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January 20, 2005
Notes from the Pentagon

Space initiative
The Bush administration is preparing to reverse course on cooperating with China in the area of space technology.

Pentagon officials tell us the new policy is being readied for the upcoming visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao. President Bush, through the White House National Security Council, wants to adopt a Chinese proposal that calls for joint U.S.-China space rescue operations, in case something goes wrong during a U.S. or Chinese manned spaceflight.

The idea appears harmless on the surface, but some in the Pentagon fear the Chinese, as they have done in the past, will use the cooperation to boost their military space and missile programs. For more than a decade, the U.S. government has banned cooperation with China in space matters because of concerns about China's human rights abuses and its growing missile and anti-satellite weapons capabilities.

During the 1990s, lax controls by the administration of President Clinton led to the loss of extremely sensitive rocket technology from two U.S. companies, Loral and Hughes. As a result, China used the rocket technology to improve its long-range missiles. Both companies were fined for the improper control of technology.

Mr. Bush is said to support the idea, but also may not know about the concerns of national security officials and others who do not want the program to boost China's missiles or space arms.

The latest space proposal calls for standardizing the size of docking modules and is said to have the backing of acting National Security Council director for Asia Dennis Wilder, a target of conservatives who say he ignored Pentagon concerns about China's potential use of U.S. space technology for weapons.

Mr. Hu will visit the United States in the next few months. He postponed a visit in September because of Hurricane Katrina.

A Pentagon report on China's military published last year stated that "China is working on, and plans to field, [anti-satellite] systems."

"China is also conducting research to develop ground-based laser ASAT weapons," the report said.

Sniper rounds
An Army judge advocate general (JAG) temporarily banned Army and Marine Corps snipers from using a highly accurate open-tip bullet.

The JAG, we are told, mistakenly thought the open-tip round was the same as hollow-point ammunition, which is banned. The original open-tip was known as Sierra MatchKing and broke all records for accuracy in the past 30 years.

The difference between the open-tip and the hollow point is that the open tip is a design feature that improves accuracy while the hollow point is designed for increasing damage when it hits a target.

About 10 days ago, the Army JAG in Iraq ordered all snipers to stop using the open-tip 175-grain M118LR bullet, claiming, falsely, it was prohibited. Instead of the open-tip, snipers were forced to take M-60 machine gun rounds out of belts and use them instead.

The order upset quite a few people here and in Iraq who said the JAG ignored the basic principle of every military lawyer that there is a presumption of legality for all issued weapons or ammunition that are made at the military service level at the time they are acquired.

"She forced snipers to use less accurate ammunition, thereby placing U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians at greater risk," a Pentagon official said of the JAG, who was not identified by name. "And she incorrectly issued an order. JAGs may advise a commander, but they cannot issue orders."

After Army lawyers were finally alerted to the JAG's action, the order was lifted and the JAG was notified that the open tip was perfectly legal for use by snipers. However, the reversal was followed by the Army officials' taking retaliation against a sniper who blew the whistle on the bogus order. The sniper lost his job over a security infraction in reporting the JAG.

Mel's advice
When Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was officially welcomed to the Pentagon in January 2001, his old friend Melvin R. Laird came to wish him well. Mr. Rumsfeld singled out the old Republican warrior at a press conference. Mr. Laird later commented "great choice" when asked about Mr. Rumsfeld's appointment.

The two had been fellow combatants in the House, trying to figure out a way to whittle away at the Democratic Party's huge majority. They both joined the administration of President Nixon in 1969, Mr. Laird as defense secretary, Mr. Rumsfeld as director of the old Office of Equal Opportunity.

Their long friendship, however, did not prevent Mr. Laird from leveling criticism at Mr. Rumsfeld in a December article in the magazine Foreign Affairs. He said Mr. Rumsfeld has botched his relationship with Congress, whose support is crucial to winning the war against militant Islam.

"His overconfident and self-assured style on every issue, while initially endearing him to the media, did not play well with Congress during his first term," Mr. Laird wrote. "My friends in Congress tell me Rumsfeld has modified his style of late, wisely becoming more collegial. Several secretaries during my service on the Appropriations Committee, running all the way from the tenure of Charlie Wilson to that of Clark Clifford, made the mistake of thinking they must appear much smarter than the elected officials to whom they reported. It doesn't always work."

Mr. Laird, who met earlier this month with President Bush at the White House as part of a contingent of former defense and state secretaries, also criticized the president.

"In this business of trust, President Bush got off to a bad start," he wrote. "Nixon had the same problem. Both the Vietnam War and the Iraq war were launched based on intelligence failures and possibly outright deception. The issue was much more egregious in the case of Vietnam, where intelligence lapses were born of our failure to understand what motivated Ho Chi Minh in the 1950s."

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

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