Today's D Brief: 500-ship Navy?; USAF chief, USMC commandant, interviewed; Russian info ops, blocked; And a bit more.

Forget that 355-ship Navy. How about a 500-ship Navy? Two groups commissioned by U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper “to design what a future Navy should look like [have] suggested fleets of anywhere from 480 to 534 ships, when manned and unmanned platforms are accounted for — at least a 35 percent increase in fleet size from the current target of 355 manned ships by 2030,” Defense News reported Thursday, citing documents used to build the recommendations

What’s going on: Earlier this year, Esper rejected the Navy’s own future-force roadmap — the Integrated Naval Force Structure Assessment — and launched a pair of his own, one by OSD’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office office, one by the Hudson Institute. (CAPE’s acting director told senators in August that Esper doubted the Navy’s plan to get to 355 ships.)

Esper’s plans for an even bigger Navy would subtract aircraft carriers and large surface combatants while adding small surface combatants, unmanned ships and submarines, and logistics vessels, according to documents supporting the study groups. More to all that, here.

Multiple social media platforms removed accounts from a variety of apparently low-impact Russian info operations on Thursday. Takedowns on Facebook involved the Russian military and people linked to the Internet Research Agency, which is the group indicted for U.S. election meddling in 2016. 

It’s a “prudent” move for these social media companies to clean out accounts like these ahead of the November U.S. election, said disinformation researcher Ben Nimmo. Nimmo collaborated with other researchers from the analysis firm Graphika — Camille Francois, C. Shawn Eib, Léa Ronzaud and Joseph Carter — to explain the accounts and their impact. You can find their full report, here.

Most of Russian operations consisted of "Fake accounts, making friends with each other," Nimmo wrote in a Twitter thread unpacking a lot of the accounts' content.

One big theme in the takedown: Syria, said Nimmo. And that was across "English, Arabic and Russian posts. Basic message: Russia and Assad good, America and the West bad. Oh, and chemical attacks as false flags. Subtle."

Another theme: The Arctic, with the spin consisting largely of, as Nimmo put it, “Russia good, NATO not so good.”

Still more messaging themes focused on attacks on Ukraine, Angela Merkel, the Baltics, the USA, Georgia, and the Winter Olympics (very probably because, as Nimmo reminds us, "Russia got banned for doping").

Bottom line: The accounts don’t appear to have had much impact, according to Nimmo. “The most popular page had about 3,500 followers, the most popular page had about 6,500 members.” And where there was uniformity, the messaging seemed pretty clearly to concern “Russian strategic narratives, especially around the military.” For a full analysis, read this from Graphika.

From Defense One

Exclusive: Interview with Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger// Defense One Staff : Watch Defense One's interview on building the future force, racism in the ranks, integrating women, and working with Congress.

Defense One Radio Ep. 76: Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. // Defense One Staff : “We have more classified programs than the other services," Brown said. But “We need to articulate that risk, maybe a little bit better than we have in the past."

Inside the Army’s Fearless, Messy, Networked Warfare Experiment // Patrick Tucker: Big steps reveal plenty about the bigger ones to come — including the need for battlefield coders.

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Biden defense predictions; Boeing, Northrop join forces; US F-35s on British carrier, and more

Lebanon Needs More than US Sanctions // Bahaa Hariri: Hezbollah must go. Here's how the international community can help develop a democratic and secular system that works for the people.

Foreign Hackers Cripple Texas County’s Email System, Raising Election Security Concerns // Jessica Huseman, Jack Gillum, Derek Willis, and Jeff Kao, ProPublica: The malware attack, which sent fake email replies to voters and businesses, spotlights an overlooked vulnerability in counties that don’t follow best practices for computer security.

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 1957, the U.S. Army escorted nine Black students into Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The state’s governor had blocked a federal court-ordered integration of the school three weeks earlier; but President Dwight D. Eisenhower intervened and federalized the governor’s National Guard troops to clear the way for the “Little Rock Nine” to finally attend classes. 

FBI director: no evidence of any national effort toward vote-by-mail fraud. Speaking on Thursday to the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Christopher Wray said his FBI has "not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it's by mail or otherwise."
That reiterates what researchers have found — and rebuts President Trump’s increasingly frequent lies about a method of voting that has been used safely for decades by U.S. troops overseas, among millions of other Americans. Axios has a bit more, here.
Meanwhile, at the Pentagon: leaders worry that Trump will try to pull the military into any post-election unrest, the New York Times reports.
On the campaign trail: POTUS45 will speak in Atlanta this afternoon before swinging back to the Virginia area for a campaign speech scheduled for 9 p.m. ET.
Democratic challenger Joe Biden will pay his respects to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the U.S. Capitol Building today. Trump visited SCOTUS on Thursday, and was met with a chorus of unsupportive sounds from citizens nearby.
In case you were curious: Since August 11, Biden has left his home state of Delaware just 12 times, including today's trip to SCOTUS. “During the same time, President Donald Trump had 24 trips that took him to 17 different states, not counting weekend golf outings,” AP reports.

ICYMI: The IRS has been using cell phone tracking programs to track Americans without a warrant, Vice News reported Thursday in an update to a story first broken in mid-June by the Wall Street Journal.
Involved: A company called Venntel, which “sells government clients access to data that has been harvested from ordinary apps installed on peoples' phones, such as games, weather, or e-commerce apps,” Vice’s Joseph Cox reports. “In August, Motherboard reported that Customs and Border Protection had recently paid nearly half a million dollars to the firm.”
The update: The operation seemed to let the IRS “bypass the courts and engage in warrantless surveillance of Americans,” Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Elizabeth Warren wrote in a letter to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration demanding an investigation into how this tracking occurred. Read on, here.

Also from Vice on Thursday: A “Neo-Nazi Terror Leader [Is] Said to Have Worked With U.S. Special Forces.” The guy involved is “the leader of The Base, 47-year-old New Jersey native Rinaldo Nazzaro.” Vice reported Thursday that Nazzaro “was a Pentagon contractor who in 2014 worked with Special Operations Command” in a role that involved “brief[ing] special forces officers on military targeting and counterterrorism efforts in the Middle East in 2014.”
Why this matters: The Base was trying to instigate a “race war” through acts of violence carried out across the United States. However, “a series of nationwide FBI raids in January, resulting in the arrest of seven of its members, narrowly thwarted chilling plots as wide ranging as an assassination, ghost-gun making, train derailments, and a mass shooting,” Vice writes. Read on, here.

Pentagon may have to stop some of its new diversity training after Tuesday’s executive order that “prohibits every federal agency and contractors that do business with the federal government from carrying out workplace training that suggests a person may consciously or unconsciously carry racial or sexist biases based on their own race or background,” McClatchy reports.
The order arrives just two months after Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other Pentagon leaders “launched a rigorous address discrimination in the ranks, after the death of George Floyd and the nationwide protests that followed.”
And it “may force the Pentagon to halt some of that unconscious bias training, said attorney Jennifer Levi, a co-counsel of the federal lawsuit Stockman v. Trump, which is challenging the military’s transgender ban.” Read on, here.

And finally this week: Get a new look at Iran via an Israeli-made TV series filmed entirely in Greece. The show is called “Tehran,” and it begins streaming today on the Apple TV+ platform. Find a trailer on YouTube, here.
The goal of the show is to present a “sympathetic view of Iran,” AP reports in a preview. The plot involves “a computer hacker-agent undertaking her very first mission in Iran’s capital,” and “When the mission goes wrong, the agent has to survive by her wits.” Continue reading, here.

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!