The D Brief: Kim’s sister warns US; Border surge; Asia-Pacific next-gen arms; TR’s master helmsmen; And a bit more...

North Korea breaks radio silence. Efforts by the Biden administration to establish communications with Pyongyang finally bore fruit, of a sort: criticism by leader Kim Jong Un’s sister of virtual wargames being conducted this week by U.S. and South Korean forces.

“We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off powder smell in our land,” Kim Yo Jong said in a statement carried by state news agency KCNA. “If it wants to sleep in peace for [the] coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”

Reuters: “For all the imagery of Kim’s words, the joint springtime military drill begun last week was limited to computer simulations because of the coronavirus risk as well as the ongoing efforts to engage with the North.”

Kim spoke as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin were in Tokyo for 2+2 talks, and one day before they are scheduled to meet South Korean officials in Seoul.

Why the long silence? Jeffrey Lewis says the Biden administration is repeating an error made by its predecessors: publicly intimating that North Korea might be persuaded to unilaterally part with its nukes. Pyongyang consistently speaks only of “the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” — that is, a deal that would include lifting the American nuclear umbrella over South Korea. The Trump administration, which agreed to this goal in a joint 2018 statement, later distorted this into the “denuclearization of North Korea as agreed by Chairman Kim in Singapore.” 

Lewis: “The North Koreans really hate it when the US deliberately misconstrues North Korea’s call for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as a unilateral offer to disarm. And that's what Biden’s people are doing now” (Feb. 12 briefing, March 12 statement, March 16 remarks). “It’s no surprise the North Koreans won't talk to them.” Read the thread, here.

Read more on the U.S. officials’ Asia swing after the jump...


From Defense One

After the Insurrection, America’s Far-Right Groups Get More Extreme // Matthew Valasik and Shannon Reid, The Conversation: Their response has differed from, say the aftermath of 2017's violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

The Military Could Soon Face a Flag Officer Talent Crisis // Col. Charles Luke, Government Executive: Senior leader pay is seriously out of sync with the risks and responsibilities that come with the positions.

America’s Coronavirus Catastrophe Began With Data // Alexis C. Madrigal and Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic: The pivotal failure of the coronavirus crisis has never been addressed.

DARPA Seeks Chips that Can Crunch Data Without Decrypting It // Mila Jasper, Nextgov: Current methods of doing “fully homomorphic encryption” require too much computing power to be used widely.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief from Bradley Peniston 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. OTD1802: Congress approves legislation to establish the Army Corps of Engineers, who will be “stationed at West Point in the state of New York, and shall constitute a Military Academy.”


After the Insurrection, America’s Far-Right Groups Get More Extreme // Matthew Valasik and Shannon Reid, The Conversation: Their response has differed from, say the aftermath of 2017's violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

The Military Could Soon Face a Flag Officer Talent Crisis // Col. Charles Luke, Government Executive: Senior leader pay is seriously out of sync with the risks and responsibilities that come with the positions.

America’s Coronavirus Catastrophe Began With Data // Alexis C. Madrigal and Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic: The pivotal failure of the coronavirus crisis has never been addressed.

DARPA Seeks Chips that Can Crunch Data Without Decrypting It // Mila Jasper, Nextgov: Current methods of doing “fully homomorphic encryption” require too much computing power to be used widely.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief from Bradley Peniston 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. OTD1802: Congress approves legislation to establish the Army Corps of Engineers, who will be “stationed at West Point in the state of New York, and shall constitute a Military Academy.”

In Japan, Austin and Blinken gave the usual expected “reaffirmations”of the formal treaty alliance in meetings with Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, but underneath is the ever-growing urge to push Japan to spend more — a lot more — on its own defense, without compromising capabilities. And a talking point of late: the vulnerability of Japan’s military bases. More on that in Foreign Policy, here.

Why Tokyo? “It is no accident that we chose Japan for the first Cabinet-level overseas travel,” said Blinken, after his meeting. North Korea and China, of course, were the security topics of concern and Blinken did not…blink. “We will push back if necessary, when China uses coercion or aggression to get its way,” reports AP, with much more here

Biden’s message to China was laid out in a Sunday Washington Post op-ed by Blinken and Austin, touching on themes familiar to Asia security watchers. Despite GOP lawmakers’ intimations that Biden already looks weak on China, the basic thrust was not much different from the Trump administration’s: it’s us vs. them. “A fundamental debate is underway about the future — and whether democracy or autocracy offers the best path forward,” Blinken and Austin wrote. They did emphasize that the United States enjoys the military and economic strength of alliances surrounding China, and said, “It would be a huge strategic error to neglect these relationships.”

The U.S. has about 1,000 more troops in Afghanistan than previously disclosed, the New York Times reported Sunday. “A thousand troops may seem like a small number compared to the roughly 100,000 who were there at the height of the war,” the Times writes. But they add “another layer of complexity to the swirling debate at the White House over whether to stick with a deal, struck by the Trump administration and the Taliban, that calls for removing the remaining American forces by May 1.” Read on, here.

A brief guide to next-gen weapons on the Pacific Rim is out from Defense News, reporting from Australia, China, India, Japan, the Koreas, and Pakistan.

How has the defense industry weathered the pandemic? Big firms and big projects are largely back on track after mostly minor if widespread delays, Defense News also reports. But a minority of smaller firms say COVID dealt them a permanent blow. And “quantifying the human toll on the workforce is nearly impossible. The Pentagon has not tracked deaths in the defense industry, and only two companies Defense News contacted acknowledged employee deaths from the pandemic.” Read on, here.

Big hacks have U.S. rethinking cybersecurity. The Russia-backed Solarwinds hack and the China-backed Microsoft Exchange hack both exploited servers based in the United States, where the NSA — the agency largely responsible for fending off foreign network attacks — cannot legally surveil. Both attacks eventually were detected by private security firms. Now the Biden administration is weighing deeper partnerships with industry as a means to fending off future hacks, the New York Times reports.

The Mexico border surge is real, but U.S. towns aren’t being “overrun,” writes the Washington Post on the rapidly increasing numbers of migrants and refugees crossing the southern border. Thousands are being detained in facilities that are once again expanding rapidly. “U.S. Customs and Border Protection is on pace to make more than 130,000 arrests and detentions in March, up from 100,000 a month ago and 34,000 a year ago. There has been a marked increase in the number of migrant children and teenagers arriving without their parents, and the Biden administration has struggled to find space in shelters for them as they await placement with a vetted relative or sponsor.”

Dems downsize legislation as GOP blocks efforts. While the Biden administration still hopes for comprehensive immigration reform, Democratic lawmakers are crafting two smaller bills to cover just DREAMers and other groups, and “G.O.P. leaders, eager to turn Democrats’ difficulties on the issue into a political liability, are using the mounting problems to stoke fear and opposition to any but the most punitive of changes,” the New York Times reports

COVID, by the numbers. “At least 751 new coronavirus deaths and 57,083 new cases were reported in the United States on March 15,” per the NYT tracker. That sent total U.S. deaths past 535,000 — far more people than live in, say, Atlantic or Kansas City or Sacramento, California.

A key problem: for most of the pandemic, the U.S. had no consistent system for collecting data on the coronavirus, its spread, or even the measures taken to fight it. This meant policymakers and implementers were reacting to assumptions — often fantastical ones — rather than actual knowledge about the situation, the COVID Tracking Project reports.

And still: “At least five states have disturbingly incomplete testing data. In some states, 80 percent of tests are missing from the equivalent federal data set. Yet the CDC is referring leaders of those states to its own test-positivity-rate data—which are calculated from these inaccurate data—when they consider reopening their schools.”

And: “In a press conference on March 1, 2021, the new CDC director, Rochelle Walensky, cautioned the public about new coronavirus variants. Cases and deaths were both rising nationwide, she warned, potentially implying that the mutated versions of the virus were to blame. But at the COVID Tracking Project, we knew this narrative of a variant-driven surge didn’t hold,” they write, adding: “Since Walensky spoke, the average number of deaths a day has fallen by almost 25 percent.” 

The rub: “Public-health officials continue to believe that the data in front of them can be interpreted without sufficient consideration of the data-production process.” Read on, here.

Lastly today: Meet the master helmsmen of the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Just four of the thousands of sailors aboard the aircraft carrier are qualified to steer the 117,000-ton ship in all situations and weather conditions. “Any time the navigation team thinks it’s going to be a difficult sea state, we’ll come up,” said Sonar Technician (Surface) 1st Class Allison Coughlin, who first took the Roosevelt’s wheel four years ago, when she was 18. “When the ship is most likely to crash, that’s when we’re driving to keep the boat safe.” Read on at Task & Purpose, here.

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