‘Disinfo’ panned; COVID cases climb; CBO doubts Navy plan; Army reveals base-name study; and a bit more...

The New York Post’s Biden-Ukraine emails story has “hallmarks of a classic hack and leak engineered by Russian agents,” as Marc Ambinder put it. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reports that on Wednesday, cybersecurity professionals, disinformation experts, and lawmakers urged journalists to be careful in their coverage of a “bombshell” New York Post story aimed at Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Among many red flags, the Post story omits key details, including that the source of purported emails from Biden’s son “has acknowledged working closely with Andriy Derkach, a Kremlin ally sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury for pushing disinformation intended to sway the 2020 election,” Tucker writes. “It does not mention recent intelligence community assessments that Russia is still attempting to influence the U.S. presidential election to the benefit of Donald Trump.”

How bad was the Post’s story? So bad that Facebook, whose founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has long said the company can’t arbitrate truth and lies, announced through a spokesman that “we are reducing its distribution on our platform." Twitter also prevented people from sharing links to two Post stories entirely. 

BTW: Facebook is a more polluted river of misinformation now than during the previous election cycle. “We found that the level of engagement with articles from outlets that repeatedly publish verifiably false content has increased 102 percent since the run-up to the 2016 election,” write researchers with the German Marshall Fund Digital, the digital arm of the public policy think tank, who released a new report on Tuesday. (New York Times)

From Defense One

Anti-Biden Disinformation Decried by Disinfo Experts, Social-Media Giants // Patrick Tucker: A Trump-tied newspaper floats dubious accusations. Will others bite?

China or Your Soul? Pompeo’s Thunder Falls Flat on Corporate Ears // Kevin Baron: Companies keep choosing to serve the Chinese market — and that’s likely not good news for the Pentagon.

A 21st-Century Reality Is Dawning on NATO // Elisabeth Braw: In today’s security environment, non-kinetic threats pose as grave a danger as kinetic ones.

Defense One Radio, Ep. 79: CNO Adm. Michael Gilday // Bradley Peniston: The Navy’s top officer discusses the future fleet, and more.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Bradley Peniston with Kevin Baron. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. OTD 1863: The Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley sinks, killing its inventor and the rest of its 8-man crew. The boat would be raised and, the following February, become the first submarine to sink an enemy warship.

Yet another white supremacist group is recruiting former U.S. troops for action, reports the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups. The SPLC obtained secret recordings between recruiters for The Base, a militant neo-Nazi organization, and more than 100 prospective recruits using the encrypted app Wire. About one in five of the prospective recruits said they were active-duty military or had served in the military in some capacity, said documentary filmmaker Jamila Paksima, a co-host of "Baseless," a three-part SPLC podcast about the group. 

It’s literally based out of Russia. The group’s U.S.-born leader, Rinaldo Nazzaro, runs The Base from his apartment in St. Petersburg, Russia, NBC News reports. He was known only by his online aliases, Norman Spear and Roman Wolf, until January, when The Guardian revealed his identity.

Caught on tape: “We want things to accelerate, we want things to get worse in the United States,” Nazzaro says in the recordings. “And from that point by virtue of the chaos that ensues, that would naturally present some opportunities for us…law and order starts breaking down, power vacuums start emerging...for those who are organized and ready, to take advantage of those.”

Mollie Saltskog, senior intelligence analyst at The Soufan Group tells NBC: "Extremely lethal and dangerous operations that believe in an impending race war like The Base or Atomwaffen make a concerted effort to recruit people with military experience. Having these types of people in these types of organizations increases their operational capabilities to commit acts of terrorism."

Reminder: Violent white supremacy is the “most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland,” according to a DHS report released Oct. 6, echoing what the FBI director and other national security leaders have said.

Reminder 2: White-power groups were elated when President Trump declined to disavow white supremacy and told the Proud Boys group to “stand by” during the Sept. 29 presidential debate. (Two days later, after a welter of criticism, Trump told Fox, “I condemn all white supremacists.”)

Meanwhile, Army releases previously undisclosed study on Confederate-named bases. Last July, as Paul Szoldra of Task & Purpose notes, Gen. Mark Milley denounced Confederate leaders as “traitors” and then proposed the bold measure of launching a new study into the matter. 

But the Army had already completed such a study, Szoldra reveals, and it was withheld until Task & Purpose filed a FOIA request to obtain it. Though service historians typically publish their research online and in publicly-available books, “the information paper regarding posts named for Confederates remained hidden from view since it ‘reflected badly on the Army,’ a source told T&P. “They put together this whole report and did nothing with it,” Read on, here.

U.S. COVID cases are climbing toward a third peak, the New York Times reports, with some 7.92 million infections reported and at least 215,000 Americans dead. 

Hitting the heartland: “The rise since mid-September has been especially profound in the Midwest and Mountain West, where hospitals are filling up and rural areas are seeing staggering outbreaks.” 

Add the CBO to the list of skeptics regarding the Navy’s fleet plan. On Tuesday, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that each of the Navy’s new Constellation-class frigates would cost about $1.2 billion, about 40 percent more than the Navy’s $870 million projection. Defense News: “The whole 10-ship contract, if executed, will cost about $12.3 billion, CBO estimated. The Navy estimates $8.7 billion.” Read on, here.

Listen to CNO Adm. Mike Gilday talk about the future fleet — and its affordability — in the podcast version of his Tuesday exclusive interview for Defense One’s State of the Navy event.

New Army force-generation tool aims to hasten modernization, reduce stress on units, and better prepare units for deployment. Army Times, reporting from AUSA: “The new plan, dubbed the ‘Regionally Aligned Readiness and Modernization Model,’ will allocate Army units to different theaters in roughly one year, giving them expertise in the parts of the world to which they would deploy during an actual conflict and allowing them to stockpile the right equipment for those clashes.” Read on, here.

Trump may speak about his Afghanistan drawdown, which sources tell NBC News may have been announced simply to improve his reelection chances. The president is considering a major foreign policy speech before Nov. 3, “and has been pressing members of his national security team to accelerate specific initiatives that he could highlight in his remarks, such as U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, according to two senior administration officials and a former official briefed on the conversations.”

Home by Christmas? “‘I don't think there's anyone who believes we'll be at zero by the end of the year,’ a senior administration official said.”

SecDef Mark Esper is avoiding press conferences, but today is speaking at friendly venues: the AUSA virtual convention at 10 a.m. ET (watch here) and then on readiness at the friendly Heritage Foundation at 1 p.m. (watch here). Maybe someone can ask him whether U.S. troops in Afghanistan can tell their families they’ll be home for Christmas. 

And lastly today: The U.S. Postal Service will reverse the policies that have slowed mail service amid a pandemic that is expected to lead many people to vote by mail. The reversal comes one day before a suit brought by the governor of Montana was to go to court, Politico reports.