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March 4, 2005
Notes from the Pentagon

Nuclear testing
A senior Bush administration official tells us there are concerns that Russia will break out of its ban on testing nuclear weapons in the next two years. If that happens, pressure will mount on the United States to conduct its own underground nuclear tests, the official said.

The United States last tested a nuclear weapon in 1992. Since that time, it has relied on a program of nonnuclear testing known as the Stockpile Stewardship Program.

Linton Brooks, head of the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration, which is in charge of overseeing U.S. nuclear weapons, said in a speech on Feb. 19 that the United States would conduct future tests at the Nevada Test Site, the desert location where more than 1,000 underground tests have been conducted.

Mr. Brooks said in a speech dedicating the opening of the Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas that the Nevada Test Site is being used for "new missions relating to the war on terrorism," presumably research on dealing with a radiological bomb.

As for future testing, Mr. Brooks said, "If nuclear testing is ever required to deal with unexpected problems in important elements of the stockpile, Nevada once again will be ready."

Pantano update
In the press reporting on case of Marine 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano, one oft-repeated version has been that the car he and his men stopped on April 15 did not carry weapons. That's not totally true.

The Marines have charged Lt. Pantano with two counts of premeditated murder. He says he fatally shot two Iraqi insurgents after he thought they may have armed themselves while conducting a forced search of the vehicle.

Turns out, according to a source close to the investigation, that the car's two seats, front and back, were not bolted down. This is an insurgent tactic for hiding, and quickly retrieving, weapons. In the trunk were cans filled with nails and bolts the skin-piercing projectiles insurgents build into improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Also, while the Naval Investigative Service was investigating the case last summer, commanders wrote a glowing fitness report on the 33-year-old Lt. Pantano, who led a platoon in some of the most dangerous territory in Iraq.

"Lt. Pantano's performance during the reporting period has been noteworthy and established his reputation as an accomplished infantry leader," his battalion commander wrote in August. "His actions during the fighting in Fallujah and al Zaidon highlighted a solid understanding of tactics and an ability to anticipate the enemy. Leads from the front always and balances his aggressive style with true concern for the welfare of his Marines. Exceptional communication skills for a 2nd Lt. Organized, aggressive, focused and driven. Ready for increased responsibility. Retain, promote and assign to challenging assignments."

Mission done
The Army's 1st Cavalry Division is leaving Baghdad after more than a year patrolling some of the world's meanest streets. Here are some of the Texas-based division's accomplishments: 800 civil engineering projects costing $104 million; 14 Iraqi police academies; 600 schools; 70 electrical projects; the 40th Iraqi brigade taking control of its own city sector; and $8.3 million in grants to local businesses.

1st Cavalry soldiers will return to Fort Hood, where the division will undergo transformation into smaller, faster brigades.

Military spies
The bureaucratic battle over military spying operations abroad is heating up within the Bush administration.

The CIA and State Department are at times fighting the Pentagon's use of special operations commandos to conduct espionage and intelligence gathering aimed at capturing or killing terrorists or preparing for military action.

The agency and department have complained in the press that military spies are not following the rules of keeping the U.S. ambassadors informed inside the countries they are secretly working.

Not so, says Army Gen. Bryan D. Brown, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SoCom).

Asked during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing whether military spies were breaking Defense Department rules or impinging on CIA or State Department authorities, Gen. Brown said the rules are strictly followed.

"I would tell you unequivocally that we have never put special operating forces into any country without full coordination with the ambassador and the country team," he said.

"I think all the operations we're doing today are very, very well coordinated through the interagency."

Close coordination among agencies "is one of the keys to the future as we take on this global war on terror, so we're very sensitive to that cooperation and coordination," he said.

Coordination of secret commando activities within the government "is probably at a higher level of cooperation and coordination than ever that I've been familiar with," Gen. Brown said. "And so I'm very, very comfortable that we're acting inside all of the appropriate legislative controls."

The Washington Times reported last year that SoCom was assigning Green Berets undercover to U.S. embassies in countries that have significant al Qaeda presence. The assignments were done with State's OK, but some ambassadors placed restrictions on the commandos' movements.

Provocative weakness
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is fond of telling reporters that "weakness is provocative" in explaining the administration's Ronald Reagan-esque policy of peace through strength.

A new book shows where the defense secretary may have borrowed the phrase. "Fritz Kraemer on Excellence," by Hubertus Hoffmann, is a celebration of work of the World War II combat veteran and noted defense strategist who died in 2003 at age 95.

The book quotes Mr. Kraemer as warning American leaders against the "provocative weakness" embodied in the Munich deal between British leader Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler that "was the first step on the road toward World War II."

Mr. Kraemer also noted that "brilliant fools" in international foreign policy circles "never understood the devastating effect of provocative weakness on a totalitarian dictatorship like the U.S.S.R."

After the September 11 attacks, Mr. Kraemer stated that he had been warning for years that military and diplomatic "provocative weakness" in the West encouraged "aggressors and fanatics to venture forward further and further, due to their growing conviction that they did not have to fear any hard reaction from the U.S. and its allies, all absolutely deficient in willpower, all seemingly paper tigers rather than fighting entities."

"May we develop now the spirit, the will, the courage and the lasting tenacity to make it obvious to the destructionists that we are not paper tigers," he said.

When Mr. Kraemer met Mr. Rumsfeld at a 2002 swearing-in ceremony, he told the defense secretary: "No provocative weakness, please."

The book, which comes with a replica of Mr. Kraemer's trademark monocle embedded in its book cover, quotes a note from Mr. Rumsfeld as saying Mr. Kraemer was "an example to us all."

"I feel fortunate I was able to benefit from his insights," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

The book was published by the World Security Network Foundation in New York and is available at

  • 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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