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March 7, 2008
Notes from the Pentagon

China missiles
One little-noticed intelligence disclosure contained in the Pentagon's annual report on Chinese military power says China now has ballistic missiles designed to hit U.S. aircraft carriers and ships at sea.

The missiles are described in the report as part of China's "anti-access/area denial capabilities" that include "anti-ship ballistic missiles designed to strike ships at sea, including aircraft carriers."

Using a ballistic missile to target ships requires a degree of sophistication not shown by Chinese missiles in the past, and indicates China's military has mastered precision missile targeting, no doubt helped by the theft of U.S. warhead design and other secrets through espionage in the 1990s.

Other new weapons that are part of the precision-guided missile arsenal are advanced cruise missiles, medium-range ballistic missiles, the direct ascent anti-satellite missiles, like the one tested in January 2007.

Victory over FARC
U.S. counterterrorism officials are privately cheering the Colombian military raid that killed Raul Reyes, a senior commander of the notorious FARC terrorist group last week.

"This was a major victory for the United States in the war on terror," one military official said. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia "is one of the top ten designated global terrorist that is as much a target and focal point of the [global war on terror] as is al Qaeda."

U.S. military officials said the Colombian raid into Ecuador that killed Reyes on Saturday involved a joint special operations group called CCOPE and included commandos from three elements known as the Commandos, the Lancero group and naval commandos. The paramilitary component was followed by Colombian National Police who took over the scene and recovered laptop computers and other information about the communist terror group.

The evidence and intelligence shows that Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez are providing a safe haven to the terrorists, with Mr. Chavez also helping with material support.

"We have evidence of collusion, evidence of Chavez funding the FARC to the tune of $300 million," one U.S. military officer said.

One document uncovered from Reyes' computer revealed that a group of "gringos," or Americans, was dealing with FARC through Ecuadorean intermediaries.

The Americans were quoted in the FARC leaders' document as saying that Sen. Barack Obama will be the next president and that he does not support Plan Colombia, an anti-drug and aid strategy to back the Colombian government, or a U.S. free trade agreement with the country.

Nimitz buzzed again


A Russian strategic nuclear bomber flew over the U.S. aircraft carrier Nimitz near South Korea on Wednesday, the second time in two months a bomber flew close to the carrier and its task force.

The Bear H bomber flew within three to five miles and 2,000 feet above the Nimitz the second time the Russians have sent the bombers over the aircraft carrier in a show of power.

A sailor on the Nimitz sent us a photograph of the first time the buzzing took place last month when two Bear-H bombers flew over the ship. U.S. F-18 jets shadowed the bomber last month and this week.

The Pentagon has sought to play down the Russian buzzing as non-threatening, but conservatives in the Pentagon are wondering when the Bush administration will take action to at least protest the buzzing, which used to be considered a hostile action.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the overflight was not viewed as threatening or a concern.

Reporters fight
Pentagon reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates got into a fight with a group of Turkish video photographers that involved punches, kicks and a lot of shouting.

The incident occurred at the Ministry of Defense in Ankara as the group of traveling U.S. reporters had been placed in an area partially in front of Turkish television reporters who were waiting for Mr. Gates to finish a meeting and then speak to reporters. The Turks then barged into the area where the U.S. reporters were standing and hit several with their cameras. The collision triggered the fracas.

"A few kicks and punches were thrown," said one reporter who was there. "Then the Turkish military intervened."

Several reporters involved declined to comment. No one was injured but the incident left Pentagon press spokesman Geoff Morrell with a better appreciation of the Pentagon press corps.

Mr. Morrell said the noise could be heard in the meeting. By the time he arrived, "the pushing and shoving had stopped, but our reporters were still shocked by how their Turkish colleagues had manhandled them in an attempt to get a better position for the Q&A."

"I am happy to see that Turkey enjoys a free, vibrant and competitive press, but their cameramen make the Pentagon press corps look like disciples of Miss Manners," he said.

Wrong on Cuba
CIA analysis has a checkered past, missing everything from the strength of the Soviet economy to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. A Bush administration official now says the agency was wrong on Cuba's communist succession.

According to the official, CIA analysts for years have reported that Stalinist Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, despite being new Cuban President Raul Castro's close adviser for years, would not be promoted to first vice president. One of Mr. Castro's first acts since taking over was to make Mr. Machado first vice president and the designated successor.

The agency, the official, said was predicting that another vice president, Carlos Lage, would get the No. 2 spot, based on his highly visible role in Cuban diplomacy.

The official attributed the intelligence analytical shortfall to the lingering bias on Cuba within the intelligence community left over from the damaging spy case of Ana Montes, a Cuban mole in the Defense Intelligence Agency who left a legacy of pro-Castro and pro-communist bias within U.S. intelligence agencies. As one analyst said, the problem of finding spies among U.S. analysts on Cuba is that "they all think just like Ana Montes."

Another intelligence official defended that agency and said analysts predicted that the "emphasis in Havana would be on continuity, and it was."

"Almost a decade ago, we made it clear that were Raul Castro to succeed his brother one of the people likely to take on a greater role would be Jose Ramon Machado Ventura," this official said.

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

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