Today's D Brief: Deadliest year in US history; A carrier off Somalia; Missile sub through Hormuz; Sanctions on Russia and China; And a bit more.
More Americans died this year than any other year in history, the Associated Press reports as “deaths [are] expected to top 3 million for the first time — due mainly to the coronavirus pandemic.”
Trending badly: “2020 numbers amount to a jump of about 15%, and could go higher once all the deaths from this month are counted.” So far, more than 319,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.
U.S. lawmakers finally passed their $892 billion COVID-19 relief package on Monday, and President Donald Trump just signed the bill, Reuters reports. The deal is packaged with a government funding bill to avert a shutdown; in all, lawmakers cleared more than $2 trillion with Monday’s agreement. The bill includes $600 payments to many Americans, and those could go out as soon as next week, Reuters reports.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Milley was given his vaccine shot on Monday, and he tweeted out photos shortly afterward. He was joined by Vice Chairman Air Force Gen. John Hyten, and by Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Ramón Colón-López. (President-elect Joe Biden received his vaccine on Monday, too.)
By the way: Milley tells Congress he can’t yet approve the Cybercom/NSA split that Trump administration officials pitched recently, the Washington Post reported Monday — following up on a story Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams reported on Saturday.
Background: Trump administration officials at the Pentagon late last week sent the Joint Chiefs a plan to split up the leadership of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command — an evolution of sorts that has been talked about and considered for years. Williams reported that this is “the latest push to dramatically reshape defense policy advanced by a handful of key political officials who were installed in acting roles in the Pentagon after Donald Trump lost his re-election bid.” But the catch was that Milley had to certify that the move meets certain standards laid out by Congress in 2016. He’s now made that determination, the Post reports.
The latest: “Despite his personal support for the move, Miller has concluded that Cybercom has not met the conditions, required by law, for such a move to take place,” two officials told WaPo. Now “The acting Pentagon chief is expected to direct the Defense Department to provide the necessary resources to meet the requirement by next year.” Read on, here.
From Defense One
Lockheed’s Proposed Aerojet Rocketdyne Purchase Sets Early M&A Test for Biden // Marcus Weisgerber: The new administration will weigh in on a further consolidation of the U.S. defense industry
Don’t Discount America’s Interest in Keeping Africa Safe // Maj. Scott D. Adamson: As the Pentagon removes more troops, consider what its modest investment has garnered.
Biden Must Prioritize Missile Defense // Rebeccah L. Heinrichs: The new president will be pressed to choose between short- and long-term improvements. The rise in threats mean he must pursue both.
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Kevin Baron. 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 2010, POTUS44 repealed the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, which banned homosexuals from openly serving.
The Pentagon has moved an aircraft carrier closer to Somalia, USNI News reported Monday, while the U.S. redistributes its nearly 700 Somali-based personnel to other locales across East Africa.
Reminder: “To be clear, the U.S. is not withdrawing or disengaging from East Africa,” AFRICOM insisted when it publicized its repositioning late Friday evening. "We also remain capable of striking Al-Shabaab at the time and place of our choosing—they should not test us," said AFRICOM's Army Gen. Stephen Townsend in that Friday statement.
Newly arrived for the job: USS Nimitz (CVN-68), USS Makin Island (LHD-8) and amphibious transport docks USS Somerset (LPD-25) and USS San Diego (LPD-22). Some 2,500 Marines are also involved, along with a squadron of Marine F-35Bs. More from USNI, here. Or read more from AFRICOM’s messaging today, here.
Commentary: Air Force Maj. Scott Adamson argues that U.S. leaders should not forget the interests that led them to deploy forces to Africa in the first place. Read that, here.
The U.S. Navy sent a missile sub through the shallow waters of the Hormuz Strait, the Associated Press reported Monday from Dubai.
Making the journey: The USS Georgia (SSGN-729), which is “armed with 154 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles and can host up to 66 special operations forces,” AP writes.
What’s going on: The transit “follows the killing last month of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an Iranian scientist named by the West as the leader of the Islamic Republic’s disbanded military nuclear program. It also comes some two weeks before the anniversary of the American drone strike in January that killed top Iranian military commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani.”
ICYMI: The U.S. sent two B-52H Stratofortress bombers to Iran’s doorstep in a 36-hour mission from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana almost two weeks ago, on Dec. 10. The aircraft traveled “across the Atlantic Ocean and Europe, then over the Arabian Peninsula and down the Persian Gulf, making a wide loop near Qatar and staying a safe distance from Iran’s coastline,” AP reported at the time.
The U.S. did something similar in mid-November, too — flying out of Minot Air Force Base in South Dakota for that “deterrence” mission. More on the messaging from both of those missions, via the NYTs, here.
The Commerce Department has posted a list of 58 Chinese companies and 45 from Russia that have alleged ties to their countries’ respective militaries. Those more than 100 entities will be restricted from buying certain U.S. products and technology without a specific license for the transaction.
Among them: the company that makes the rockets that ferried American astronauts to the International Space Station from 2011 until November, when three Americans made the journey atop a SpaceX rocket. Dmitry Rogozin, who leads Russia’s Roscosmos space corporation, is angry: “Now, it turns out that our American colleagues have their ‘trampoline working’ again, and the first thing they did is spit into the Samara well. Isn’t it too early, colleagues, in case your ‘trampoline’ breaks again suddenly and you will have to satisfy your passion for space from our well again?”
Context: “Publishing the list in the waning days of the Trump administration follows the addition of dozens of Chinese companies to another U.S. trade blacklist, including the country’s top chipmaker, SMIC, and drone manufacturer SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd, on Friday,” Reuters reported Monday. A bit more, here.
AG Bill Barr contradicts Trump by suggesting that Russia was behind the recent hack of U.S. government networks. Barr was asked about the hack during a press conference Monday where he announced charges against an alleged bomb-maker in the 32-year-old Lockerbie bombing case (more on that below). “From the information I have,” Barr told reporters, “It certainly appears to be the Russians."
By the way: Emails used by the Treasury Department’s “most senior leadership” were among the hackers’ targets, the New York Times reported Monday, updating the known victim tally. However, the department’s classified systems are not yet believed to have been breached, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday.
Barr also said there’s no need for a special counsel to investigate voter fraud or Hunter Biden. “If I thought a special counsel at this stage was a right tool and was appropriate, I would name one, but I haven’t and I’m not going to," he said of the voter fraud allegations from his boss, POTUS45. About Hunter Biden, Barr said, “To this point, I have not seen a reason to appoint a special counsel, and I have no plan to do so before I leave.”
Reminder: Barr plans to step down before Christmas. More from CNN, Fox, Axios and the Washington Post.
And Barr’s replacement “has no earthly idea the insanity he is in for,” Axios reports. That replacement is Jeffrey Rosen, and Axios writes that “The next month will be the longest of his life” since POTUS45 is presently “turning bitterly on virtually every person around him, griping about anyone who refuses to indulge conspiracy theories or hopeless bids to overturn the election.” More here.
Remember Lockerbie? “On the 32nd anniversary of the attack on Pan Am Flight 103,” news emerges that Abu Agila Mohammad Masud, a bomb-maker for the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi who is already in prison, has admitted to assembling the device that destroyed the fabled aircraft over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Prosecutors unsealed the news charges on the anniversary of the attack. “They said he confessed his role in the Lockerbie bombing to a Libyan law-enforcement officer in 2012.”
More than 70 West Point cadets were caught cheating on a calculus final, USA Today reports, calling it “the worst academic scandal since the 1970s.” Nearly 60 of them admitted to the cheating; a few resigned; and “some face hearings that could result in their expulsion.”
Recall that the cadet honor code is clear on this stuff: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” There are no exemptions for virtual or distance-learning environments. More here.
Throwback Tuesday: In the mid-1990s, the Naval Academy was rocked by a similar scandal. More than 130 midshipmen were discovered to have cheated on electrical-engineering exams; two dozen were expelled after a 16-month investigation.
And finally today: A Marine in North Carolina was saved from a hail of bullets thanks to defensive measures implemented at recruiting stations after a deadly 2015 shooting in Chattanooga, Tenn. Military Times has the latest developments from a shooting incident on Dec. 14 in Greensboro, N.C.
After being rejected several times when attempting to join the Army, the alleged shooter began trying to cut off power to the buildings supplying a Navy and Marine recruiting station in Greensboro at around 6 p.m. He then fired a few shots at the station’s windows, and the shots fortunately did not hit anyone. A “source with direct knowledge of the incident” told Military Times a bulletproof cubicle was at least partly to thank for the safe outcome nearly two weeks ago.
The suspected shooter now faces a felony charge and six misdemeanor counts of assault with a deadly weapon. More from Military Times, here.