Return to

January 29, 2009
Notes from the Pentagon

Korea rights report
The outgoing State Department special envoy for human rights in North Korea recently sent a critical final report to Congress calling for greater efforts to link a halt in North Korean human rights abuses to the stalled six-nation nuclear talks.

The Bush administration envoy, Jay Lefkowitz, submitted the final report Jan. 17. It compares the human rights situation in North Korea to the Nazi genocide against Jews during World War II; the killing fields of Cambodia after the Vietnam War; and massacres such as those that took place during World War II in Poland's Katyn Forest as well as the 1995 massacre in the Balkans' Srebrenica during the Bosnian War. Mr. Lefkowitz noted that governments have vowed "that this should never happen again."

In the report, Mr. Lefkowitz said some critics had urged the United States not to pressure North Korea over the regime's treatment of the North Korean people because it could upset security policies such as the six-nation talks aimed at getting the North to give up its nuclear weapons.

"Some urge us to focus only on the nuclear issue, and that any serious mention of human rights will distract the parties involved from reaching an agreement," Mr. Lefkowitz said. "But the facts prove just the opposite. Indeed, after a significant lapse in the six-party talks, the North Koreans announced that they were willing to resume discussions only four days after President Bush met in June of 2005 with Kang Chul-Hwan, a prominent North Korean defector. Rather than stopping the progression of security talks, this reinforced for the North Koreans the United States' commitment to continuing to spotlight the regime's abuses, and made clear that only by returning to the table would the North Koreans have a chance at international legitimacy."

Mr. Lefkowitz said the U.S. government should link security and human rights in the same way that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe did in the 1970s under what became known as the Helsinki Accords. The accords inspired a generation of dissidents in the Soviet bloc to oppose the communist dictatorships that eventually were toppled in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Mr. Lefkowitz said human rights discussions about North Korea should become a permanent part of the six-party talks.

"Helping North Koreans achieve freedom is not only a policy consistent with our moral values as a nation -- it is also a pragmatic security necessity," he said.

North Korea is a "regime that threatens the security of the region. It maintains an inordinately large military despite its state of economic ruin."

Attempts to get comment from the North Korean mission to the United Nations on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Mr. Lefkowitz also said that under legislation creating his post, just 67 North Koreans were able to reach U.S. shores in the past three years, compared to 2,500 that were resettled in South Korea.

Mr. Lefkowitz stated that the Department of Homeland Security uses a "lengthy and cumbersome" review process for each North Korean seeking to come to the United States.

He also criticized U.S. diplomatic posts throughout East Asia for not having "clear instructions regarding the need to receive, advise and, if necessary, shelter North Korean refugees in crisis situations."

Bill Wright, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, said DHS officials have not seen Mr. Lefkowitz's report.

"We can say categorically, however, that DHS has not placed any restrictions on access to resettlement opportunities in the United States for North Korean refugee applicants," he said.

Mr. Lefkowitz said the human rights "crisis" in North Korea has received little attention compared to human rights abuses in Rwanda and Sudan.

"The names and stories of most of the approximately 200,000 political prisoners in North Korea are unknown outside of the country," Mr. Lefkowitz said. "The suppression of any internal dissent, the rarity of travel to and from North Korea, the comparatively small number of North Korean defectors with significant following in the free world, and the total seclusion in which political prisoners are kept, all contribute to this lack of information about North Korea. This has impeded efforts to rally governments and private groups to confront the Pyongyang regime about its misconduct, or apply pressure to the regime to modify its behavior."

Hamas' Chinese arms
U.S. defense officials say intelligence reports from the Middle East indicate that Chinese-made weapons are being used by Hamas militants in Gaza.

An Israeli official confirmed that the Israel Defense Forces recently uncovered Chinese-made 122-millimeter rockets used by Hamas fighters.

"They have found a number of 122-millimeter rockets that were made in China," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the data. "All indications show that Hamas is using them. They're not coming directly from China. They're coming from Iran."

The embassy official said the Chinese mortars appear to be capable of ranging 40 kilometers and that a number were fired into Israel during recent attacks by Hamas before to the latest cease-fire.

The rocket transfers do not appear to be a case of "China manufacturing them for Hamas," the official said. "It's Iran. Whether the Chinese are fully aware of [the arms transfers] we don't know. But we do know that the Iranians are [also] using them [with their armed forces]."

The official said it appears that the Chinese mortars were manufactured according to Iranian specifications and had markings indicating that they were made in China.

In addition to the mortars, which Israel thinks were smuggled into Gaza through Sinai tunnels in pieces, other foreign-supplied weapons being used by Hamas include enhanced-range Grad rockets, which were brought in from Iran and Syria - again in parts - and assembled at Hamas arms factories, the official said.

The longer-range Grads were a recent addition to the Hamas arsenal, and the Islamic group had been using a simpler rocket that was made in Gaza.

Over the past six months of a cease-fire, "they managed to extend the range," the official said. "We knew they had rockets with a 20-kilometer range, and now they have rockets with a 40-kilometer range."

Chinese Embassy spokesman Wang Baodong had no comment.

Sullenberger's background
Air Force officials say that U.S. Airways pilot Chesley B. Sullenberger III, who landed the Airbus A-320 on the Hudson River recently, has a distinguished Air Force past and is a specialist on aircraft safety.

Among those who helped train Mr. Sullenberger during his time at the Air Force Academy was former Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne and a number of other generals who were classmates in the 1973 graduating class.

One Air Force official, speaking on background, said Mr. Sullenberger's Air Force background contributed to his ability to handle the midair crisis and crash landing on the Hudson after his jetliner hit a flock of birds that disabled its engines.

"He flew F-4's, and a professional note might be that if you can land an F-4, aka 'Brick,' you are especially honed for today's incident," the official said.

Mr. Sullenberger was an Air Force captain with experience in Europe, Asia and at Nevada's Nellis Air Force Base. He also was a member of an Air Force aircraft-accident investigation board and a flight-training officer as well as a war-plans officer.

Counterterror calendar
It's been three weeks since the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center issued its informative 2009 calendar, complete with a provocative mock photograph of a buffed and trimmed Osama bin Laden.

It's a "just-in-case picture" -- on the chance that the most wanted man in the world is not hiding in a cave in Pakistan's tribal region but is, instead, playing the part of a Western-style businessman traveling in suit and tie.

However, if bin Laden has undergone such a metamorphosis, he has not been seen, at least not by anyone willing to report him.

An intelligence official told special correspondent Rowan Scarborough that since Counterterrorism Calendar 2009 went on the World Wide Web, there have been no sightings of a cropped bin Laden.

The non-sighting is perhaps further evidence that bin Laden remains on the run, with beard and Muslim dress, in rugged tribal areas in Pakistan.

NCTC spokesman Carl Kropf told Inside the Ring his organization decided to publish the photo just in case. "I think it's just a matter of keeping people alert to techniques that people might use," Mr. Kropf said. "It provides people who watch these matters a means they can consider someone like bin Laden or other high-value individuals outside their traditional roles or image."

The intelligence official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitive nature of the information, said there is no record of bin Laden ever wearing Western dress, at least since he declared war on the United States in 1996.

"This altered photograph shows what Osama bin Laden might look like if he were to wear Western-style clothing and trim his hair and beard," the NCTC caption reads.

  • Bill Gertz covers national security affairs. He can be reached at 202/636-3274, or at

  • Return to