Today's D Brief: FBI: Russia helping Trump; Chinese jets buzz Taiwan; America’s declining reputation; Readers pick top natsec problems; And a bit more.
FBI chief: Russia is influencing the U.S. election again, "primarily to denigrate Vice President Biden." That's what FBI Director Christopher Wray told the House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday when he said, “The intelligence community’s assessment is that Russia continues to try to influence our election, primarily through what we would call malign foreign influence."
He continued: “We certainly have seen very active efforts by the Russians to influence our elections in 2020 through what I would call more the malign influence side of things — social media, use of proxies, state media, online journals, etc. — in an effort to both sow divisiveness and discord,” Wray said, “and primarily to denigrate Vice President Biden and what the Russians see as an anti-Russian establishment.”
Wray’s testimony expanded upon a warning about Russian, Chinese, and Iranian election meddling issued last month by the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center.
President Trump responded with still more unsupported allegations of election fraud, tweeting at his FBI director: “But Chris, you don’t see any activity from China, even though it is a FAR greater threat than Russia, Russia, Russia. They will both, plus others, be able to interfere in our 2020 Election with our totally vulnerable Unsolicited (Counterfeit?) Ballot Scam. Check it out!”
Do you have questions about voter fraud? The Brennan Center, which has long studied the matter, has more, here.
One more thing: Wray also said white supremacy is “the largest chunk” of “racially motivated violent extremism,” which is the most significant domestic terrorism threat in the country. More on that in our recent podcast on domestic terrorism trends, here.
From Defense One
Nobody Wants America to Rule the World // Kevin Baron: Foreign confidence in the U.S. is sinking even faster than the share of Americans who see the benefits of engagement beyond our borders.
Esper's Convenient Lie // Paul Scharre: The defense secretary's claim that the two decades of countering violent extremism left the U.S. under-prepared for a near-peer fight doesn’t hold water.
The Air Force Needs a New Non-Stealthy Bomber// Maj. Shane Praiswater: There are important things the B-1 and B-52 do that the B-21 won’t.
Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Lessons of virtual AFA; Esper wants more cash for ships; One-on-one with Lockheed Aero boss, and more.
Combat Leaders Go Through Hell to Learn About Risk. The Acquisition Corps Should Do the Same // Peter A. Newell: One reason the “culture of innovation” hasn’t taken proper hold at the Pentagon is that its buyers aren’t trained over and over to weigh uncertainties.
Air Force to Try In-Flight Software Update // Mila Jasper, Nextgov: The demonstration would show how the service’s DevSecOps initiative can deliver updates to warfighters in real time.
Welcome to this Friday 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 1944, a German sniper shot and killed 29-year-old U.S. Army Lt. Col. Robert George Cole during Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands. Three months earlier, Cole ordered and led one of World War II's rare bayonet charges, forcing a German retreat from an artillery and gunner's nest on the outskirts of Carentan, France. “I don’t know what I’m shooting at, but I gotta keep on,” he reportedly said as he fired his pistol toward Germans in the mud. His actions would earn him a Medal of Honor that arrived two weeks after his death. To better grasp how seemingly impossible his unit’s mission was that day in June, read the “Carentan Causeway” section of Cole’s Medal of Honor remembrance, here.
849 more Americans died from coronavirus complications on Thursday, bringing the U.S. death toll to 197,529, according to the New York Times’ tracker.
A few details about the U.S. military’s plans to distribute the vaccine. On Wednesday, as the CDC director was pouring cold water on White House promises for a vaccine by year’s end, a retired Army three-star who will help lead its widespread distribution outlined the military’s role.
Among its tasks: coordinating the creation of vaccination centers outside pharmacies and hospitals and working with the company contracted to manage vaccine distribution, McKesson Corp., to track everyone who gets a shot, said Paul Ostrowski, now deputy chief of supply, production and distribution for the White House’s Operation Warp Speed.
"Most of these vaccines will be two-dose vaccines,” Ostrowski told reporters. “We have to be able to tell the person that we vaccinated when it's time to come back in for a second shot, and we have to make sure they have the right vaccine on that second dose." Military.com has more, here.
Minnesota governor warns campaigns on COVID: Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, has warned the Trump and Biden campaigns to heed the state’s pandemic restrictions, which limit gatherings to 250 people. More than 1,900 Minnesotans have died from the disease, and state officials worry that Trump’s planned rally today at Minnesota’s Bemidji Regional Airport could spark another outbreak of the sort that followed his June rally in Tulsa. (Minnesota Public Radio)
BTW: Minnesota was Trump’s second-narrowest loss in 2016, trailing behind Hillary Clinton by just under 45,000 votes during that election, Twin Cities Pioneer Press reports in a preview of today’s campaigning.
From here, “Trump’s path to Minnesota success likely depends on finding more votes in rural, conservative areas — running up the score beyond his 2016 tally,” AP reports. “It’s a strategy he’s trying to pull off elsewhere and it depends on a robust field operation with the money and time to track down infrequent or first-time voters. That could be a tall order since Minnesota already has one of the nation’s highest voter turnout rates.”
Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden is in Minnesota today, too. He’ll be visiting a Union Training Center in Duluth during his visit to the state. The local News-Tribune previews that trip, here.
Eighteen Chinese aircraft buzzed Taiwan today as America’s undersecretary for economic affairs dropped by Taipei, which is “the second visit by a high-level American official in two months,” Reuters and AP report.
What’s going on: “China had earlier announced combat drills and denounced what it called collusion between the island, which it claims as part of its territory, and the United States,” Reuters reports.
Involved: two H-6 bombers, eight J-16 fighters, four J-10 fighters and four J-11 fighters, according to Taiwan's defense ministry. The 18 aircraft "crossed the midline of the Taiwan Strait and entered Taiwan’s southwest [air defense identification zone]," the ministry said in a tweet.
China’s POV: All that buzzing is “a reasonable, necessary action aimed at the current situation in the Taiwan Strait and protecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” China’s defense ministry said in a statement.
As for Under Secretary of State Keith Krach, he’s in town for three days of talks with local officials, including Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. And it's certainly notable, trailing shortly behind U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar's August trip to Taipei, which AP writes was “the highest-level U.S. Cabinet official to visit since the U.S. switched formal relations from Taiwan to China in 1979.”
Also notable: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, met with Taiwan's top official in New York, James K.J. Lee, who directs the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in NYC.
China’s reax to the Krach visit: The U.S. is “bolster[ing] the separatist forces of Taiwan independence and undermines China-U.S. relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” the Foreign Ministry said Thursday.
The U.S. will ban the electronic payment app WeChat entirely on Sunday, which is when that app and another popular Chinese one, TikTok, will no longer be available for download from app stores in the U.S., the Commerce Department announced this morning.
What this means: The apps will be banned from app stores on Sunday. And from that day forward, "TikTok users in the U.S. will be blocked from maintenance and upgrades," the Wall Street Journal reports.
Why: “The Chinese Communist Party has demonstrated the means and motives to use these apps to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and the economy of the U.S.,” the Commerce Department said in its statement.
The stated goal: “[P]rotect users in the U.S. by eliminating access to these applications and significantly reducing their functionality.”
“China has been taking all kinds of data…that’s what we’re trying to squelch,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Fox Business Network this morning.
ICYMI: “WeChat users have sued to stop the ban, and a federal judge in California appeared sympathetic to WeChat users in a hearing Thursday, but did not issue an injunction against the government,” AP writes. Meanwhile, “The Justice Department said in a filing in that case that they would not target WeChat users with criminal or civil penalties for using the app for messaging.” More here.
Pakistan’s northwest region has erupted in new violence as Afghanistan’s “peace effort brings shifting sands,” Reuters reports from Islamabad.
Background: "since March, al Qaeda-linked Pakistani Taliban, facing the risk of losing havens on the Afghan side of the border if their Afghan Taliban allies make peace there, have unleashed a wave of attacks on the Pakistani security forces," killing at least 40 Pakistani soldiers since March. Presently, "September has seen near daily incidents, from roadside bombs to sniper attacks, to ambushes and the killing of residents accused of collaborating with government forces."
FWIW, “Pakistan’s military did not respond to a request for comment on the violence but its spokesman said on Twitter recently that the attacks were ‘meant to derail (the) Afghanistan Peace Process.’” More here.
Across the border, the war goes on in Afghanistan as dozens were killed across multiple provinces Wednesday, according to al-Jazeera.
New U.S. designation for Qatar? “We’re going to move ahead, we hope, with designating Qatar a major non-NATO ally,” Timothy Lenderking, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for gulf affairs, told reporters in a conference call. The host of America’s largest Gulf-region base would join 17 other nations with have that status, which “gives a country preferential access to U.S. military equipment and technology, including free surplus material, expedited export processing and prioritized cooperation on training,” Reuters reports.Among them is Bahrain, which — along with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and UAE — has been feuding with Qatar since 2017. Reuters has a bit more, here.
And finally this week: We’ve compiled your reader suggestions for the top U.S. security challenges that did not — for whatever reason — make our list posted Wednesday. (Find that list just below the fold here.) We asked you to let us know what we omitted as security challenges facing the U.S., no matter who wins the general election in November. And here’s what you told us, presented in the order in which your replies came:
- Climate change
- NATO membership
- "economic war with China"
- "National Debt"
- "quantum encryption system defense"
- "Cybersecurity risk — China and Iran"
- another vote for "climate change"
- "China, in terms of virus, China Sea and further expansions, economic expansion, human rights, interference in elections and internet, etc., etc."
- The Arctic
- "Hijinks in the Arctic"
- "Immigration policy"
- climate change
- “break-up of technology monopolies”
- domestic terrorism
- “white supremacists in [the] military and police"
- another vote for “China”
- “Military intelligence and experience of the [POTUS]”
- “catastrophic loss of our digital networks”
- “solar flare... or maybe a meteor”
By the way: Thank you for all your answers. Along with the original list, we just might have it all covered. (Though Linton Wells might disagree.)
And ICYMI: For those 27% of respondents who mentioned “China” in some form or fashion, be sure to check out our recent summer podcast all about what we mean when we talk about “China” as national security threat here in 2020.
Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!