Today's D Brief: Iran emailed election threats, US says; Armed group at polling place; Missiles approved for Taiwan; How close is COVID close?; And a bit more.

Recent threatening emails sent to Democratic voters were actually from Iran, U.S. intelligence officials said in a surprise statement to the press Wednesday evening. NPR reported on the messages, here.

What’s going on: “The emails claimed to be from a pro-Trump group called the Proud Boys,” and their contents demanded its recipients vote for Trump, “but evidence had mounted that they in fact were the work of another, hidden actor,” the Washington Post, which broke the story, reported.

BTW: A hacker was “selling personally identifying information of more than 200 million Americans, including the voter registration data of 186 million,” NBC News reported immediately after the Wednesday evening statements from U.S. intelligence officials. 

Worth noting: Most of the data is publicly available. “But the fact that so many names, email addresses, phone numbers and voter registration records were found for sale in bulk on the so-called dark web underscores how easily criminals and foreign adversaries can deploy it as the FBI said Iran has done recently.” More here.

Two armed men dressed as security guards claiming to be with the Trump campaign showed up at an early voting location in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla., on Wednesday, local WFLA news reported. A campaign spokesman rejected their claims.

What did the county do about it? It’s not clear. Julie Marcus, Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections, told WFLA that “Voter intimidation, deterring voters from voting, impeding a voter’s ability to cast a ballot in this election is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in any way shape, or form.” Marcus added that “we had a plan in place and executed that plan.” 

What was that plan? “I just don’t want to get too deep into the specifics because we’re trying to balance it,” Pinellas County Sheriff Gualtieri told WFLA. “But I’ll say it’s a combination of uniformed personnel who will be in the area and also we’re gonna use some undercover personnel just to monitor the situation.” Marcus and Gualtieri are elected officials; both are Republicans running for re-election. A bit more, here.

What should you do if you see armed groups near a polling place or voter registration drive? Here’s some advice from the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University Law Center: “First, document what you see,” according to this handy fact sheet (for Florida). Then consider the following questions: 

  • What are the armed people doing?
  • What are the armed people wearing?
  • Are they carrying firearms?  If so, what type? If not, are they carrying other types of weapons?
  • Are they wearing insignia?  If so, what does it say or look like?
  • Are they bearing signs or flags?
  • Do they seem to be patrolling like a law enforcement officer might do?
  • Do they seem to be coordinating their actions?
  • Do they have a leader?
  • Are they stopping or talking to people outside of their group?  
  • Do they appear to be provoking or threatening violence? If so, what are they doing specifically?
  • Are people turning away from the polling station after seeing or speaking with them?

You can also dial 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) to report what you see. 

Find fact sheets for all 50 states explaining applicable laws regarding militias and what to do if groups of armed individuals show up near a polling place or voter registration drive — via Georgetown University Law’s database, here.

One more thing: Get to better know and understand the 2020 militia movement via this new explainer from Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League. 

From Defense One

US Intelligence Leaders Say Russia, Iran Stole Voter Info // Patrick Tucker: They said Wednesday that voting systems remain secure, but to be on the lookout for emailed disinformation.

As the US Slumps Away, China Subsumes African Security Arrangements  // Will Reno and Maj. Jesse Humpal: Organizations created to fight terror groups after 9/11 are becoming conduits for Beijing’s surveillance and influence.

The Right’s Disinformation Machine Is Getting Ready for Trump to Lose // Renée DiResta, The Atlantic: QAnon has become a linchpin of far-right media—and the effort to preemptively delegitimize the election.

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

Welcome to this Thursday 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 1962, U.S. officials had no idea they were just halfway through what would later be known as the Cuban missile crisis. Here's what U.S. President John F. Kennedy wrote in a letter to his Soviet counterpart, Nikita Khrushchev, on this day 58 years ago: “I have not assumed that you or any other sane man would, in this nuclear age, deliberately plunge the world into war which it is crystal clear no country could win and which could only result in catastrophic consequences to the whole world, including the aggressor.”

President Trump is reportedly threatening to fire the FBI director if he doesn’t investigate Joe Biden. According to the Washington Post:, “President Trump and his advisers have repeatedly discussed whether to fire FBI Director Christopher A. Wray after Election Day — a scenario that also could imperil the tenure of Attorney General William P. Barr as the president grows increasingly frustrated that federal law enforcement has not delivered his campaign the kind of last-minute boost that the FBI provided in 2016, according to people familiar with the matter.” Continue reading, here.
Because November: Top Trump officials aren’t trying to hide their participation in openly political events. Last month it was State Secretary Mike Pompeo, as Foreign Policy and The Hill reported. Now it’s Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie, as ProPublica reported Wednesday.
At issue is Sec. Wilkie’s attendance at a “fundraiser for the North Carolina Republican Party last week.” Wilkie “was already under fire for frequent trips that appear to have partisan agendas. In a letter last week, the top Democrats on the House and Senate veterans committees accused Wilkie of using taxpayer-funded travel to boost Trump and other Republican candidates.”
Worth noting: “Though legal, campaigning by cabinet secretaries is a departure from historical norms. Nevertheless, it’s become standard practice in the administration of President Donald Trump.” More here.

The final 2020 presidential debate is this evening in Nashville, Tennessee, at Belmont University. The last presidential debate was three weeks ago, and AP reports most U.S. viewers have little interest in a repeat of that chaotic spectacle from Cleveland.
Tonight’s topics: the pandemic, race relations, climate change and national security.
Biden campaign officials expect Trump “to get intensely personal,” which they view “chiefly as an effort to distract from the coronavirus, its economic fallout and other crises,” AP writes.
Trump’s advisers have suggested a low-key night for the POTUS, “But it’s unclear whether the president will listen.” However, Reuters notes, “Trump badly needs to alter the trajectory of the race. He trails Biden significantly in national polls less than two weeks before Election Day, though the contest is much tighter in some key battleground states.”
One big change for the night: A mute button, which will figure prominently during the two-minute answers for each of the six debate topics. Trump called the change “very unfair” in remarks to reporters Wednesday. More from Reuters, here

A protester in Portland, Ore., built a facial recognition app to ID police, the New York Times reported Wednesday. Said its creator: “I’m not inventing anything new. The big problem here is getting quality images.”
One huge cache of public imagery: Facebook. Other similar projects are underway in Chicago and even France. More here.

The U.S. wants to sell more than $1B in rockets and missiles to Taiwan, including ones that could reach the Chinese mainland. The list includes 64 ATACMS short-range ballistic missiles, which “would place mainland China in range,” tweeted analyst Ankit Panda. It also includes 11 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System launchers and 135 AGM-84H Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response (aka, SLAM-ER) missiles.
FWIW: The approvals push the total potential value of new arms exports to Taiwan to roughly $5 billion. Read on, here.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, the U.S. military’s top officer says, “We’ve shown a great deal of restraint because we’re trying to make this peace process work,” U.S. Army Gen. Scott Miller, told the BBC’s Lyse Doucet in a rare and generous media appearance Tuesday.
“I am specifically asking the Taliban to bring down the violence and it can't be one-sided; all sides need to bring it down,” the general said. “But we will defend the Afghan security forces” if attacked by the Taliban. “At the same time, we’ll defend our forces. That’s important for everybody to know. The protection of the coalition is not negotiable. So we’ll defend our forces as well.”
Now what? “We’re on a conditions-based approach as we bring our — the U.S. and, in some cases, the other nations’ — footprint down,” Miller said of what lies ahead. “But it is conditions-based. And what we’re doing now is we’re making sure that the Afghan security forces and the people know that we’re still here and we support them.” Catch the full five-minute interview, here

Groundhog day in the Caucasus. Azerbaijan and Armenia have been at war with each other for nearly four weeks now, AP reports from Yerevan.

Now you know: Israel opened a secret embassy in Bahrain more than a decade ago. Axios has the story, here.

Back stateside: The CDC just updated what “close contact” with an infected person means, NPR reported Wednesday. “Health officials used to advise going into quarantine and being tested for the coronavirus if you were near an infected person for 15 minutes. Now the rule is a total of 15 minutes during one day.” More here.
COVID goes rural. Across the nation, “Rural counties of fewer than 10,000 people are seeing more coronavirus cases than at any other time during the pandemic,” the New York Times reports today.
Palantir is stepping into the vaccine-tracking business. “The data-mining company is developing a tool [called Tiberius] that health authorities plan to use to monitor the manufacture of coronavirus vaccines and determine where they should go,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
One big expectation: That Palantir’s Tiberius will handle the task of “identifying high-priority populations and then allocating shots to health-care workers, the elderly and others at highest risk of infection.”
How it is supposed to work: By taking “a wide range of demographic, employment and public health data sets” to determine greatest needs for a given region, according to Palantir. And notably, the Tiberius system will reportedly do all this without “access to personal health information,” the Journal writes. Continue reading, here.

Not to jinx it, but For Maybe the First Time Ever, the Navy and Marine Corps Had No Flying Fatalities over a Year,”’s Oriana Pawlyk reported Wednesday. 

Remember SecDef Esper’s 500-hull shipbuilding plan from two weeks ago? Turns out it doesn’t have White House approval. “As of Wednesday morning, Esper’s blueprint to reshape the Navy had yet to receive authorization” from the Office of Management and the Budget, USNI News reports, citing “a defense official familiar with the deliberations.”
Maybe that’s why only the barest outlines of the plan have been released, and none of the financial details that might allay broad skepticism about its feasibility. Read on, here.

And finally today: The U.S. Army’s “Home of the Airborne” became the base that deleted its Twitter account Wednesday after a series of questionable tweets — tweets that were not a result of hacking, as the Washington Post's Alex Horton reports today on Twitter. We’ll let The Daily Beast or Task & Purpose fill you in on all those details…