
Two things Taiwan really wants: the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, made by Lockheed Martin, and “sophisticated anti-tank missiles,” according to Reuters. Harpoon anti-ship missiles and smart mines are also on Taipei’s wish list. A bit more from Reuters, here.
Annals of diplomacy: Kelly Craft, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, lunched with Taiwan’s top official in the U.S. on Wednesday. The venue was an outdoor restaurant in New York, allowing the duo to be photographed by international news organizations. (ABC News)

NATO worries the Taliban may have so much money that they’re “immune to pressure from the international community as it negotiates a role in postwar Afghanistan,” Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reported Wednesday.
This may be hard to believe, but NATO thinks the Taliban “earned a staggering $1.6 billion in its last financial year (ending in March 2020),” RFE/RL’s Frud Bezhan writes.
Where’d that money come from? “[T]he illicit drug trade, illegal mining, and exports” of things like coal and salt, as well as “precious stones including rubies and emeralds,” according to NATO’s confidential report.
Here are a few sums the Taliban are thought to have accumulated through those various means: 

  • $464 million from mining (by contrast, the group made just $35 million in mining back in 2016)
  • $416 million from the sale of drugs like opium
  • $240 million “from foreign countries and individuals”
  • $240 million in exports
  • $160 million in tax revenue;
  • and $80 million in real estate.

For the record: “The Taliban’s stated revenues of $1.6 billion corresponds with figures provided by the United Nations Security Council’s Sanctions Committee,” Bezhan reports. Read on, here.

AG Barr wants rioters charged with sedition, according to a conversation Wednesday with federal prosecutors across the country and obtained by multiple news outlets shortly afterward — including AP, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
Why this matters: “Mr. Barr’s actions have thrust the Justice Department into the political fray at a time when Democrats and former law enforcement officials have expressed fears that he is politicizing the department, particularly by intervening in legal matters in ways that benefit Mr. Trump or his circle of friends and advisers,” the NYT wrote.
Related: Feds stockpiled ammo, noise and heat ray devices before Lafayette Square clearing, an Army National Guard major told Congress. That includes bringing some 7,000 rounds of ammunition to the D.C. Armory, and looking for “crowd control technology deemed too unpredictable to use in war zones,” D.C. National Guard Maj. Adam D. DeMarco told lawmakers in sworn testimony that he later shared with the Washington Post. Read that, here.
Meanwhile, some state and local governments are trying to rein in the transfer of military weapons, vehicles, and gear. Virginia’s state senate passed a bill to prohibit state and local law-enforcement agencies from acquiring such gear, WSJ reports. “Connecticut approved limitations on the federal program earlier this summer, and the Massachusetts state senate voted in favor of some restrictions. Cities, including Madison, Wisc., Columbus, Ohio, and Pittsburgh have also passed or are considering their own limits on what equipment police can acquire." Read on, here.

Lastly today: the U.S. Army’s videogame team is under fire for white supremacist remarks made on the Twitch streaming platform in late August, Vice reported Wednesday.
“Yo, six million wasn’t enough,” said Axel Torres while playing on August 27. Vice reminds us: “Six million wasn’t Enough” is “a reference to the number of Jewish people who were killed in the Holcaust.” It also happens to be "a popular phrase among white supremacists and Neo Nazis.” And FWIW, Vice notes that "It’s not clear Torres was aware he was spouting an antisemitic phrase." But his public social media pages suggest otherwise, as Vice laid out in its reporting.
The National Guard was apologetic upon hearing the news, with Army Lt. Col. Jamie Alan Davis telling Vice, “This was an unfortunate situation and goes against the Army values of fostering inclusiveness and diversity…The COVID19 pandemic has forced recruiters to find creative ways to connect with their target audience, which isn't always perfect, and new approaches come with new challenges. We have since deleted the clip and we will no longer announce those types of screen names during live streams.”
By the way: Racism is so rife in the world of online videogaming that it was briefly parodied by the YouTube series “Honest Videogame Trailers” back in 2015. Also, “Gamer Word” has become a known replacement for the n-word among gamers, Vice writes.
Critical caveat from Vice: “Streaming live video for hours at a time, without a script, improvising and reacting to an onslaught of feedback, is a hard task for anyone.” Still, this latest episode — along with multiple others outlined by Vice suggest “the military is not prepared for the extremist ideologies that have infiltrated so much of online life, including the gaming community.”
Related: “Almost two-thirds of young American adults do not know that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, and more than one in 10 believe Jews caused the Holocaust,” The Guardian reported Wednesday off a new survey commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.