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February 23, 2001

Notes from the Pentagon

Waddle's record
As Cmdr. Scott Waddle, the USS Greeneville commander, prepares for his Court of Inquiry, he has at least one thing in his favor: stellar fitness reports.

A Navy source read us excerpts of a year-old report that commended the career submariner and Naval Academy graduate.

"Superb tactical skill across a broad spectrum of operations," the report says. "Outstanding performance during an emergent operation vital to national security and during a deployment in support of operations with Joint Task Force West Coast."

At another point, the report says, "Superb crew and officer morale. Strong mentor for officers in his wardroom. One-hundred percent officer retention. . . . Exceeds all physical fitness requirements.

"Commander Waddle is performing flawlessly as commanding officer and I know of no other officer with his proven potential to serve in a major command. He is most strongly recommended for immediate promotion to captain and has exceptional flag potential."

The nuclear attack submarine Greeneville had a good reputation for cleanliness and crew morale. The Pacific sub commander, Rear Adm. Albert Konetzni Jr., had selected the Greeneville to host his change-of-command ceremony.

All these perceptions have changed since Feb. 9, when the Greeneville accidentally rammed and sunk the Japanese vessel Ehime Maru.

The Greeneville is in dry dock. Navy officers say Cmdr. Waddle's once-promising Navy career is finished.

FBI victims
The FBI has sent out psychological counselors to its headquarters to talk to co-workers distraught over the arrest of FBI Agent Robert P. Hanssen.

"A lot of people are upset," said one official. "Everybody is in really bad shape."

The counseling is being carried out by hired psychologists described to us as "community-outreach victim/witness specialists." It is unusual because most counseling of this type is done for victims of a violent crime. "This is a case where the one who did this was a good friend to many people," the official said.

The strain has even reached the top. FBI Director Louis J. Freeh attended the same church as Mr. Hanssen. Mr. Hanssen's wife at one time taught Mr. Freeh's children at a private school in Virginia.

Meanwhile, Pentagon officials want to know whether Mr. Hanssen may have had a clandestine role in the covert effort by China's government to purchase a high-rise building for its official Xinhua news agency in the Arlington Ridge section that had a direct line-of-sight to the Pentagon.

Growing strategic cooperation between Russia and China fueled suspicions that Moscow may have been helping Beijing. Mr. Hanssen until last month worked as a liaison to the State Department Office of Foreign Missions a security-related office that monitors foreign-government activities in the United States.

Administration officials said the Pentagon's fears of a China connection to Mr. Hanssen's activity so far are unfounded. China was forced to sell the building because the Chinese Embassy did not follow legal procedures required of government-run news organizations.

Propaganda wars
China's government is winning the behind-the-scenes lobbying over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

Its latest success was intimidating the State Department into denying a visa for Taiwan's top admiral to visit the United States. Taiwanese Adm. Lee Chieh wanted to come to the United States in early April to discuss Taiwan's annual arms-sales request, which includes urgently needed Aegis-equipped warships, and for the near term, four Kidd-class guided-missile destroyers.

By contrast, China's government has a parade of officials lobbying against Taiwan arms sales. The State Department gave in to a request from Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen for a U.S. visit.

"It was rejected because it was too close to the April arms talks and they didn't want him to lobby," said one U.S. official. "Contrast that with the parade of Chicoms [Chinese communists] that are clearly lobbying against arms sales. It looks like for the time being the Clinton administration policy of dumping on Taiwan and helping Beijing is continuing."

The decision on denying a visa to Adm. Lee was done at the deputy assistant secretary level at both the State Department and Pentagon, we are told.

The action is raising questions among some officials about whether the White House and senior Bush administration officials are aware of it.

Former National Security Adviser Richard Allen said yesterday at a conference in New York that the Bush administration should sell advanced weapons to Taiwan as permitted under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act. "The issue of Taiwan arms sales is going to become extremely hot this spring," Mr. Allen said.

Army learning
An internal Army audit is criticizing the service's handling of one of its prized programs, "distance learning." The program allows soldiers to acquire new skills without leaving their units and putting a crimp on combat readiness.

"The Army didn't have effective program oversight in place," says the U.S. Army Audit Agency in a report obtained by Inside the Ring.

The agency found that millions of dollars in money for distance-learning courses were diverted. In one case, $7.3 million was switched to other training accounts. Another $6 million went to operations and maintenance budgets.

"These conditions occurred because the Army didn't have sufficient oversight to ensure the successful implementation of the distance-learning program," the report states. "As a result, we found that significant amounts of money were not being used to advance the Army's distance-learning program."

The Army has allocated more than $250 million the past two years for the 4-year-old program, which sends out computers, courseware and hardware, on which soldiers learn skills without having to attend the Army's network of schools and training centers.

One bright spot: "The Army has adequate processes and procedures in place for reporting distance-learning costs."

Gay supporter
Michelle Benecke, who ran a homosexual-support group that needled the Pentagon on its open-homosexual ban, has resigned to pursue "some opportunities in the private sector."

Along with C. Dixon Osburn, Ms. Benecke, a former Army captain, founded Servicemembers Legal Defense Network in 1993 to aid personnel targeted under the ban. The group also puts out an annual report on the number of homosexuals discharged and it charged that the military conducted "witch hunts."

"I think we gave service members a place to turn for help if they were being harassed or wrongly investigated," she told us. "We raised the visibility of the gays-in-the-military issue back to the national level. And generally I'd like to think we helped the welfare of service members generally."

The Pentagon disputed a number of the legal group's charges, saying there was no evidence of witch hunts. Conservatives who support the ban, known as "don't ask, don't tell," contend that discharges went up because the armed forces stopped asking prospective recruits if they are homosexual.

Still, the SLDN was instrumental in persuading then-Defense Secretary William S. Cohen to adopt an anti-harassment policy that covered suspected homosexuals.

"They should investigate reports of sexual harassment and not retaliate against people who made those reports by prying into their private lives," Ms. Benecke said.

President Bush and his defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, support the prohibition against open homosexuals in the ranks. So, the policy will stick for at least another four years.

"Dixon and I have always looked at this as a long-term issue," Ms. Benecke said. "It took 50 years or more to integrate African-Americans and women in the ranks."

Supporters of the ban make the point that the military excludes homosexuals based on conduct, not on one's sex or skin color.


  • Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has narrowed down the list of candidates for assistant defense secretary for public affairs, the high-profile spokesman's position. We were not able to learn the identity, but we are told one characteristic: She's a woman.

  • The Navy is set to christen its newest aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, this Sunday in Newport News, Va. Nancy Reagan will perform the christening.

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

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