Today's D Brief: Election update; Disinfo spreads online; Esper’s next moves?; COVID hospitalizations rise sharply; And a bit more.

On the apparent brink of defeat, President Donald Trump lashes out with lies. “Citing ‘horror stories,’ President Donald Trump unleashed a torrent of fabricated accusations Thursday in an audacious attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the U.S. election,” the Associated Press reports on yet another historic morning after the 2020 election. Here’s a transcript of Trump’s 16-minute speech Thursday evening — a speech in which he claimed, against all evidence, to have won the election amid others’ attempts to steal it.

It was the “Most dishonest speech of his presidency,” tweeted CNN’s White House fact-checker, Daniel Dale, shortly afterward. “On the verge of what appeared to be a likely defeat by former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump emerged in the press briefing room and took a blowtorch to the presidential tradition of defending the legitimacy of the democratic process,” Dale wrote

ABC, CBS, and NBC networks cut away from Trump as he piled up false claim after false claim. Anchors for Fox News, which didn’t cut away, reminded their audience that “we haven’t seen any evidence” backing up the president’s allegations. 

Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, speaking this morning on the TODAY show: “I saw the president’s speech last night and it was hard to watch. The president's allegations of large-scale fraud, and theft of the election are just not substantiated. I’m not aware of any significant wrongdoing here.”

“The last President I covered who refused to accept the vote count in an election,” tweeted CNN's Christiane Amanpour, “was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran, 2009.”

To be sure, Trump has been casting doubt on the democratic process for years. He has long spread lies about voting fraud (2016, 2020) and suggested that he might not accept the results of the election (2016, 2020). 

For the second day in a row, President Trump “has no public events scheduled,” the White House says.

Disinformation watch: “Unfounded and debunked claims about the integrity of Tuesday’s election have spread on social media by Trump and high-profile Republican accounts and the hashtag #StopTheSteal has gained momentum,” Reuters reported on Thursday. 

That hashtag took off within minutes on Twitter on Tuesday, reflecting the speed with which false information can be injected into America’s online discussions, New America’s Peter Singer writes at Defense One. Singer used Zignal Labs’ database of internet posts to track the spread of the hashtag — and other false themes spread online since the summer.

The top four false themes in American political discourse, by number of online mentions, are: the debunked Hunter Biden “laptop” narrative, the baseless claims of voting by mail fraud, inaccurate claims of antifa violence, and the ever-changing QAnon conspiracy theory. 

Divided, conquered: One problem, Singer says, is that the major social-media companies have different policies about extremist content, which allows purveyors of disinformation to “forum shop” for places to post it. Find more charts, graphs, and analysis, here.

BTW: Facebook now says it wants to turn down the visibility on election misinformation, the New York Times reported Thursday. 

The company shut down a “Stop the Steal” group that drew 300,000 members in just two days and dealt largely in lies and misinformation, Reuters reported Thursday.

From Defense One

Misinformation 2020: What the Data Tells Us About Election-Related Falsehoods // Peter W. Singer: Here are urgent lessons from the year’s most-spread false themes — and the ones going viral right now.

Meet the AI That’s Defeating Automated Fact Checkers // Patrick Tucker: Social media companies are using lie-detecting algorithms to reduce the amount of disinformation they spread. That’s not going to be good enough.

US Navy Orders First New Missile Sub // Marcus Weisgerber: The $9.4 billion order covers the completion of USS Columbia and materials for USS Wisconsin.

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Peering ahead; Taiwan drone-sale OKd; Boeing’s nautical divestment; and more...

George Washington Warned Us  // Kevin Baron: The first president anticipated political misinformation, division, and attempts to subvert the rule of law in the pursuit of power.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Bradley Peniston with 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 160 years ago, Abraham Lincoln became America’s 16th president. “We are not enemies, but friends,” he said in his inaugural address. “Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

SecDef Esper has reportedly penned a resignation letter, which was unsurprising news to at least one Pentagon watcher. But in that same NBC News report Thursday, Esper also allegedly “provided a written framework to Pentagon leaders for renaming installations, and possibly even ships and street names on bases, that honor Confederate generals or leaders.” More on that in a moment.
Politico, too, reports Esper may be gone soon. Nancy Cook wrote Thursday that Trump and his aides want him “to look as presidential as possible,” and this could involve POTUS45 “fir[ing] a few Cabinet members and top aides, including FBI Director Christopher Wray and Defense Secretary Mark Esper.” (Axios reported something similar — adding CIA Director Gina Haspel to the list of likely early departures — on Oct. 25, here.)
About that resignation? Not true, tweeted Pentagon Spokesman Jonathan Hoffman. “The NBC story is inaccurate and misleading in many ways. To be clear, Secretary of Defense Esper has no plans to resign, nor has he been asked to submit a letter of resignation. He continues to serve the nation as the Secretary of Defense at the pleasure of the President and is working on the irreversible implementation of the National Defense Strategy.”
About the Confederate base issue, Hoffman told NBC, “Out of respect for the members of Congress who have sought technical assistance in good faith, we generally do not discuss these efforts.” But unnamed officials told NBC that Esper's current working "framework suggests that the NDAA could say that military installations cannot be named after someone who has betrayed the U.S. or committed a felony, and instead must be named after people who have met certain criteria, like having earned a Medal of Honor or Silver Star, or achieving the rank of general."
Two officials told NBC that Esper is thinking about “his legacy,” and he “prefers to be remembered as someone who was fired because he stood up to the president, rather than being remembered as ‘Yesper.’” Much more from NBC, here.

Attacks across Afghanistan rose sharply over the past three months,  according to the latest quarterly report (PDF) from U.S. monitors at the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. How sharply? SIGAR found a 50% increase in the “average daily enemy-initiated attacks” from July through September compared to April through June.
One big, important question: Did the Taliban attack any U.S. bases over the past quarter? The answer is classified, the U.S. military told SIGAR. (That and other classified questions beginning on page 216 of the report.)
Why this matters: It’s “the latest example of the military working to keep even the most basic information about how the war in Afghanistan is faring from the American public,” Jeff Schogol of Task & Purpose writes.
Also: “The Taliban also have not severed ties with al-Qaida.” And that was one of the terms of the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed Feb. 29 in Qatar, Stars and Stripes reports.
Another thing: Any abrupt U.S. military withdrawal could be bad news for Kandahar Airfield operations, Stripes reports separately this morning. Why? In large part because “Afghan officials at the country’s second largest airport say they still haven’t been trained to take over.” Stripes elaborates, here.

The French military is reportedly planning to shift troops away from Africa and to Europe, Agence France-Presse reports. “According to multiple military sources who spoke to AFP and asked not to be named, France would like to withdraw several hundred troops from its current 5,100-strong contingent. This would take it back to levels deployed before a surge in activity in January when rising numbers of jihadist attacks prompted a boost in the French troop presence.” More here.

And finally: Hospitalizations are rising sharply in the U.S. as a third coronavirus wave sweeps across the country, according to The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project.
In possibly very useful emerging tech news, “An artificial intelligence model can detect people who are asymptomatic with Covid-19, through cellphone-recorded coughs,” MIT News reported on Oct. 29.

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday.