Today's D Brief: COVID deaths draw WH call for nationwide “behavior change”; Biden, NATO chief talk; Afghan talks ‘deadlocked’; B-1 test-rigged for hypersonics; And a bit more.

For the first time since May, more than 2,000 Americans died of COVID-19 complications on Tuesday, “portending a surge in mortalities to come as the coronavirus pandemic casts a shadow over the holiday season,” Reuters reports this morning. 

Even the White House’s coronavirus task force is troubled, and warned this week that a “significant behavior change” is required across the country to slow the spread, according to The Hill, which obtained the task force’s report to states. 

What sort of measures does the WH task force recommend in that report? 

  • “Ensure masks at all times in public, increase physical distancing through significant reduction in capacity in public and private indoor spaces, and ensure every American understands the clear risks of ANY family or friend interactions outside of their immediate household indoors without masks.”

More than 260,000 Americans have died from the virus so far, according to the dismal count maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

Related reading:Lessons From Europe’s Covid Surge: Control Is Fragile and Losing It Is Easy,” via the Wall Street Journal. Two of Europe’s biggest problems, which are both arguably problems in America as well: “The continent’s systems for testing, tracing and isolating were often less effective than in East Asia. [And] Popular compliance with social distancing declined as fatigue set in.”

Traveling this week: Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, whom Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber noted Tuesday “was recently in contact with COVID-19 positive officials in the Pentagon.” Secretary Barrett opted against self-quarantining, and chose to visit Singapore. 

Why Singapore? Perhaps it’s a follow-up to a mid-September meeting with the Singaporean defense minister by then-Acting Defense Undersecretary for Policy James Anderson. (Anderson resigned the day after President Trump fired Mark Esper as Pentagon chief.)

Also: Eleven months ago, the U.S. agreed to eventually (by 2029) host a Singapore training element at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. More on that deal signed by Esper at the time, here.

From Defense One

The Next Administration Should Bring the Shadow Wars into the Light // Daniel R. Mahanty and Rachel Stohl: Lethal tactics and entire campaigns launched urgently after 9/11 have corroded oversight and American standing.

Designating the Houthis as Terrorists Would be a Mistake // Jon B. Alterman: A proposed White House move would hinder peace talks and humanitarian efforts in Yemen.

An AI Tool Can Tell a Conspiracy Theory from a True Conspiracy // Timothy R. Tangherlini, The Conversation: It comes down to how easily the story falls apart.

Where Does the Defense Production Act Go from Here? // Daniel Kaniewski and Jerry McGinn: Key aspects need strengthening.How Two US Military Bases Are Exploring 5G’s Potential // Brandi Vincent, Nextgov: Defense Department-led pursuits of next-generation connectivity will hone in on survivability, security, and innovation.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and 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 1963, POTUS35 was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, three days after he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

President-elect Joe Biden spoke with NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday, Biden’s transition office announced, along with a customary generic readout.
From that readout, we’re told the two spoke about Article 5 collective defense, as well as Biden’s “desire to work with Secretary General Stoltenberg and Allies to ensure NATO has the strategic orientation and capabilities it needs to strengthen deterrence and to counter new and emerging threats, including climate change and global health security.” 
Biden formally announced several cabinet picks on Tuesday — including his secretary nominations for the State Department and Homeland Security, as well as his picks to lead America’s spies and the country’s work at the UN.
Those nominees, in case you missed them in our Monday preview, are: 

  • Antony Blinken for secretary of state; 
  • Alejandro Mayorkas for secretary of Homeland Security; 
  • Avril Haines as director of national intelligence; 
  • Linda Thomas-Greenfield as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; 
  • Jake Sullivan as national security adviser; 
  • and John Kerry as special envoy for climate.

Foreign policy lookahead: European Powers Won't Push Biden for Swift U.S. Return to Iranian Nuclear Deal,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
FWIW: China’s President Xi Jinping broke his silence to personally congratulate Biden on his election victory, Reuters reports.
Biden is slated to address the nation tonight ahead of Thanksgiving Day. The themes are expected to involve “the shared sacrifices Americans are making this holiday season” and how Americans “can and will get through the current crisis together,” according to his transition team. 

Afghanistan peace talks latest: Kabul and the Taliban negotiators remain "deadlocked" and President Ashraf Ghani's office "reject[ed] any progress" that might be alleged by the Taliban this week, according to Afghanistan's Tolo News.

The U.S. Navy just wrapped two days of drills with their Tunisian partners, U.S. Africa Command announced Monday.
Involved: Crew of the USS Hershel Williams (ESB-4), which is based at Souda Bay, Greece, carrying out “a simulation of suspicious merchant activity that enabled partners at the Tunisian Regional Operation Centers to exercise their radar capabilities.” U.S. special operators also simulated a counterterrorism drill (unclear what that means, exactly). Tiny bit more, here.

A Coast Guard tester accepted bribes to help would-be mariners obtain licenses, federal prosecutors say. The scheme “resulted in the applicants illegally obtaining a range of licenses for officer-level positions, including the most important positions on vessels, such as master, chief mate, and chief engineer,” the New York Times reports.

In fairly expected White House news, President Trump wants to pardon confessed felon and former national security adviser Mike Flynn, Axios reported Tuesday, and that “would take the matter out of the hands of the courts and of a Biden-controlled Justice Department.” 

The USAF rigged a B-1 bomber to carry a missile outside its bomb bay, reversing part of treaty-mandated denuclearization work. On Thursday, Air Force officials posted a press release and photo of the first flight of a B-1 bomber carrying an inert Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile on an external pylon. That pylon was designed to carry a nuclear weapon, but was disabled for that mission when the B-1 fleet was removed from nuclear service as part of the 1994 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The pylon has since carried sensor pods — until the 412th Test Wing’s 419th Flight Test Squadron modified a Bone to bear a JASSM there instead.
The point: "This demonstration may pave the way possibly for the B-1B to carry hypersonic weapons externally," Air Force Global Strike Command spokesman Lt. Col. David Faggard told
This set off various arms-watchers. “Nothing to see here, just Trump dousing the New START treaty with gasoline before he leaves,” tweeted Jeffrey Lewis.
Not a violation. Kingston Reif of the Arms Control Association pointed out that the reversal is necessary but not sufficient to return the B-1 to nuclear capability. "This would not violate the treaty because the bomber is still only carrying conventional weapons," Reif said Tuesday. "They’re not reinserting the electronics that would be required to make the bomber nuclear-capable, or to carry nuclear weapons.” Read on, here.

Lastly today: Has Facebook been putting you in a terrible mood? If that’s a yes, and you’re a Baby Boomer, you’re not alone. Charlie Warzel of the New York Times “asked two people I’d never met to give me their Facebook account passwords for three weeks leading up to and after Election Day. Then I talked to them at length about what I saw and why it was making them miserable.”
What Charlie learned: “Touching family moments are interspersed with Bible quotes that look like Hallmark cards, hyperpartisan fearmongering and conspiratorial misinformation.”
As feeds became more antagonistic, especially in the Trump era, users’ time on the site increased (more on that below). Said one of the Boomers to Warzel, “It’s like going by a car wreck. You don’t want to look, but you have to.” Of course, none of this is necessarily news to anyone who has had or still keeps a Facebook account. But it’s especially worrisome for users’ mental health when you consider this… 
Facebook “ran tests this year to figure out if ‘bad for the world’ content could be demoted in users’ feeds. It could, but there was a problem: it decreased the number of times users opened Facebook,” NYT’s Tech Columnist Kevin Roose reported Tuesday.
Get to know this term: “Hate bait.” Roose defined it as “posts that don’t strictly violate Facebook’s hate speech rules, but that provoke a flood of hateful comments.” They’re all over the platform, driving engagement — and time on site.
Facebook created a tool to demote “hate bait,” but the platform limited it to groups only and not to, e.g., your individual account. Why? “The policy team determined that it would primarily affect right-wing publishers if it were applied more broadly,” according to two people with alleged knowledge of Facebook’s internal conversations.
Another tool was called “correct the record,” which “would have retroactively notified users that they had shared false news and directed them to an independent fact-check.” Some of the site’s engineers considered it vital, e.g., in the fight against COVID-19 misinformation. However, perhaps predictably at this point in our review of FB content moderation, “that was vetoed by policy executives who feared it would disproportionately show notifications to people who shared false news from right-wing websites.”
What next? Unclear, but chances are pretty good that your account tomorrow will look much as it did yesterday. After all, as Warzel wrote, “our divisions have been in front of our faces and inside our feeds this whole time.” Read Warzel here; and Roose here.

Have a good, and safe, Thanksgiving. We’ll see you on Monday.