Today's D Brief: Election Day in the U.S.; North Korea's new subs; Taliban armed drone?; Terror in Vienna; And a bit more.
It’s election day at last in America. And here are a few things we’re expecting over the next several hours:
- Enormous turnout. Already more than 100 million Americans have voted, which is 47% or registered voters, CNN reports. That total already “represents 73% of the more than 136.5 million ballots cast in the 2016 presidential election.” And the state of Texas has already exceeded its 2016 vote totals.
- Long lines to vote. And social distancing will make the wait seem even longer. (Defense One's Bradley Peniston notes, "This is partly because hundreds of polling places have been shuttered since the Supreme Court invalidated part of the Voting Rights Act. But there are other reasons as well.")
- Equipment problems and polling stations opening late, which the Associated Press reports is ordinary given “the decentralized nature of voting in the U.S.” And those could be further complicated by “last-minute changes due to the pandemic.”
- Incomplete reporting. Indeed, “Only nine states expect to have at least 98 percent of unofficial results reported by noon the day after the election,” the New York Times reports. Review voting count estimates and deadlines for all 50 states, here.
- A surge of disinformation if results are delayed, the Wall Street Journal warns. And to that end, America's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has a “Rumor Control” webpage of election-centric info, here.
- The National Guard on alert. Already, “Troops in the Massachusetts and Oregon National Guards have been notified about potential duty with Election Day just hours away,” the Washington Post reported Monday evening.
In fact, the National Guard Bureau “created a 600-soldier quick-response unit of mostly military police, split up between Alabama and Arizona,” the Post reported. And those forces “could mobilize in other states or in Washington,” should civil unrest spike, or if President Trump refuses to accept a loss. More here.
American readiness, in review. Our own Tech Editor Patrick Tucker published a broad summary of how the U.S. is better prepared for election interference than it was in 2016 — and where security gaps still exist. Read that, here.
The U.S. military’s counter-cyber operations quietly expanded around the globe over the past two years. “Cyber Command sent teams to Europe, the Middle East and Asia to learn more about how adversaries could threaten the election this year,” the New York Times reported Monday.
The idea is pretty intuitive, and involves “getting close to foreign adversaries’ own networks” so that “Cyber Command can then get inside to identify and potentially neutralize attacks on the United States.” So far, the program has “uncovered malware being used by adversarial hacking teams.” And that information is shared among allies and partners “to help state and local officials shore up their election system defenses and to notify the public about threats.” Continue reading, here.
ICYMI: Former CIA Director Robert Gates wrote a short letter to the Wall Street Journal that was published this week. The Washington Post’s Greg Miller spotted it and shared it on Twitter Monday afternoon. The letter ends with a bit of a zinger, despite Gates’ avowed interest in avoiding “partisan politics.” Read it in full, here.
Lastly: Get a better handle on the debate around America’s “role in the world” via a new backgrounder from the Congressional Research Service. The latest iteration was published Thursday, and you can find it (PDF) here.
In one corner, the authors write, are Trump's critics, some of whom see change under Trump “as an unnecessary retreat from U.S. global leadership and a gratuitous discarding of long-held U.S. values, and judge it to be an unforced error of immense proportions — a needless and self-defeating squandering of something of great value to the United States that the United States had worked to build and maintain for 70 years.”
In another, of course, are those sympathetic with Trump’s “America first” policy. And some of these supporters, we read in one of the more elegant and long-winded descriptions of the Trump-led worldview, “view the change in the U.S. role, or at least certain aspects of it, as helpful for responding to changed U.S. and global circumstances and for defending U.S. values and interests, particularly in terms of adjusting the U.S. role to one that is more realistic regarding what the United States can accomplish, enhancing deterrence of potential regional aggression by making potential U.S. actions less predictable to potential adversaries, reestablishing respect for national sovereignty as a guidepost for U.S. foreign policy and for organizing international affairs, and encouraging U.S. allies and security partners in Eurasia to do more to defend themselves.”
What now? That’s the work of voters today and of the legislative branch tomorrow. Dive into those issues, here.
From Defense One
US Elections Are Safer from Foreign Interference, But Gaps Remain // Patrick Tucker: Four years after a big wake-up call, federal, state, and local governments are working harder and more closely to ward off threats.
Right and Left-Wing Extremists Are Anticipating Election-Related Violence—From the Other Side, Report Finds // Patrick Tucker: Experts say that high tensions could lead to a combustible situation this week.
We Are Our Own Worst Enemy // Kevin Baron: America’s national security depends on our ability to turn today’s hyperpartisan division into tomorrow’s cooperation.
Time to Rethink Arms Sales to Taiwan // A. Trevor Thrall and Jordan Cohen : Once, they might have tilted the military balance. Now they just destabilize the region.
The World Won’t Organize Itself // Ryan Crocker, The Atlantic: Biden understands what career diplomats know: America’s relationships overseas require hands-on management, and conditions in the field are messier than they appear.
Welcome to this U.S. election-day 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 1908, U.S. voter turnout was higher than any other election of the 20th century. And this was due, in part, to a surge in American populism; but it was more attributed to widespread use of so-called “political machines,” which the Brookings Institution reminds us involved “Local ward bosses, who knew their neighbors intimately, [and who] dispensed jobs and favors for votes.”
America's COVID infection rate keeps rising, and the country is now experiencing "an increase of 44 percent from the average two weeks earlier,” the New York Times reports. To date, more than 230,000 people in the U.S. have died of the coronavirus.
Terror attack in Vienna leaves four dead. A 20-year-old Austrian-North Macedonian dual citizen was shot dead by police Monday night after “Unverified video showed the suspect, dressed in white coveralls, firing off bursts apparently at random as he ran down the Austrian capital’s cobblestone streets,” the Associated Press reports. The rampage happened around 8 p.m. local time, and left two men and two women dead, and more than a dozen people wounded.
The shooter had already been convicted of trying to join ISIS in Syria back in 2019. He was sentenced to 22 months in prison, but was released the following December because he was a juvenile at the time he was charged.
Police are still investigating whether there was another shooter. And they’re poring over more than 20,000 videos of the attack residents have uploaded to help police. More here.
The Taliban may have just carried out its first known armed drone attack, Najim Rahim and Thomas Gibbons-Neff of the New York Times reported Sunday. "The strike targeted the governor’s compound in Kunduz" and "killed at least four security officers."
If the munition was not a missile or a mortar, and if it was in fact a drone, then that “could have wide-ranging and dire consequences for Afghan, United States and NATO forces,” the Times writes. More here.
BTW: ISIS in Afghanistan claimed the Monday attack on Kabul University that left at least 19 people dead, the Wall Street Journal reported. AP recounts the attack with no paywall, here.
North Korea is building two new submarines, including one that can launch ballistic missiles, a South Korean lawmaker said on Tuesday. Reuters said the lawmaker spoke after a closed-door briefing by the South’s National Intelligence Service, adding, “North Korea has a large submarine fleet but only one known experimental submarine capable of carrying a ballistic missile.” Read, here.
QAnon and Russia. In perhaps unsurprising influence operations, Reuters reported Monday that “From November 2017 on, QAnon was the single most frequent hashtag tweeted by accounts that Twitter has since identified as Russian-backed.”
However, “Russian accounts are not driving the present iteration of QAnon, which has expanded to include baseless claims about COVID-19 and other issues.” More at Reuters, here.
And finally today: In an apparent first for the nation's capital, facial recognition was used to arrest a protester near the White House on June 1 in Lafayette Square, the Washington Post reported Monday.
Why this matters: The case “provides the first detailed look at a powerful new regional facial recognition system that officials said has been used more than 12,000 times since 2019…but operates almost entirely outside the public view.”
That system is called the National Capital Region Facial Recognition Investigative Leads System, or NCRFRILS. And “in the vast majority of cases, police are not disclosing it in court papers,” Kade Crockford of the American Civil Liberties Union told WaPo. It’s being piloted by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. And its use was never announced because, a spokesman said, “it is still in a test phase,” with funding set to end in December. But in just three years, the system has allegedly generated almost 2,600 different leads on suspected criminals out of a database of 1.4 million mugshots.
Why don’t police disclose it? Because they say it’s only used “for leads — not grounds for an arrest,” according to Fairfax County Police Major Christian Quinn, who is in charge of the NCRFRILS program.
But it’s not just being used for past crimes. In one instance, “an unnamed Northern Virginia man made what appeared to be suicidal comments in a Facebook group for veterans,” the Post reports. “He was identified by NCRFRILS using his Facebook image and referred for mental health counseling.” More — including a series of measures purportedly intended to mitigate possible privacy violations — here.