Today's D Brief: Impeachment trial begins; 2 carriers in South China Sea; Water-supply hack; Enemy drones; And a bit more.

POTUS45’s unprecedented second impeachment trial begins today. It all begins at 1 p.m. ET with four hours of argument in the Senate on the constitutionality of impeaching a former president. Actual arguments for and against impeachment — the former president faces a single charge of “incitement of insurrection” — won’t begin until noon on Wednesday, with as many as 16 hours of arguments from the prosecution and the defendant’s legal teams, collectively taking up no more than eight hours per day. 

There are no witnesses expected, the Associated Press previews, “in part because the senators sworn as jurors, forced to flee for safety, will be presented with graphic videos recorded that day.”

That means the proceedings could run into the weekend, and possibly next week. “That timeline would make it the fastest impeachment trial for a president in history,” the New York Times reports. 

By the way: $519 million. That’s the cost of Donald Trump’s claims that the election was stolen, the Washington Post reported this weekend. Those false claims “have forced local, state and federal agencies to spend millions enhancing security, fending off lawsuits and repairing property damage,” and the costs reportedly continue to rise.

And keeping the National Guard in Washington, D.C., through the impeachment? That costs $483 million, Pentagon spox John Kirby told reporters Monday. That breaks down to $256 million for Army National Guard personnel costs and $165 million for operations; the Air National Guard projects about $28 million for its personnel costs and another $34 million toward operations.

Roughly 6,200 National Guardsmen are still in the nation’s capital, Task & Purpose reported Monday. 

Extra reading on how we got here, and what’s next. Here’s some useful reporting on this extended moment in U.S. history, an episode that’s led to as many as 25,000 soldiers having to lock down the nation’s capital from homegrown far-right extremists:

From Defense One

Army Creates Quantum Sensor That Detects Entire Radio-Frequency Spectrum // Patrick Tucker: Breakthrough could help the military fight in the electronic spectrum.

The Military Wants To Produce Water From Air. Here’s the Science Behind It // Patrick Tucker: The key is the right combination of elements in porous crystal structures, and the AI-powered search is on.

How to Reconnect the Pentagon’s Strategy to its Budget / Eric Lofgren, Stephen Rodriguez: Biden will have little time and likely less money to enact his policies. He needs to tie strategy more closely to funding.

The Dangers of Nuclear Virtue Signaling // Matthew R. Costlow: A no-first-use policy would reduce deterrence.

Welcome to this Tuesday 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 in 1943, America’s first big battle in the Pacific — the Battle of Guadalcanal — came to an end after six months of fighting. 

Two U.S. carriers are exercising together in the South China Sea. The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group and the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group sailors and aviators “conducted a multitude of exercises aimed at increasing interoperability between assets as well as command and control capabilities,” the U.S. Navy said today, adding, “Dual carrier operations, like this one, are not new and are intended to maintain U.S. readiness and combat-credible forces to reassure allies and partners and preserve peace in the region.”
Context: “The exercise comes days after China condemned the sailing of [U.S. Navy] destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, near the Chinese-controlled Paracel Islands in what the United States calls a freedom of navigation operation — the first such mission by the U.S. navy since President Joe Biden took office,” Reuters reports. More, including three photos, here

The U.S. is sending B-1 bombers to Norway for the first time ever. CNN reported Monday that “Four US Air Force B-1 bombers and approximately 200 personnel from Dyess Air Force in Texas are being deployed to Orland Air Base in Norway, and within the next three weeks, missions will begin in the Arctic Circle and in international airspace off northwestern Russia.”
This particular U.S. Air Force mission “sends a clear message to Moscow,” U.S. officials told CNN’s Barbara Starr. And that message is “the US military will operate in the strategically important Arctic region and...will defend allies in the area against any Russian aggression close to the country's border.” More here

How big is the gulf between Kabul and the Taliban when it comes to Afghan peace talks? Jane Ferguson of PBS Newshour just filed an 11-minute report Monday evening checking in on America’s 19-year war in Southeast Asia. Ferguson spoke with Taliban members living between the Logar and Wardak provinces. And perhaps unsurprisingly, they feel “Joe Biden should take all their forces out and leave us in peace.” Ferguson also spoke to Abdullah Abdullah, who is leading Kabul’s peace talks. Catch the full report at PBS, here

From roadside bombs to UAVs, drones are the “most concerning tactical development” for the U.S. military in the Middle East since IEDs began killing across Iraq 15 years ago. That’s what Central Command Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said at a virtual event Monday — echoing a speech delivered last summer at the Middle East Institute.
“Right now we’re on the wrong side of the cost-imposition curve because this technology favors the attacker, not the defender,” McKenzie said. “But we’re working very hard to fix this and flatten the curve. We have a variety of systems in the field already.”
As far as solutions (beyond what we’ve previously covered at Defense One), Military Times reports that “Long-term, the Army is pushing for a networked approach, using artificial intelligence and machine learning to find and track possible threats.” What’s more, “The Army’s Fires Center of Excellence at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, is also expected to build a school for the joint force focused on fighting small drones by 2024.” Read on, here

Back stateside, hackers tried to poison a Florida town’s water supply. Using remote-access tools intended to allow outside contractors to operate the water system that serves the town of Oldsmar, unknown hackers released lye — a strong base normally used in small amounts to prevent mineral buildup — at more than one thousand times the usual concentration, town officials told reporters on Monday.
Plant operators saw the initial intrusion, which lasted just a few minutes, but dismissed it as a legitimate use. Some hours later — but well before the dangerous chemical left the plant and entered the public water supply — an operator sounded the alert and stopped the flow, the New York Times reported.
The Feb. 5 event joins a growing list of network-enabled attacks on infrastructure, including:

  • 2016: Iranian hackers took control of a small dam in Rye Brook, New York.
  • 2017: Russian hackers gained access to critical control systems at U.S. and European power plants.
  • 2019: U.S. CYBERCOM implanted malware in Russia’s power grid.
  • April 24, 2020: Malware traced to Iran stops a municipal water pump in Israel.
  • May 9, 2020: Israel disrupted operations at Iran’s Shahid Rajaee port. More, here.

Former Obama chief of staff will run VA. On Monday, the Senate voted 87-7 to confirm Denis McDonough to be the next Secretary of Veterans Affairs and to “oversee a sprawling agency that has presented organizational challenges for both parties over the years. But he never served in the armed forces, a fact noted by leading veterans advocacy groups,” Politico reports.

And finally this morning: America’s Vice Chief of Space Operations, Gen. David Thompson, is speaking at the virtual Space Symposium 365, hosted by the Space Foundation. That started at 10 a.m. ET; details and more here.