Today's D Brief: COVID surges in US, Europe; Election-related hacking, disinformation; Potential F-35 sales; Romcom spotlights logistics; And a bit more.
Across Europe and America, the coronavirus is surging — with the former now at the “epicenter” of the pandemic, and the latter reeling amid soaring case counts and a storm that cancelled a presidential rally in one of America’s largest military towns, Fayetteville, N.C.
Across the pond, “Around 1,370 Covid-19 patients are dying in the European Union and the U.K. every day on average, compared with 808 in the U.S,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Not since March has Europe suffered more recorded deaths than the U.S.”
Here stateside, “A multi-state coronavirus surge in the countdown to Election Day has exposed a clear split between President Donald Trump’s bullish embrace of a return to normalcy and urgent public warnings from the government’s top health officials,” the Associated Press reports.
And for the military, more than a third of all U.S. installations still have COVID travel restrictions, the Defense Department announced in an update this morning. That means 81 of 231 bases are following local guidance and require a 14-day downward trend before reopening.
Notable bases include: Benning, Bliss, Bragg, Carlisle, Hood, Huahaca, Irwin, Leavenworth, Leonard Wood, Polk, Stewart, Redstone Arsenal, Coronado NAB, Jacksonville NAS, Little Creek, NS Great Lakes, NS Guam, NSA Panama City, San Diego, Bahrain, Yokosuka, Ellsworth, Elmendorf, Kadena, Ramstein, Tyndall, Yokota, Parris Island and more.
VA check-in: The Department of Veterans Affairs reported on Thursday that it is handling 5,735 active COVID cases, up one-third in two weeks. The VA has seen 3,961 patients die of COVID, a number on track to hit 4,000 early next week. (Via Military Times’ Leo Shane.)
In nationwide trends, Reuters pored over Thursday’s data and found:
- 21 states have more coronavirus-linked hospitalizations today than at any earlier point in the pandemic;
- Those hospitalizations have “risen over 50% in October to 46,000, the highest since mid-August”;
- More than 229,000 Americans have died from the disease so far, and nearly 9 million have been infected, “both the highest single-country totals in the global pandemic,” Reuters writes.
Danger zones: The battleground states of Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are among the hardest-hit right now.
For Illinois, “[U]nfortunately I’m afraid we can expect much worse to come,” said the state’s Democratic governor in a chart-packed Twitter thread Thursday.
And in the interests of proceeding wisely, “One of the country’s most conservative business groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, on Thursday urged member companies and local community leaders to step up efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus with mask mandates and other measures.” More from Reuters, here.
President Trump is campaigning in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota today. He has speeches planned for two airport rallies — and another scheduled for the evening at Minnesota’s Rochester International Airport, which (unlike the first two of those events today) the campaign is calling not a “Victory Rally” but a “Peaceful Protest.” Vice President Mike Pence is campaigning in Arizona today.
Related: Leaders from DHS and ICE “have launched a highly unusual publicity blitz in battleground states,” Time reported Thursday, following the trails of Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and his deputy Ken Cuccinelli.
Joe Biden is campaigning in Des Moines, Iowa, then St. Paul, Minn., and finally to Milwaukee, Wis. Sen. Kamala Harris will spend Friday campaigning in Texas.
One more thing: Biden has a special message for South Korea, and RoK’s Yonhap news agency describes it as “the first of its kind to a South Korean media company in the year of the U.S. presidential election.”
From Defense One
Twitter Bots Promote Right-Wing Conspiracies, Paper Shows // Patrick Tucker: Almost 13 percent of all users that endorse conspiracy narratives are bots, say researchers.
How ‘America First’ Became America Alone // Peter Nicholas and Tom McTague, The Atlantic: In his desperation to restore and showcase American strength, Donald Trump has made the country weaker.
Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Possible F-35 sales; 3Q earnings; Airlifter toilets, and more.
The Best Tech for Troops (Needs an Easier Path to Reach Them) // Tony DeMartino: The Pentagon must keep lowering barriers for startup companies, especially in artificial intelligence and machine learning — and help them stay in the game.
Welcome to this Friday 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 1938, Orson Welles broadcast an adaptation of H.G. Wells’s alien-invasion story, “The War of the Worlds,” on CBS radio and purportedly freaked out many — ok, maybe just a few — people across America.
The Pentagon’s senior leaders might be under threat while “on American soil, not just traveling overseas,” NBC News reported Thursday, citing a late September briefing for top U.S. military, intelligence and law enforcement officials.
What tipped off U.S. officials: An unspecified “Defense Department leader left the Pentagon [Sept. 22] in a government-owned black SUV driven by a member of his security detail, when an unknown vehicle immediately began to follow them…for five to seven miles, at times driving aggressively, according to officials who described a report on the incident.” The driver of that allegedly harassing vehicle turned out to be an Iranian national. “Officials would not say whether the man was questioned or taken into custody.”
For what it’s worth, “The FBI investigated the incident and determined it was not part of any larger threat to senior military leaders or connected directly back to Iran,” officials told NBC. More here.
Surprise, surprise: A fake intelligence firm created a document that went viral in right-wing media, NBC News reported Thursday. The document posited “an elaborate conspiracy theory involving former Vice President Joe Biden's son and business in China,” NBC writes.
The twist: The purported author is a fake person whose image was created by AI. That would be the “self-identified Swiss security analyst named Martin Aspen,” whose profile picture, disinformation researchers told NBC News, “was created with an artificial intelligence face generator.” What’s more (or less, really), “The intelligence firm that Aspen lists as his previous employer said that no one by that name had ever worked for the company and that no one by that name lives in Switzerland, according to public records and social media searches.”
And to make matters even more murky (and in many ways, that is indeed the point of an information battle such as this), “One of the original posters of the document, a blogger and professor named Christopher Balding, took credit for writing parts of it when asked about it and said Aspen does not exist,” NBC News’s Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny report. Continue reading, here.
Another one from the information wars: Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon are having a harder time inciting October controversies this time around. If the tenor of political news shared on your social media feeds has gotten (predictably) odd and unhealthy lately, don’t miss “The Crazy Last Days of Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon,” from Mother Jones’s Dan Friedman and David Corn.
Related reading: “‘Tsunamis of Misinformation’ Overwhelm Local Election Officials,” from the New York Times, reporting Thursday.
Putin’s hackers have been trying to get into the emails of the Indiana and California Democratic parties, Reuters reports. So far, there’s no indication the hackers were successful.
The same hackers have also been trying to get into East Coast think tank emails. That includes the Center for American Progress, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Big picture: “News of the Russian hacking activity follows last month's announcement here by Microsoft that Fancy Bear had attempted to hack more than 200 organizations, many of which the software company said were tied to the 2020 election,” Reuters writes. “Microsoft was able to link this year's cyber espionage campaign to the Russian hackers through an apparent programming error that allowed the company to identify a pattern of attack unique to Fancy Bear.” More here.
Hackers allegedly stole $2.3 million from the Wisconsin GOP, the Associated Press reported Thursday. According to Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt, "the hackers manipulated invoices from four vendors who were being paid for direct mail for Trump’s reelection efforts as well as for pro-Trump material such as hats to be handed out to supporters," AP writes. The party maintains a federal account for those funds, and that’s what was allegedly hit by hackers.
How? “Invoices and other documents were altered so when the party paid them, the money went to the hackers instead of the vendors,” Hitt said. The FBI is reportedly looking into the claims.
BTW, the Wisconsin Democratic Party said they know of “more than 800 attempted phishing attacks for financial gain” so far this cycle, “but none has been successful.” More here.
In quietly alarming OPSEC news, the Energy Department has launched an investigation into a person or people who brought “unauthorized electronic equipment (Panasonic pan-tilt-zoom cameras) into security areas for over two years,” which carried “the potential [for] unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” according to this notice last week from the department. The unapproved cameras were evidently discovered back in February.
Location: Sandia National Laboratories, in Albuquerque, N.M. The investigation announcement was flagged Thursday on Twitter by the International Nuclear Security Forum (@INS_Forum).
In video: See how Taiwan defends its beaches from Chinese invasion, via a video report today from Agence France-Presse, here.
By the way: Taiwan’s economy has been surging over the past quarter, in part because of its success in controlling the coronavirus. The self-governing island has not seen a new internal case in more than 200 days. Watch CNN’s a report on how they did it, here.
Who knew: The man running Trump’s trade war with China “was partnered with a Chinese state-owned enterprise,” which makes for a “massive conflict of interest,” Foreign Policy reported Thursday.
For your eyes only: Anybody interested in a pandemic movie? Director Michael Bay hopes so.
Flip the script: Anybody interested in a Hallmark-like movie about the U.S. military? Netflix hopes so.
And finally this week: Remember the Green Beret who allegedly helped smuggle a Nissan executive so he could flee prosecution in Japan? The State Department now says he and his alleged partner can be extradited to Japan to face criminal charges, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
As you can imagine, the accused have appealed the decision, which could have removed them from the U.S. as early as 1 p.m. ET Thursday.
FWIW, “The Taylors’ lawyers haven’t denied that the pair took part in the escape, but argued that the father-and-son duo didn’t commit a crime in Japan,” the Journal writes, adding, “Bail-jumping isn’t illegal in the country and the Japanese law against harboring criminals under which the Taylors were charged doesn’t apply, they argued.” More to that, here.