Today's D Brief: Joint Chiefs self-isolate; Esper’s Navy plan; China’s ‘discourse power’; DHS calls white supremacy top domestic threat; And a bit more.

America’s highest-ranking military officers are self-isolating after the Coast Guard’s vice commandant tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday. All the Joint Chiefs have been in recent meetings with the USCG’s Adm. Charles Ray, who attended a Gold Star family event at the White House on Sept. 27, the day after the now-notorious ceremony for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams reports.

Critical caveat: There’s “no change to the operational readiness or mission capability of the U.S. Armed Forces” during the isolation, chief Pentagon spox Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement Tuesday.

It’s not clear how long the chiefs were expected to remain in quarantine, but multiple officials told Williams that they could return to the Pentagon as soon as this week if they continue to test negative and no symptoms emerge.

Meanwhile, another new infection at the White House. Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, adding to an already long list of close presidential aides (Reuters) who have contracted the virus since the Barrett ceremony. CNN has more on Miller, here; and more on the infected 10-plus WH aides and even more close lawmakers, here.

By the way: More than 120 Capitol Hill workers “have tested positive — or are presumed positive — for COVID-19,” Roll Call reported Tuesday citing Republican spokeswoman for the House Administration Committee, Ashley Phelps. That’s an increase of more than 20 since August.

Local spike: The infections in the White House and on the Hill helped push daily new COVID cases in the District to 105, the highest since June. (The Hill

Not just in Washington: U.S. diplomacy is self-isolating, too, David Ignatius of the Washington Post writes. To illustrate, he points to Armenia-Azerbaijan tensions where “both sides look to Russia for a solution”; he also highlights Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s threat last week to close the Baghdad embassy; a rise in Chinese aggression on its borders, which like the violence in Iraq, isn’t an entirely new trend. But it’s certainly not abating either.

Ignatius’s big-picture take: “It often seems there’s nothing else happening outside the Trump bubble, but it isn’t so. There’s a world of trouble out there.” Continue reading, here.

One more thing: Facebook removed a post from President Trump on Tuesday that falsely claimed the flu is more deadly than the coronavirus (Time magazine’s Vera Bergengruen preserved the post here). The false claim has come from POTUS45 before, and it’s just part of why The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum warned last week, “The president is the single biggest reason why many Americans distrust science, the electoral system, and one another,” according to a recent study from Cornell University.

Worth noting: “This is only the second time Facebook has removed one of Trump's posts for violating its misinformation guidelines,” Bergengruen tweeted. The last Facebook takedown — when Trump claimed children are “almost immune” from the coronavirus — happened in early August. 

Happening tonight: The first and only debate between Vice President Mike Pence and his Democratic challenger, Kamala Harris. The Associated Press calls it “the most highly anticipated vice presidential debate in recent memory,” and the stakes have become more dramatic with each additional positive COVID-19 test among White House staff. 

Both Harris and Pence tested negative on Tuesday. And Pence’s staff includes spokeswoman Katie Miller, who contracted the virus in May and whose husband (Stephen, noted above) tested positive for it on Tuesday. 

In the name of safety, “Pence and Harris will appear on stage exactly 12.25 feet (3.7 meters) apart separated by plexiglass barriers,” AP reports, adding, “Anyone in the small audience who refuses to wear a mask will be asked to leave.” (Here’s a photo of the stage setup.)

One upshot: “The debate is unlikely to match the sheer chaos of the first presidential debate last week” since Harris and Pence are “seen as polished communicators,” Reuters reports in its preview. More here.

From Defense One

Joint Chiefs In Isolation After Coast Guard Vice Commandant Tests Positive For COVID // Katie Bo Williams: But multiple officials suggested that they could return to the Pentagon this week.

Esper Plans Fewer Large Carriers, More Subs in a Navy of 500 Ships or More // Marcus Weisgerber and Bradley Peniston, Government Executive: He says it’s affordable, but key details remain unknown.

Can Dr. Conley — a Military Doctor — Say 'No' to the President? // Katie Bo Williams: Yes, but he’s under a lot of pressure that other physicians caring for VIP patients might not be.

What Biden Told Me on the Train After Trump’s First UN Speech // Chandrima Das: In the Biden-Harris vision, my multi-ethnic family is the fulfillment of America’s promise to the world.

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 2001, elements of the U.S. military began arriving in Afghanistan. In the 19 years since, more than 2,400 American service members have died during Operations Enduring Freedom (which ended on the last day of 2014) and Freedom Sentinel (which is still ongoing). Also on this day four years ago, the news and information space heated up quickly and dramatically with mere weeks remaining in the 2016 U.S. election.  

Esper rolls out Navy fleet plan. Nine months after wresting control of naval force planning, Defense Secretary Mark Esper rolled out a new 25-year roadmap that reiterates the U.S. Navy’s goal of about 355 manned ships and adds roughly half as many unmanned vessels on top.
Dubbed Battle Force 2045, the plan seeks “eight to 11” nuclear carriers — today’s fleet has 11 — and possibly more of the conventionally powered smaller carriers called amphibious assault ships. He also wants an attack submarine force of 70 to 80 boats, up from today’s roughly 55. Read on, here.

Facebook says it’s removing all QAnon conspiracy theorist pages from its platform, “even if they contain no violent content,” the company announced in a statement Tuesday.
Why now? Because some QAnon content has been “tied to different forms of real world harm, including recent claims that the west coast wildfires were started by certain groups, which diverted attention of local officials from fighting the fires and protecting the public.” And that’s separate from previous QAnon content that Facebook has taken down since August for “celebrat[ing] and support[ing] violence” according to its Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy.
What’s more, Facebook has learned QAnon users adapt and change their messaging “very quickly and we see networks of supporters build an audience with one message and then quickly pivot to another,” the company said Tuesday. Some of the adaptions include “renaming groups and toning down the messaging to make it seem less jarring,” the New York Times reported after Facebook’s announcement.
Make no mistake, “QAnon believers saw [the] bans coming,” the Times’ Kevin Roose tweeted, “which is partly why they started playing up Save Our Children memes and downplaying the pedophile cannibal stuff earlier this summer.”
The big question now: How will enforcement actually work? Read more at NBC News, here.

White supremacy is “the most persistent and lethal threat to the [U.S.] Homeland,” according to the final draft of a Homeland Threat Assessment from the Department of Homeland Security, first obtained by CBS News on Tuesday.
And “Russia is the country most aggressively trying to inflame social and racial tensions in the United States,” according to the Washington Post. More on all that, here.

CBP may not allow an American soldier — whose parents are from Niger — back from travel abroad. The Washington Post’s Alex Horton has the Kafka-esque story of 22-year-old Army Pfc. Fadel Tankoano, here

The ISIS “Beatles” are flying from the UK to the U.S. for a federal court appearance today in Virginia where they’re expected to be charged as ISIS guards who murdered four U.S. hostages, ABC News reports.
Here’s AP on the significance of the trans-Atlantic flight: “The expected charges are a milestone in a years-long effort by U.S. authorities to bring to justice members of the group known for beheadings and barbaric treatment of American aid workers, journalists and other hostages in Syria.”
Why now? “The Justice Department has long wanted to put them on trial, but those efforts were complicated by wrangling over whether Britain, which does not have the death penalty, would share evidence that could be used in a death penalty prosecution,” AP writes. “The ISIS detainees' families filed cases in British courts to prevent London from sharing evidence with Washington, but a court recently cleared the way and the evidence has been shared,” ABC News adds. Read on, here.

We call it influence operations. China calls it “discourse power.” And now you can better understand the information war going on between the U.S. and China via a new 19-page analysis from the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Lab’s Alicia Fawcett. The study closely examines Mandarian-language sources, especially Chinese military journals, as well as Weibo and WeChat.
For the record, “Discourse power is the concept that a country can attain increased geopolitical power by setting agendas internationally through influencing the political order and values both domestically and in foreign countries,” Fawcett writes.
What to watch for: China’s future work in the fields of “big data and artificial intelligence” since there is such a “high volume of mentions of these terms in the People’s Liberation Army’s official journal,” according to Fawcett.
Why this all matters: “With increasing technological developments, discourse power as a concept will be increasingly realized—especially through targeted information operations—as China advances its geopolitical goals and increases its international power.”
ICYMI: Here’s SecState Mike Pompeo addressing the U.S.-China infowar during an interview Tuesday in Japan: 

  • “This is not a rivalry between the United States and China. This is for the soul of the world. This is about whether this will be a world that operates in this sense that we’re – on a rules-based international order system or one that’s dominated by a coercive totalitarian regime like the one in China.”

Court orders Trump administration to disclose rules for drone strikes and other killings abroad. A lawsuit brought by the ACLU and the New York Times bore fruit on Monday when the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York found that the Trump administration must disclose an October 2017 update to the Obama-era policies governing “procedures and criteria it used in identifying which suspected terrorists it would attempt to capture or kill abroad.” Read, here.

Lastly today: U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy discussed the service's Project Convergence at a Hudson Institute virtual event that began today at 9 a.m. ET. More info here; or you can catch it in reruns on YouTube, here.