Today's D Brief: COVID deaths set record; ‘Modicum of success’ in Afghanistan; Aircraft crash totals; NDAA advances despite veto threat; And a bit more.

The U.S. just recorded its highest daily death toll from the coronavirus on Wednesday. At least 3,100 people across the U.S. passed away from the disease, which is more than any other day since the start of the pandemic, according to the Associated Press and the New York Times. To date, the virus has claimed the lives of 264,522 Americans, according to the Covid Tracking Project

And in another dismal first, hospitalizations nationwide exceeded 100,000 on Wednesday, which is “nearly double the peak from the first wave in the spring,” the Times reports. South Dakota, Nevada and Indiana “lead the nation in hospitalizations per capita,” CBS News reports, “while California has the highest number with 9,365.” Those sort of numbers pose enormous staffing challenges for healthcare networks across the country, said Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The months ahead are “going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation,” Redfield told an audience with the Chamber of Commerce Foundation on Wednesday morning.

Redfield said he anticipates another 150,000 to 200,000 deaths by February, and that would raise the country’s COVID-19 death toll to at least 422,000 Americans, ABC News reports.

Visualized: “How a third wave of COVID-19 engulfed the US,” an animated map from USA Today.

One big takeaway: "It’s early action that pays off," said Matthew Fox, professor of epidemiology and global health at Boston University School of Public Health. “If you wait until the spread is already substantial, at that point, your measures to contain the virus are really shutting things down completely.”

Now what? “If you’re not limiting the number of people you’re having contact with indoors that are unmasked, we can say this is unlikely to change,” Fox said. More from USA Today, here.

Pompeo, the party guy. The State Department, which last week instructed employees to hold “non-mission critical events” virtually, has also invited more than 900 people to large indoor holiday parties hosted by Secretary Mike Pompeo and his wife. More on that from the Washington Post.

Vaccine watch: Britain just became the first country to approve Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, and the U.S. could do something similar in a matter of days, CBS News reported. “If Pfizer and Moderna Inc.'s vaccines are given emergency approval by the Food and Drug Safety administration, federal officials overseeing the distribution said the first vaccine could be available in the U.S. as early as December 15.”

POTUS42, 43 and 44 all volunteered to get their eventual Covid-19 vaccines on camera to help boost public confidence in the process — once a vaccine is finally selected by the FDA. CNN has more, here.

By the way: “In 1956, compliance by teens with the new polio vaccine was .6%,” Juliette Kayyem of the Harvard Kennedy School tweeted Wednesday evening. However, “On Oct 28, Elvis Presley was set to appear on the Ed Sullivan show. He was asked to get the shot before his performance and did so, live. Compliance went up to 80%.” More on that episode from the National Endowment for the Humanities, here.

Perhaps predictably, hackers are targeting what’s called the “COVID-19 cold chain,” which is “an integral part of delivering and storing a vaccine at safe temperatures,” according to IBM, which announced the news in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. The New York Times reports IBM believes “that the attacks were sophisticated enough that they pointed to a government-sponsored initiative, not a rogue criminal operation aimed purely at monetary gain.”

Attack vectors include “phishing and spearphishing emails [sent] to executives and global organizations involved in vaccine storage and transport to harvest account credentials. The emails have been posed as requests for quotations for participation in a vaccine program.” Read the full CISA alert, here. Or read more from AP, here.

From Defense One

US Has Achieved ‘Modicum of Success’ in Afghanistan, Top General Says // Katie Bo Williams: But years of military stalemate make negotiating with the Taliban the only option, Gen. Mark Milley says.

Why Data Privacy Is To Crucial to Fighting Disinformation  // Patrick Tucker: Information collected as we go about our daily lives can be weaponized into influence operations that are harder to detect.

The Nazi Inspiring China’s Communists // Chang Che, The Atlantic: A decades-old legal argument used by Hitler has found support in Beijing.

Welcome to this Thursday 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 245 years ago and seven months after the Battle of Concord, the newly-formed American Continental Navy is believed to have raised the country’s first national flag (the Grand Union, a precursor to the Stars and Stripes) on a vessel for the very first time. 

Congress is now daring President Trump to veto the annual defense policy bill known as the National Defense Authorization Act, Roll Call’s John Donnelly reported Wednesday. Trump has said he’d veto it if the final bill contained a provision to rename military bases bearing Confederate officers’ names. He then said Tuesday he’d veto if it didn’t repeal a law protecting social media companies, as we explained at the top of Wednesday’s D Brief.
And if Trump still vetoes the $740 billion bill, “then the next Congress, in its opening weeks, will send President Biden the same bill, just with a new cover, and Biden will enact it,” Donnelly writes. “That would be a first, however,” he adds, because “Congress has never failed to enact an NDAA in the same Congress in which it was filed, though on five occasions enactment slipped into the next calendar year.” Much more, including key lawmakers’ reactions, here.
Looking ahead: Gen. Mark Milley says the Pentagon needs to “tighten up and take a much harder look at priorities” in the next several defense budgets after years in which the deficit soared and a pandemic demanded extraordinary expenditures. Speaking at a virtual Brookings Institute event Wednesday, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman “estimated that the Pentagon’s budgets will start to flatten out in the next administration with ‘a reasonable prospect that they could actually decline significantly, depending on what happens,’” The Hill reported.
“Modicum of success” and “strategic stalemate” in Afghanistan: That’s Milley’s assessment, breaking with years of sunnier portrayals from top brass. Defense One’s Kate Bo Williams has more, here.

POTUS watch: “Increasingly detached from reality” is how the Associated Press described a nearly hour long video Trump posted to Facebook on Wednesday in which he — as AP writes — “delivered a 46-minute diatribe against the election results that produced a win for Democrat Joe Biden, unspooling one misstatement after another to back his baseless claim that he really won.”
And VP Pence? There’s a pretty good reason we haven’t seen or heard much from him disputing the election results, The Daily Beast reports

Behind closed doors on Capitol Hill today: Navy and Marine Corps officials are scheduled to deliver a classified briefing on the military’s 500-ship plan to staff members of defense-focused lawmakers’ aides, Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio tweeted Wednesday.

President-elect Joe Biden plans to keep Chris Wray as head of the F.B.I., and former deputy C.I.A. director David Cohen is now the leading choice to take over at Langley, the New York Times reported Wednesday.
BTW: The U.S. military deployed cyber troops to Estonia ahead of the November elections back stateside, the Times’ Julian Barnes reports separately today.
One goal of that deployment: “to broadly observe Russian techniques in Estonia and compare them with Moscow’s tactics used in the United States, said Brig. Gen. William J. Hartman, the commander of the Cyber National Mission Force.”
Among their findings so far are “new kinds of malware used by Russia that the United States government then released publicly, blunting their effectiveness,” Barnes writes. Read on, here.

Happening today: The Pentagon’s acquisition chief Ellen Lord talks about “Great Power competition” in an online event hosted by the Hudson Institute’s Rebecca Heinrichs. That starts at noon ET. Catch the livestream, here.
FYI: U.S. military aviation accidents have killed 224 personnel, destroyed 186 aircraft and cost more than $11.6 billion in just the past seven years — “and many aviators believe those numbers will keep rising,” McClatchy’s Tara Copp reported Wednesday from the findings of a congressional investigation.

The Marine Corps' first squadron of carrier-capable F-35s are ready for combat, reported Wednesday. It's known as Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314, and it operates out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif. Details and backstory, here.

The U.S. is reducing staff at its Baghdad embassy “until after the anniversary of Qasem Soleimani’s killing in January,” the Washington Post reports.
Get a better grasp on one way Iran is expanding its influence in Iraq via a Reuters special report published Wednesday.
Involved: A development group called the Holy Shrines Reconstruction Headquarters, which was “set up by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and run by the Revolutionary Guards’ appointees,” Reuters writes.
At the heart of the story: “The Headquarters lists at least 17 projects it is overseeing at important shrines in Najaf, Kerbala, Baghdad and the northern city of Samarra,” Reuters writes. “These contracts are often years-long and worth hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Said one Iraqi lawmaker: “Iran is weakened, but it’s stronger than America in Iraq.” Read on, here.

And finally today: Video games — er, esports — have swept through the military’s branches. Task & Purpose reports that the sport has now officially gotten so large that the U.S. and UK militaries are now competing against each other in the first-ever Call of Duty Endowment Bowl on Dec. 11.
In short, “Esports teams from the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and even the Space Force will be joined by those from the British Army, Royal Navy, and Royal Air Force.”
It’s called the CODE Bowl, and it’ll “be broadcast live on Call of Duty’s YouTube and Twitch channels when it kicks off on 10 a.m. Pacific on Dec. 11.” More from T&P, here.
One last thing: Don’t miss our Defense One Radio podcast episode on Esports and military recruiting from back in May right here.