Today's D Brief: COVID is rising again in most states; Iran’s new construction; Border-wall costs, up; Muzzling NOAA; And a bit more.
SecDef Esper is still in India on official business, his team tweeted this morning. If you missed Tuesday’s D Brief, you can catch up on why Esper and State Secretary Mike Pompeo are in New Delhi this week here.
President Trump is campaigning in Arizona today, with an airport rally planned for noon in Bullhead City (90 minutes south of Las Vegas), and another planned about three hours later in Goodyear (just outside Phoenix) before Air Force One takes POTUS45 to his Florida property at Mar-a-Lago. The Associated Press previews Trump’s day — as well as the schedule of his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden — here. Reuters has its own campaign trail preview, here.
By the way: COVID infections are up 20% from last week, and “Three dozen states reported that the average number of people currently hospitalized with Covid-19 rose by at least 5% over the past week,” CNBC reports today, citing data from Johns Hopkins University and The Atlantic’s Covid Tracking Project.
“Cases are going up in most states across the country,” Adm. Brett Girior said. “Hospitalizations are up, although we’re still tens of thousands of hospitalizations below where we were in July, but that is rising. And we are starting to see the increase in deaths.”
White House science office: The pandemic is over. In a Tuesday statement, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy said “ending the COVID-19 pandemic” is among Trump’s major first-term accomplishments.
That’s “mind-boggling,” one unnamed official with the White House coronavirus task force told The Daily Beast in response. “There’s no world in which anyone can think that is true. Maybe the president. But I don’t see how even he can believe that. We have more than 70,000 new cases each day.”
U.S. stocks have started badly today in anticipation of possibly needed lockdowns across the country, the Wall Street Journal reports this morning. “The selling was broad based and appeared to favor the safest assets, especially short-term government bonds and the U.S. dollar. Along with stocks, oil and emerging market currencies tumbled.” What’s more, “Investors also remain leery about the U.S. election, and whether delays in counting mail-in ballots may lead to uncertainty in the days after the Nov. 3 election.” More behind the paywall, here.
And on the other side of the world, Russian President Vladimir Putin just mandated mask-wearing as coronavirus cases spike across Russia, CBS News reported Tuesday. That’s because the country “recorded a record-high number of new cases on Monday, with 17,148, and October has seen more confirmed cases in the country overall than any other month,” CBS writes.
FWIW, Russia “has the fourth-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world, behind the United States, India and Brazil.” A bit more, here.
From Defense One
Raytheon Sheds People, Offices, Divisions as Pandemic Crushes Commercial Sector // Marcus Weisgerber: The company’s defense business is one bright light.
The October (or November) Surprise Neither Trump Nor Biden Wants // Jane Harman: We need independent, scrupulously apolitical intelligence analysis in the White House that can compete with our worst instincts.
What Clinton’s Foreign Affairs Article May Mean for the Defense Budget // Todd Harrison: Her approach, more rebalancing rather than modernizing, avoids a simple zero-sum frame of defense vs. non-defense spending.
Trump’s Border Wall Is Costing Taxpayers Billions More Than Initial Contracts // Perla Trevizo and Jeremy Schwartz, ProPublica: Federal spending data shows modifications to contracts have increased the price of the border wall by billions, costing about five times more per mile than it did under previous administrations.
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 1968, the Cuban missile crisis came to an end when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev agreed to remove the USSR’s nuclear-armed missiles from Cuba.
The U.S. Army is sending cavalry troops to Europe for a nine-month rotation known as Atlantic Resolve, which involves “multinational training events across more than a dozen countries,” according to the service. The new forces and their equipment are from the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, out of Fort Hood, Texas. They're replacing the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team from Fort Stewart, Georgia's 3rd Infantry Division.
How the coronavirus changes things: “Before departing the U.S., Soldiers will conduct pre-deployment Restriction of Movement and COVID testing,” the Army said in a statement Wednesday morning. “While traveling, all Soldiers will wear masks and follow strict hygiene measures. Once in Europe, Soldiers will again quarantine and test before traveling throughout the continent.”
Big picture: “U.S. Army support to the Atlantic Resolve mission consists of approximately 6,000 Soldiers assigned to armored, aviation and logistical task forces overseen by a Division Headquarters (Forward) based in Poznan, Poland,” the Army said Wednesday. “These heel-to-toe deployments ensure U.S. Army forces maintain a consistent, combat-credible presence to deter [Russian] aggression in the region. The deployment of ready, combat-credible U.S. forces to Europe is evidence of the strong and unremitting U.S. commitment to NATO and Europe.”
Back stateside, military troops won’t be passing out coronavirus vaccines on America’s streets, said the Army general in charge of the federal government’s effort to quickly secure and dispense a vaccine, Stars and Stripes reported Tuesday.
Don’t get it twisted: “There will not be this vision that some people have that there will be Army trucks driving through the streets delivering vaccines,” said Gen. Gustave Perna told the audience at a virtual event Tuesday with the convservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington. “That is not feasible or the right way to do it.”
So what will the U.S. military be doing? The answer is, in many ways, what it’s already doing, Perna explained. And that, Stripes reports, involves “providing planning, contracting and logistical analysis necessary to move some 300,000 doses of a Food and Drug Administration-approved coronavirus vaccine across the country to be given to Americans.” More here.
Pennsylvania’s governor just authorized National Guard troops “to help police protect property and quell unrest” in Philadelphia, where protests have began after police shot a Black man on Monday, the Washington Post reports today. The shooting was captured on video, here.
“Wallace was armed with a knife when he was shot and was advancing toward a pair of officers who had demanded that he drop the weapon. His family said he suffered from mental illness and angrily questioned why police had not used nonlethal methods to subdue him,” the Post wrote on Tuesday.
“Thirty police officers were injured and 91 people were arrested overnight Monday amid looting and arson, and authorities were bracing for more potential violence Tuesday night. Protests, led by Black clergy members, that began late Tuesday afternoon at the scene of the shooting were peaceful.”
Iran is building an underground centrifuge assembly plant after its last one mysteriously exploded at Natanz back in July, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency told the Associated Press on Tuesday.
Take a look at some of the new construction via satellite imagery from Planet (here) along with commentary and analysis from Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies
In case you’re wondering, “Iran also continues to stockpile greater amounts of low-enriched uranium, but does not appear to possess enough to produce a weapon,” the IAEA’s Director-General, Rafael Grossi, said.
Worth noting: “Iran has continued to allow IAEA inspectors full access to its nuclear facilities, including Natanz,” AP writes. More, including enrichment requirements to obtain enough to make a weapon, here.
What timing: Two U.S. House lawmakers want to give Israel “bunker-busting bombs that could strike Iran's underground nuclear facilities,” Politico reported Tuesday after Jewish Insider got the scoop. “The legislation, offered by Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Brian Mast (R-Fla.), would make it possible to transfer the 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator to Israel as a defense against Iran if Tehran pursues nuclear weapons,” Connor O’Brien wrote. More from Politico, here.
Remember the Saudi-led, U.S.-backed war in Yemen? It never stopped, and this week the monitoring group Airwars alleged that the U.S. “has conducted at least 190 armed actions, mostly airstrikes, in Yemen since President Trump took office in 2017, resulting in a minimum of 86 likely civilian deaths,” the Washington Post reported Tuesday.
One reason this matters: “All told, the U.S. military has acknowledged only up to a dozen possible civilian casualties in Yemen during Trump’s presidency,” the Post’s Missy Ryan writes.
Almost 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year, the UN said Tuesday. “The Taliban were responsible for 45% of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23%, it said. U.S.-led international forces were responsible for 2%,” Reuters reports.
How does that compare to previous years? The toll is so far “30% lower than in the same period last year,” according to the UN. But more alarming at this point is the fact that, as Reuters writes, “violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in the Qatari capital of Doha last month.” More here.
Want a two-page primer on the Pentagon’s new effort to link everything on the battlefield, otherwise known as Joint All-Domain Command and Control, aka JADC2, or the related Army-Air Force project they’ve dubbed Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control, aka CJADC2? The Congressional Research Service has you covered, here. (Tip of the hat to USNI News for hosting the PDF on its site, here.)
Another day on Capitol Hill for Big Tech CEOs. The chief executives of Google, Facebook and Twitter are testifying today before a Senate committee to explain a bit about how the platforms moderate content. Catch the livestream here.
Get smart on how politicians target you using things like your credit score in a fairly wide-ranging analysis from the Washington Post’s tech columnist Geoffrey Fowler. He received so many different campaign emails this season that he decided to look into what he calls “the voter data economy, in which candidates, parties and nonprofits quietly collect, buy and exploit a ton of information about you.”
Cutting to the quick, he writes, “Privacy may be a cornerstone of American liberty, but politicians on both sides of the aisle have zero problem invading it.” And as it stands, “there just aren’t many laws designed to protect our data from politicians.”
Voter registration and participation info was already available to campaigns. But now, campaigns have access to data on “your income, debt, family, ethnicity, religion, gym habits, whether you own a gun and what kind of car you drive.”
Blame that phone of yours. What’s new here is that political campaigns have “begun tapping into commercial data brokers and murkier social media and smartphone tracking techniques,” Fowler reports, adding, “The scandal that erupted around Cambridge Analytica, which scraped data from Facebook while working for Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, was just the tip of the iceberg.” Read on for what he calls the “five major sources of personal data that fuel the political machine,” here.
And lastly today: Are arctic farts making climate change worse? The Guardian: “Scientists have found evidence that frozen methane deposits in the Arctic Ocean – known as the ‘sleeping giants of the carbon cycle’ – have started to be released over a large area of the continental slope off the East Siberian coast.”
So what? “Methane has a warming effect 80 times stronger than carbon dioxide over 20 years,” which is “prompting concern among researchers that a new climate feedback loop may have been triggered that could accelerate the pace of global heating.” Read, here.
Meanwhile, at NOAA: “The Trump administration has recently removed the chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the nation’s premier scientific agency, installed new political staff who have questioned accepted facts about climate change and imposed stricter controls on communications at the agency.” Read on, here.