Today's D Brief: Fighter-crew cancers; Russia’s stolen passwords; Sudan coup?; Should US defend Taiwan?; And a bit more.

Fighter crews get some cancers at unusual rates, Air Force study finds. “The study is the first confirmation of a connection long suspected by fighter aviators who saw their peers contracting some cancers at concerning rates. Earlier, less comprehensive studies had proven inconclusive,” writes Defense One’s Tara Copp, who has been following the issue for years. 

“Cancer incidence and mortality among fighter aviators” was conducted by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 711th Human Performance Wing. It tracked every airman who had recorded more than 100 flight hours in an Air Force fighter aircraft from 1970 to 2004. Read on, here.

From Defense One

Cancers Strike US Fighter Pilots, Crews at Higher Rates, Air Force Finds // Tara Copp: Nearly 30% higher likelihood of testicular cancer and roughly 25% for skin and prostate cancer, according to the military’s most comprehensive study yet.

Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: Senate panel recommends Pentagon spending increase; Demand increasing for firefighting helicopters; “Weak” assessment of military; and more.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston and Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1415, one of the most devastating weapons in the history of warfare helped the English win the legendary Battle of Agincourt, in northern France. Nearly 8,000 troops led by King Henry V of England faced down 30,000 or so Frenchmen, “half of them fully armored aristocrats who’d been up the previous night because they’d slept in their saddles because they didn’t want to get their lovely armor dirty,” as science historian James Burke recounted. At about 11 in the morning, Henry sent a volley of arrows toward the French, which lured them into charging at him across a muddy bog. This is when Henry “called up the secret weapon his grandfather had discovered in the mountains of Wales,” Burke explained. “That weapon was the Welsh longbow, and Henry had over 1,000 of them. In the hands of a master the longbow would kill at 400 yards. And in three bloody hours, the French were massacred,” the English were ecstatic, and Shakespeare would eventually have the backdrop he needed for his celebrated play, “Henry V.”

Cybersecurity pro tip: Make sure your passwords are strong. The latest real-world reminder comes from Microsoft, which says Russian state-backed hackers are “targeting organizations integral to the global IT supply chain,” and they’re hitting cloud services providers, in particular.
What’s going on: The hackers, known by Microsoft as “the Russian nation-state actor Nobelium,” are “deploying a huge database of stolen passwords in automated attacks intended to get Russian government hackers into Microsoft’s cloud services,” the New York Times’s David Sanger reported Sunday.
“Fortunately, we have discovered this campaign during its early stages, and we are sharing these developments to help cloud service resellers, technology providers, and their customers take timely steps to help ensure Nobelium is not more successful,” Microsoft said in its statement Sunday.
At least 140 technology companies have been targeted just since May. And so far, Microsoft thinks “as many as 14 of these resellers and service providers have been compromised.”
Worth noting: This is most certainly an escalation, according to Microsoft, which emphasized that “between July 1 and October 19 this year, we informed 609 customers that they had been attacked 22,868 times by Nobelium, with a success rate in the low single digits.”
So, that’s close to 23,000 attacks in the last three and a half months. In contrast, the number of attacks from all nation-state actors over the past three years (ending July 1, 2021) totalled 20,500, according to the software company.
Big picture consideration: “This recent activity is another indicator that Russia is trying to gain long-term, systematic access to a variety of points in the technology supply chain and establish a mechanism for surveilling—now or in the future—targets of interest to the Russian government,” Microsoft said.
One fairly huge problem: Since the SolarWinds hack was made public in late 2020, “adherence to new [cybersecurity] standards, while improved, remains spotty,” Sanger reports.
Says one expert: “If anyone is surprised that [Russia’s foreign intelligence service] is still engaging in espionage, they should check the mission statement of intelligence agencies,” said Dmitri Alperovitch on Twitter. Read over the full report from Microsoft, here.

Sudan’s military appears to have just carried out a coup and detained the prime minister just as a “transitional government had been preparing the country for full civilian leadership for the first time in three decades,” the New York Times reports. United Nations and European Union leaders are now calling for the immediate release of the prime minister, according to Reuters.
“The people are stronger, stronger” and “Retreat is not an option!” are some of the phrases protesters are shouting at security forces in the capital city of Khartoum, and in Omdurman, which is just a few kilometers north, AP reports.
Background: Sudan is experiencing “a spiraling economic crisis in the country of 45 million people,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Annual consumer-price inflation has been near 400% for much of the year and the government has warned of shortages of essential goods, including wheat, fuel and basic medicines.”
The U.S. is Sudan’s largest donor of humanitarian aid, with about $377 million on the line, the Times reports. On Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, warned that money could now be at risk. Read on, here.

There are now believed to be just over 360 Americans remaining in Afghanistan, 176 of whom still want to get out of the country, according to the State Department, which updated members of Congress on Thursday afternoon, according to CNN’s Phil Mattingly.
FWIW, former Afghan envoy to Presidents Trump and Biden, Zalmay Khalilzad, says he doesn’t know how many Americans are in Afghanistan, “but my judgment is there could be still hundreds of Americans there,” he told CBS News on Sunday.
The State Department is working with private groups to help Afghans who have resettled in the U.S., Reuters reported Monday. “The group will certify sponsor circles by conducting background checks, ensuring participants complete mandatory training, and reviewing their pledges to provide financial support and initial resettlement services to Afghan newcomers for the first 90 days after they arrive in a local community,” Reuters writes.
Related reading: “Secrecy shrouds Afghan refugees sent by US to base in Kosovo,” via the Associated Press reported Saturday.  

Now for something completely different: Should the U.S. defend Taiwan if the island is invaded by China? We polled our readers last week, and here are just a few of your answers:  

  • “Short answer: Yes. But that defense must be credible to act as a deterrent...If China were to launch an all-out amphibious/air/missile/cyber/space-based offensive, I doubt seriously that we could or would stop them—a fact I fear the [Chinese Communist Party] remains acutely aware of.”
  • “Simple answer: yes. What will be the consequences of not defending it militarily, is a better and more pertinent question...Of course we have to defend Taiwan for our own survival, if for no other reason, while we can still win.”
  • “We should fight alongside any people who wish to govern themselves and be a sovereign nation amongst the nations.”
  • “I haven’t seen anything in the last couple of years about how the Taiwanese people feel on the matter. If they wish to remain independent, then we should aid them.”
  • “This is the same story throughout history. Fail to respond to a bully state's annexation of one of its neighbors and that will only embolden him...If we do not defend Taiwan, how will any of our allies ever trust us to defend them? Why should they?”
  • “China is our enemy, and must be engaged in any area.”
  • “I’m not convinced at all the U.S. would be able to stop China, as realistically the U.S. hasn’t ‘won’ any war since WW2, despite the drum beating of American exceptionalism under various governments. The better approach would [be] through trade sanctions and global pressure to make the Chinese buckle.”
  • “It is a double edged sword for China and the United States in handling Taiwan...The wildcard in this dispute is the fallout from United States allies, businesses, higher education, Asian communities outside of China.”
  • “Today Taiwan; tomorrow Korea, Japan, [and] central Asia.”
  • “No way do I wish to die to save Taiwan, any more than they would for me.”
  • “I’m not big on going to war, but if you start letting China know that you will not defend places like Taiwan as you have worked to beef them up and as you’ve spent lots of money running aircraft carriers around the area, then it’s Hitler in Eastern Europe all over again.”

Thanks again for all of your responses. We certainly never expected uniform answers. And while a majority of respondents favored a U.S. military response, the diversity of opinions and replies are notable and welcome.

Lastly today: A Marine Corps veteran says he was in the right place at the right time last Wednesday when an armed 14-year-old and two others tried to hold up an Arizona gas station near Yuma Proving Grounds. Only one of them was armed, and none of them were watching customers when the former Marine explained to the Yuma Sun, “I scanned them for any other weapons and didn’t see any. I knew he was my guy at that point.”
That’s when the vet, James Kilcer, “sprang at the suspect, grabbed the gun and hit the suspect in the face with a bag of drinks,” the Associated Press reported Friday. “Kilcer said he then held the suspect from behind at gunpoint as his two companions ran away.” Continue reading, here.