Today's D Brief: Drama in DC; COVID deaths hit new high; Russia backed hack, IC says; Green Berets to Sweden; And a bit more.
Congress will meet in a joint session today to certify Joe Biden’s electoral victory. But the pro forma work may take a bit longer than usual, thanks to Republican senators who say they want to throw out votes cast against President Donald Trump, as Politico reported Tuesday.
Rewind: No evidence of serious irregularities has yet come to light, despite the 62 lawsuits filed by and on behalf of Trump’s re-election campaign. In the words of a Jan. 4 statement by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio: “After two months of recounts and legal challenges, not a single state recount changed a result and, of the dozens of lawsuits filed, not one found evidence of fraud or irregularities widespread enough to change the result of the election.”
The session is set to start at 1 p.m. Eastern; each challenge could force the House and Senate to retire for up to two hours of debate. But to remove a state’s electors from Biden’s 74-vote margin of victory, the House must vote to uphold the challenge — all but inconceivable in the Democrat-controlled body. This helpful flowchart from the New York Times shows how things will go — and just how long it’s been since anything like this was tried.
Declining to protest today’s proceedings: Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma and current chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who said in a statement Tuesday, “To challenge a state’s certification, given how specific the Constitution is, would be a violation of my oath of office—that is not something I am willing to do and is not something Oklahomans would want me to do.”
Outside the Capitol, thousands of Trump supporters have gathered to voice support for the president’s false claims of victory.
Topline read: “More than 3,770 American deaths were reported in one day -- more than two dozen above the country’s previous record, set less than a week ago. The country also topped 21 million infections Tuesday and set a hospitalization record, with more than 131,100 Covid-19 hospitalized patients nationwide.” More at the COVID Tracking Project, here.
From Defense One
Russia ‘Likely’ Behind SolarWinds Hack, Cyber Response Agencies Say // Mariam Baksh, Nextgov: The Cyber Unified Coordination Group believes fewer than ten government agencies were compromised by the still-active intelligence operation.
Two-Thirds of DOD’s Major IT Projects Are Behind Schedule, GAO Found // Mila Jasper, Nextgov: Defense officials say lack of talent is slowing the adoption of cybersecurity best practices.
Defense One Radio, Ep. 84 // Defense One Staff: What now for conservatives in national security?
What AI Can and Cannot Do for the Intelligence Community // Zigfried Hampel-Arias and John Speed Meyers: A realistic appraisal of artificial intelligence shows limits but real promise.
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 1919, America’s 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., passed away at the age of 60 from a blood clot that’s believed to have traveled into his lungs.
Sweden has been quietly growing closer to the U.S. as a bulwark against Russia, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday from Sweden, where the U.S. has indefinitely dispatched a team of Green Berets to help train the Swedish military.
Why this matters: Sweden’s response to recent Russian aggression — i.e., invading Ukraine in 2014 — “is especially dramatic, overturning decades of its own defense and foreign policy,” the Journal reports. “While the country maintained a careful neutrality between the U.S. and Soviet Union during the Cold War, this time around Stockholm is tightening ties with Washington.”
What’s more, “Sweden’s parliament authorized the biggest increase in military spending in 70 years, including a 50% expansion of the country’s armed forces, to 90,000 troops in 2025 from 60,000 today.” Much more here.
Look-ahead: Biden’s Iran problem. Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy penned an op-ed Saturday for Politico tracing the difficulties facing not just the outgoing Trump administration when it comes to tensions with Iran.
The gist: “One of Joe Biden’s first duties could be to respond to a fatal attack on Americans in Iraq, Syria or the Gulf region.”
Why this matters: “History has shown that Iran probes the resolve of U.S. administrations, and that it can simultaneously poke an American president in the eye and sit at a negotiating table,” Knights warns, adding, “Every other potential aggressor in the world will be watching and taking note.”
Mike’s advice: “The best outcome for everyone is that Iran and its proxies recognize that striking U.S. interests on Biden’s watch is not, in any sense, safer or less consequential than risking such a move under Trump.” Continue reading, here.
Wonder how much America’s southern border wall grew under President Trump? The answer is 47 miles, raising the total walled distance along the U.S.-Mexico border from 654 miles when Trump took office to now 701 miles. (The entire border is 1,954 miles long.) That’s according to Molly O’Toole of the LA Times, who translated the data presented Tuesday by Customs and Border Protection and shared on Twitter by Zolan Kanno-Youngs of the New York Times.
For the record, “Initially, the president proposed building 1,000 miles of wall, but he later revised that figure down to 450 to be completed before the end of his first term,” and Texas Tribune and ProPublica jointly reported three months ago.
And the costs to U.S. taxpayers, as well as the U.S. military? As recently as October, the Trump administration “said it had identified $15 billion — most of it from military funds — to build a total of 738 miles, which comes out to roughly $20 million a mile,” ProPublica and Texas Tribune wrote. (Last January, NPR reviewed similar CBP figures and called it “the most expensive wall of its kind anywhere in the world.”) “That’s compared with the $2.4 billion the government spent from 2007-15 to build 653 miles of fence, as well as gates, roads, lighting and other infrastructure, according to the GAO.” More to all those numbers, here.
Niger is holding three days of national mourning after more than 100 civilians were killed in attacks on two villages near the border with Mali this past Saturday, AP reported Tuesday.
What you need to know: “The attacks are among the deadliest in Niger and come on the heels of several others, including one by the Islamic State West Africa Province in the Diffa region a few weeks ago in which dozens of people were killed. While no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara has increasingly staged assaults in this region.” More here.
America’s Space Force wants three missile-warning satellites, and it’s tapped Lockheed Martin to produce them for about $5 billion, SpaceNews reported Monday. They’re officially known as “Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared satellites,” and they’re designed “provide initial warning of a ballistic or tactical missile launch anywhere on the globe,” Sandra Erwin of SpaceNews writes.
But not so fast, because they’re not expected to be delivered to the Space Force for more than seven years.
Said space policy wonk Brian Weeden: “This is moving faster than before, but ~10 years from program start to satellite delivery is still not very agile, particularly for what is essentially an upgrade to existing capabilities.” Continue reading at SpaceNews, here.
Who wants to go to the Maldives on the U.S. taxpayers’ dime? Anthony Tata has raised his hand. And so the Pentagon’s man “performing the duties of under secretary of defense for policy” traveled to the archipelago nation on Tuesday ostensibly to speak with its defense minister.
Reminder: Tata is a retired general-turned-conspiracy theorist who failed to garner enough Senate support to be officially named to a Pentagon post in 2020. But he was in Maldives Tuesday to talk about future joint U.S.-Maldives efforts in “exercises, logistics, information sharing and professional military education,” according to the Defense Department.
Not mentioned: Climate change, which could cost the country several islands if stronger mitigation measures do not materialize soon. Reuters has more on Maldives climate-related troubles, here.
Lastly today: The U.S. Army is sitting on a huge collection of Nazi art and propaganda at Fort Belvoir, Va., Dexter Filkins reported Monday for the New Yorker. “Much of it is virulent; most of it is never seen by the public,” Filkins writes.
Why Belvoir? Because the Army’s Center of Military History is located there. It now contains several hundred Nazi-related works, down from an initial U.S. collection of “eight thousand seven hundred and twenty-two drawings, paintings, and sketches, produced by some three hundred and sixty-nine German artists.”
What happened to all those other works? Worth the click, here.