Today's D Brief: China wants biotech data, US says; 1 in 4 US hypersonic tests fail; Russia's 'black box'; And a bit more.

American intelligence officials are increasingly worried China is trying to steal any biotech data it can, as well anything related to AI, quantum computing, and semiconductors. That was the message to reporters Thursday from Michael Orlando, acting director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center. 

Particularly notable: “The Chinese government is collecting medical, health and genetic data around the world,” U.S. officials say, emphasizing “the intersection of technology and genetic and biological research as an area of competition and espionage,” the New York Times reports.

“Although we’ve been saying this for year after year, people are not digesting this,” Orlando said Thursday, according to the Associated Press

Will the U.S. defend Taiwan if it’s attacked by China? President Joe Biden said “Yes” Thursday evening in a town hall hosted by CNN in Baltimore. But White House officials walked back that stance shortly afterward in an exchange with Politico, which is similar to what happened in August after Biden’s interview with ABC News.  

Bigger picture: “While Washington is required by the Taiwan Relations Act to provide the country with defense resources,” Politico writes, “it has followed a policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’ when it comes to military intervention to protect Taiwan if China attacks.”

What are your thoughts? Do you think the U.S. should respond militarily to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan? Or, with the Russian annexation of Crimea in mind, do the costs of such a U.S.-China confrontation seem simply too great? Feel free to let us know by sending us an email here

Related reading:Taiwan says odds of war with China in next year ‘very low’,” via Reuters, reporting Wednesday.

From Defense One

One of Four Boosters Fails in Rapid-Fire Hypersonic Tests // Caitlin M. Kenney: Three launches got off successfully from Virginia; investigations have begun into the Alaska failure.

A Quartet of Warnings Highlight Climate-Related Threats // Jacqueline Feldscher: Agencies vow to heed climate change in all strategy planning, but experts say that won’t be enough.

When George Washington Ordered His Troops to Get Vaccinated // Maurizio Valsania, The Conversation: Washington and his fellow Founding Fathers agreed on one thing: circumstances often require public officials to pass acts that abridge individual freedoms.

It’s Not About Submarines. It’s about Software // Nicole Camarillo and Oliver Lewis: Important as AUKUS submarines are in the military balance, the new way of deterrence will be about the strength, speed, and resilience of software.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1957, the U.S. military suffered its first injuries in Vietnam when 13 soldiers were wounded in three different bombings in Saigon.

The U.S. military attempted four hypersonic tests this week, and three of them were successful, Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney reports just days after reports emerged (see Financial Times) that a Chinese hypersonic test vehicle had reached orbit.
Three of the U.S. military’s launches, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, were part of a ‘High Speed Operational Tempo for Hypersonics flight campaign,’ by Sandia National Laboratories,” according to a Navy statement.
The other, planned to be a data collection experiment, was unsuccessful after the rocket’s booster failed, Kenney writes. More details, here.

ICYMI: A fireball burned across the skies over Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana early Wednesday morning. (Video here.) “This thing was so bright, and so big, and it was so much slower than a meteor,” one witness told the New York Times. But it was most likely no meteor.
That fireball was probably a “classified Russian spacecraft, identified by a U.S. Space Command database as COSMOS 2551, [and] launched on Sept. 9 from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome, about 500 miles north of Moscow,” the Times reported Thursday. Read more about that one from Harvard astronomer Jonathan McDowell, via Twitter, here.
By the way: If you spot a fireball, you can report it to the American Meteor Society’s notification page, here.

When Russia doesn’t want its public to see something online, it has a convenient censorship tool ready: an unusual “black box” that gives “authorities startling new powers to block, filter, and slow down websites,” the New York Times’ Adam Satariano and Paul Mozur report after speaking to “17 Russian telecom experts, activists, researchers and academics with knowledge of the work, many of whom declined to be named because they feared reprisal.”
What’s going on: “Often likened to intercepting mailed letters, the software—known as ‘deep packet inspection’—filters through data traveling across an internet network, slowing down websites or removing whatever it has been programmed to block,” Satariano and Mozur write. “The technology is now at 500 locations of telecom operators, covering 100 percent of mobile internet traffic and 73 percent of broadband traffic,” according to Russian officials.
One big worry: “This is something the world can copycat,” said former State Department official Laura Cunningham, who kept an eye on internet freedom around the globe during her time at Foggy Bottom. “Russia’s censorship model can quickly and easily be replicated by other authoritarian governments,” she told the Times. Continue reading, here

And lastly this week: In fairly unsurprising news, the Taliban don’t want female city workers coming back to their jobs in Kabul, the Washington Post reported Thursday from the Afghan capital. “The order does not include women in the health and education sectors. The salaries of all female government employees will continue to be paid,” according to the Taliban’s chief of public awareness for the region around Kabul. Read more, here.
Related reading: 

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!