Today's D Brief: COVID deaths drop; A new big hack; Breakthrough in Seoul; A new lawfare concern; And a bit more.

Fewer than 1,000 Americans died from COVID-19 complications on Sunday, and that’s the first time that’s happened since late November, according to the pandemic monitors at The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project

Update: More than 6,200 active duty service members are helping staff COVID-19 vaccination sites across the country, the Defense Department announced Friday. The troops will be working with FEMA personnel, and will staff about 40 “vaccination teams” of varying sizes (e.g. about 220 for some, and only about 25 troops for other teams). 

“Each larger team is capable of providing approximately 6,000 shots per day, each medium team can provide 3,000 shots per day, and each small team can provide 250 shots per day,” the Pentagon said Friday. 

Several of the teams are already on location in Texas, North Carolina, Florida, Illinois, California, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the Virgin Islands. Additional troops are expected in Ohio and Georgia in the coming days. 

This afternoon, President Joe Biden will visit the D.C. Veterans Affairs hospital where staff are administering COVID-19 vaccines. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough will be joining POTUS46 for this one, which is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET.

One more thing: Bashar al-Assad and his wife recently tested positive for COVID-19, the Syrian president’s account announced Monday on Twitter. The two are said to be “in good health” and will be quarantining for the next two weeks.

From Defense One

Esper, McMaster, Panetta Endorse 9/11-Style Commission to Investigate Jan. 6 Insurrection // Marcus Weisgerber: “We need to have serious people, independent people take a look at this,” Trump’s final confirmed defense secretary said.

Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: F-35's future, going wobbly?; More M&A; Helo export; and more...

Who’s Funding that Lawsuit? Implications for Lawfare // Tarun Krishnakumar: The U.S. and friendly governments must better understand the national-security risks from third-party litigation finance.

It’s Time for a Cybersecurity Quid Pro Quo // Eric Noonan, Nextgov: Require companies to disclose breaches to the government in exchange for legal liability limitations.

Support for QAnon Is Hard to Measure. Polls May Overestimate It // James Shanahan, The Conversation: The spread of ideas online, and people’s endorsement of them in polls, doesn’t give the whole picture.

DARPA to Hire Biz Execs to Help Its Researchers Take Tech to Market // Mila Jasper, Nextgov: In a cooperative effort with In-Q-Tel, 150 research teams will get funds to help develop go-to-market strategies.

Welcome to this Monday 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 1963, Syria experienced its second of four coup d'états in a 10-year span. This coup would help propel 34-year-old military officer Hafez al-Assad into control of Syria’s air force shortly afterward. By the fourth coup in 1970, Assad had gained total control — and would remain in charge of Syria until his death nearly three decades later, in June 2000. 

More than 30,000 organizations that use Microsoft email software have been hacked this month by a Chinese group that “is exploiting four newly-discovered flaws in Microsoft Exchange Server email software, and has seeded hundreds of thousands of victim organizations worldwide with tools that give the attackers total, remote control over affected systems,” cybersecurity reporter Brian Krebs reported Friday.
The affected organizations include “a significant number of small businesses, towns, cities and local governments,” Krebs wrote. Microsoft has confirmed that “tens of thousands” of its customers are affected, the New York Times reported Saturday.
Related: The Biden administration is still preparing its response to Russia’s SolarWinds hack. “The first major move is expected over the next three weeks, officials said, with a series of clandestine actions across Russian networks that are intended to be evident to President Vladimir V. Putin and his intelligence services and military but not to the wider world” plus “some kind of economic sanctions,” according to the New York Times.

The White House is celebrating International Women’s Day with afternoon (4 p.m. ET) remarks by POTUS and VPOTUS — as well as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his deputy, Kathleen Hicks.
In attendance: Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. John Hyten, and “two Combatant Commander nominees” who are very probably Army Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson of Army North in Texas, and Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, currently in charge of Air Mobility Command in Illinois. The New York Times profiled the two generals about three weeks ago in a report about how former SecDef Mark Esper delayed their promotions for fear POTUS45 would object because the GOs are not white men, whom Trump favored. 

  • BTW: Biden officially nominated Richardson and Van Ovost for their fourth stars and to oversee Southern Command and Transportation Command, respectively, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby announced Saturday. 

Also on Saturday, Biden tapped Navy Adm. John Aquilino to be the next leader of Indo-Pacific Command, based out of Hawaii; and Vice Adm. Samuel Paparo Jr. was selected as the next commander of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, which is also based at Pearl Harbor.

Breakthrough in Seoul: The U.S. and South Korea have finally reached a deal on hosting American troops on the peninsula, RoK’s Yonhap news agency reports today. After months of delays and haggling during its negotiations with the previous White House, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Sunday announced the two nations “reached an agreement in principle” that involves a “meaningful increase” in Seoul’s financial part of the deal.
A nameless State Department official told Yonhap, “This proposed agreement, containing a negotiated meaningful increase in host nation support contributions from the Republic of Korea, reaffirms that the U.S.-Republic of Korea Alliance is the linchpin of peace, security, and prosperity for Northeast Asia and a free and open Indo-Pacific region.” More here

Expect a “thoughtful” and “appropriate” response to Wednesday’s rocket attack on an Iraqi base where U.S. troops are deployed, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said this weekend. “We’re still developing the intelligence. We’re encouraging the Iraqis to move as fast as they can to investigate the incident and they are doing that. But you can expect that we will always hold people accountable for their acts,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III said on ABC’s “This Week” program. “We want to make sure that again, we understand who’s responsible for this.” Via The Hill.

The Pope visited the Iraqi city of Mosul on Sunday, nearly seven years after the leader of ISIS said he’d established a caliphate in that ancient northern city. It was part of his four-day swing through Iraq, which began Friday.
A note on the larger significance, via the Washington Post: “His trip amounts to a show of encouragement for a nation trying to recover from the chaos of a U.S.-led invasion and the brutality of the Islamic State, a group that once vowed to ‘conquer Rome.’”
“Our gathering here today shows that terrorism and death never have the last word,” Pope Francis said Sunday. “Even amid the ravages of terrorism and war, we can see, with the eyes of faith, the triumph of life over death.”
In honor of the visit, Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi declared March 6 a National Day of Tolerance and Co-existence in Iraq, the PM tweeted Saturday.
Said U.S. President Biden in a statement on Sunday: “To see Pope Francis visit ancient religious sites, including the biblical birthplace of Abraham, spend time with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf, and offer prayers in Mosul — a city that only a few years ago endured the depravity and intolerance of a group like ISIS — is a symbol of hope for the entire world.” More on the visit from Voice of America, here

Rhetoric watch, updated: On Friday, we noted an apparent change in how the Pentagon is approaching tensions in the Middle East (via Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s National Security Advisor Omri Ceren). That “change,” however, was merely an accident, State Department spokesman Ned Price explained this weekend.
By the way: “The United States stands by Saudi Arabia and its people. Our commitment to defend the Kingdom and its security is firm,” the U.S. embassy in Saudi Arabia tweeted today.
That message followed Houthi drone and ballistic missile attacks on Saudi oil facilities Sunday. The munitions hit "an oil storage yard at Ras Tanura, site of a refinery and the world’s biggest offshore oil loading facility, and a residential compound in Dhahran used by state-controlled oil giant Saudi Aramco," Reuters reports. More here.