Today's D Brief: NSA’s advice to US firms; COVID trajectory ‘worsening’; NATO allies bump spending; Trump’s conflicts of interest; And a bit more.

Chinese hackers are deliberately targeting the U.S. defense industry, the NSA says. “These networks often undergo a full array of tactics and techniques used by Chinese state-sponsored cyber actors to exploit computer networks of interest that hold sensitive intellectual property, economic, political, and military information,” the National Security Agency’s alert warned.

This is hardly surprising, of course; and the Chinese embassy in Washington called the allegations “totally groundless,” according to the Wall Street Journal, reporting Tuesday. But “A series of internal audits concluded the threat was far more dire than officials had previously realized.” For example, “Navy contractors have suffered especially troubling breaches over the past year, and U.S. officials have accused Beijing of stealing sensitive material from ship-maintenance data to missile plans.”

Perhaps most usefully, the NSA listed 25 vulnerabilities that affect products from Microsoft Windows, Cisco Systems Inc., and Citrix Systems Inc. 

The NSA’s advice: Update your systems immediately. “The majority of the products are either for remote access or for external web services, and should be prioritized for immediate patching,” the agency said in its Tuesday statement. Review all the vulnerabilities flagged, here.

Related: Chinese shipbuilding has slowed considerably, judging by satellite images of one of China’s largest shipyards — Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Company — published Tuesday by India Today

Newsflash: President Trump has bank accounts in just three foreign countries — and China is one of them, the New York Times reported Tuesday. 

Why this matters: “China continues to be an issue in the 2020 presidential campaign, from the president’s trade war to his barbs over the origin of the coronavirus pandemic,” the Times writes. Indeed, “Senate Republicans produced a report asserting, among other things, that Mr. Biden’s son Hunter ‘opened a bank account’ with a Chinese businessman, part of what it said were his numerous connections to ‘foreign nationals and foreign governments across the globe.’” However, the Times notes, “Trump’s own business history is filled with overseas financial deals, and some have involved the Chinese state.” More to all that, here.

The White House is fast-tracking a possible $20 billion-plus 5G contract to “a company in which prominent Republicans and supporters of President Donald Trump have investments,” CNN reports. The company is called Rivada Networks, whose lobbyist and investor rosters include GOP strategist Karl Rove. According to CNN, “A government auction of 70 megahertz of spectrum in August went for more than $4.5 billion. The Rivada bid would be for 350 megahertz of spectrum — five times that amount.”

The deal would lease out the U.S. military’s “mid-band spectrum — premium real estate for the booming and lucrative 5G market.” And as it’s currently understood, it would also “essentially be a no-bid contract” to Rivada.

Worth noting: White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has been reportedly negotiating this deal behind the scenes thanks to “an individual identified by sources in the telecommunications industry as a top financial management official in the US Army.”

FWIW: “Pentagon leaders are resisting the move,” CNN writes, “since they are concerned that this is being rushed without thoroughly vetting the impact it could have on military readiness.” Read on, here.

Related: Sweden just banned products from Huawei and ZTE as it builds out its 5G infrastructure. And China is very unhappy with that decision out of Stockholm, Reuters reported Tuesday. 

One more thing: Join us tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. ET for our virtual summit looking at supercomputing and the future of AI in the military, China, Russia and beyond. Details, here. Registration over here

From Defense One

Is Lockheed Building the Air Force’s Secret Fighter?  // Marcus Weisgerber: Executives drop some not-so-subtle clues.

Defense One Radio, Ep. 80: Army Chief Gen. McConville returns // Defense One Staff: How is the U.S. Army dealing with COVID? And what about that new joint project with the Air Force, CJADC2?

The World Order That Donald Trump Revealed // By Tom McTague and Peter Nicholas: When it comes to foreign policy, the president’s most important characteristic is not amorality or a lack of curiosity; it is naïveté.

What We Don’t Know About Military Innovation // Jamie Morin and Bill LaPlante: It’s time to take stock of the Pentagon’s various rapid-acquisition efforts.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson. 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 1940, Ernest Hemingway’s romanticized take on the Spanish Civil War, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” was first published to wide acclaim. Eighty years later, it’s still regarded as “one of the best war novels of all time.” 

More than 221,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.
Deaths and new infections are both rising sharply across America, the New York Times reports from its tracking project: “The national trajectory is only worsening.” Deaths are rising in South Dakota, Missouri, Kansas, Montana, Alabama, Indiana, Wisconsin and nearly 20 other states. New infections are staying low in just nine states and territories, including Delaware; Maryland; California; Washington, D.C.; New York; Hawaii; Maine; Vermont; and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Read more at the Washington Post’s own tracker page, here; or at Reuters, here.
ICYMI: Kansas police arrested a Wichita man for allegedly threatening to kidnap and kill the mayor over the city’s mask mandate, the New York Times reported Monday. The accused is reportedly a 59-year-old "retired Wichita city firefighter who was once honored by the City Council for helping save the life of a police officer who had been shot.” The Washington Post reports his “case is expected to be presented to the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office sometime this week.” Meantime, he’s “being held in Sedgwick County Jail on $50,000 bond.”
“Violence is never a way to settle disagreements,” the mayor, Democrat Brandon Whipple tweeted when the news first broke on Friday. “We’re always stronger together as a City even when times are at their toughest. Tensions maybe high, but we will get through this together as Wichitans.”  More from WaPo, here.

War powers report, updated. “The Trump administration publicly released the unclassified portion of a long-overdue report on the legal and policy frameworks for the use of military force,” and you can read it thanks to the folks at Lawfare, right here.
So… where is the U.S. using a 2001 authorization to still conduct war against al-Qaeda affiliates? As of 2019, that covered U.S. military actions taken in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Libya, according to the three-page document.
This week in interesting data-visual projects, the Center for International Policy just published a detailed look at The Afghan Defense Sector Amidst a U.S. Drawdown.
Long story short: “[B]efore the end of the year, U.S. troop levels are set to hit their lowest figures since the U.S. invasion. For years, the U.S. has sought to offset planned U.S. troop reductions with a larger and more capable Afghan security sector, investing over $83B of security assistance in the country. But results have been mixed the best, raising concerns about Kabul's ability to fend for itself once U.S. troops are gone.” More here.

From arms control to troop withdrawals, President Trump is trying to score “foreign policy breakthroughs as he campaigns for re-election,” NBC News reports.
By the way: The White House went to court again to tell a judge Trump’s tweets — like withdrawing from Afghanistan by Christmas, e.g. — are not orders, Kyle Cheney of Politico tweeted Tuesday. 

Hundreds of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have volunteered as poll workers across at least four states — Georgia, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan, McClatchy’s Tara Copp reported Tuesday. The ostensible goal: “take the place of older poll workers who are at greater risk from COVID-19.”
“So far, more than 700 veterans have signed up, with 500 of those registered in the four target states,” according to former Army National Guard Sgt. Christopher Purdy, who alerted other vets to the opportunity “through the nonpartisan organization Veterans for American Ideals,” Copp writes. Continue reading, here.

Apropos of nothing: Learn “how to spot a military imposter” via this #LongRead from The New Yorker’s Rachel Monroe.

The commanding officer of Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa was fired Monday and replaced by an O-6, the Marines announced Tuesday. Task & Purpose covered the story shortly after the news broke.
Out: Maj. Gen. Stephen M. Neary, and he just took the job in July.
Why he’s gone now: “[D]ue to a loss of trust and confidence in his ability to serve in command,” the Corps said in its statement. (Spoiler alert: He allegedly used a racial slur during a training event, as Stars and Stripes reported previously.)
The new guy is Col. James T. Iulo, who “will serve as the acting commander until a replacement is determined,” according to the Marines. Read on at T&P, here.  

America’s NATO allies increased their defense spending by 4.3% this year, the alliance announced Wednesday in a new report. According to CNN’s Ryan Browne, “Ten of the 30 NATO nations now meet the recommended target of spending 2% of their GDP on defense, now including France and Norway.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper called up his British counterpart, U.K. Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace, on Tuesday — the same day Esper talked up alliances in an interview with the Atlantic Council. According to the Pentagon, "Secretary Esper and Secretary of State Wallace discussed the security situation in Afghanistan, the upcoming NATO Defense Ministerial, coordination in the Indo-Pacific, and continued carrier cooperation."

Russia is opening a defense ministry office in Serbia, Reuters reported Tuesday.
Also: On Monday, NORAD intercepted Russian bombers (again).

For something completely different, scroll through photos of various militaries setting up operations in the arctic, via the Guardian, here.
Who cares about the Arctic? Review what the U.S. Coast Guard’s Commandant, Adm. Karl Schultz, told us about the region’s significance in June, here.
And don’t miss our newest interview with Army Chief Gen. James McConville, who returned to chat with Defense One Radio’s Ben Watson last week. The episode just posted on Tuesday. More (transcript included) here

Lastly today: President Trump is campaigning in North Carolina this evening, with a 7 p.m. rally planned at Gastonia’s Municipal Airport, about half an hour west of Charlotte.
Joe Biden is hitting up Philadelphia today, and bringing along POTUS44 for that trip, the New York Times reports.