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March 12, 2009
Notes from the Pentagon

Cyber czar
The Obama administration is moving ahead with plans to name a cybersecurity czar, and National Security Agency (NSA) Director Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander is the leading candidate for the post, Inside the Ring has learned.

According to U.S. government officials, President Obama plans to promote Gen. Alexander to four-star rank and give him wide-ranging authority to implement the new Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative.

Word of Gen. Alexander's likely appointment comes as the Department of Homeland Security's senior official in charge of cybersecurity, Rod A. Beckstrom, resigned this week to protest what he said was excessive NSA and military influence over cybersecurity policies.

The electronic intelligence-gathering NSA is one of the least public but most effective of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. Mostly in secret, NSA has been leading U.S. government efforts to secure computer and other information networks and to block foreign electronic attacks on U.S. systems, which for the Pentagon number tens of thousands of electronic attempts every day. The agency during the past several months has begun receiving tens of millions of dollars in Pentagon funds under the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI), said defense officials familiar with the program.

Dennis C. Blair, the retired admiral who is director of national intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the Obama administration is reviewing the security initiative "to ensure it is consistent with its own cybersecurity policy."

Mr. Blair said a number of nations, including Russia and China, have technical cyberwarfare capabilities that can disrupt elements of the U.S. information infrastructure as well as gather intelligence. Terrorist and criminal groups also conduct cyberattacks.

"To be sure, significant work remains in order to protect, defend and respond to the cyberthreat in a manner that markedly improves our nation's overall security," Mr. Blair said. The initiative was launched in January 2008 and seeks to deal with cybersecurity threats, both current and future, and is working with private-sector companies to create an "environment that no longer favors cyberintruders over defenders," Mr. Blair said.

"The CNCI includes defensive, offensive, education, research and development, and counterintelligence elements while remaining sensitive throughout to the requirements of protecting the privacy rights and civil liberties of U.S. citizens," Mr. Blair said. He noted that the initiative has made "considerable progress" in identifying the threat and in developing solutions.

White House National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer declined to comment on Gen. Alexander's candidacy for the cyber-czar post.

Speicher report
A U.S. intelligence report that was the basis for the Navy's decision on Tuesday to reclassify Michael "Scott" Speicher as missing in action and no longer missing-captured, states that the action followed a review of captured Iraqi documents and an extensive search of Iraq for the pilot, shot down in 1991.

The March 4 report is based on a classified assessment and states that "based on all available intelligence, the [intelligence community] assesses that Capt. Speicher died shortly after his aircraft was shot down."

"The IC does not know the location of his remains," the report states. "In the 18 years since Capt. Speicher was shot down, the U.S. government has found no credible information to indicate what happened to him after he ejected from his aircraft."

The report produced by the Intelligence Community POW/MIA Analytic Cell states that its judgment was based on intelligence, knowledge of Iraqi prisoner handling under Saddam Hussein and U.S. government efforts to account for Capt. Speicher since 1991.

More than 1.6 million Iraqi government documents were reviewed.

"Documents were found accounting for the capture, imprisonment, and release of all other coalition prisoners of war and the recovery and return of coalition individuals killed in action. No documents on Capt. Speicher have been found," the report says.

The report also says intelligence sources that claimed the pilot was alive before the 2003 Iraq war were discredited and were either "fabricated" or "embellished" information or mistakenly identified someone else as Capt. Speicher.

Another factor in the recent decision was that the remnants of the Saddam regime made no effort to exploit Capt. Speicher after the 2003 U.S. invasion to negotiate the release of prisoners, including Saddam.

Also, Iraqi facilities were searched throughout the country, and no evidence was found that Capt. Speicher was kept at any facilities.

"U.S. investigators have interviewed and debriefed hundreds of Iraqi government, military, and intelligence officials, including Saddam Hussein," the report says. "All have denied any knowledge of Capt. Speicher being captured or held prisoner by the Saddam government."

Iraq's supply of remains in 1991 that were found not to be those of Capt. Speicher were the result of Iraqis attempting to conceal an unrelated administrative error, the report says.

Forensic and handwriting analysis of the initials "MSS" found on a Baghdad prison wall and on an I-beam in a carport near Tikrit were "not linked to Capt. Speicher," the report says.

Pentagon detainee office
The Pentagon is planning to downsize the scope of the Office of Detainee Affairs and shift the office to the control of a different assistant secretary of defense, special correspondent Rowan Scarborough reports.

A defense official said the reorganization is being eyed in light of the fact that the Obama administration has moved major decision-making on detainees from the Pentagon to the Justice Department.

The president has announced plans to close within a year the prison at Guantanamo Bay, the home of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the admitted mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and about 240 other terrorist suspects.

The source, who asked not to be named because the reorganization is not complete, said the next deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs would focus on battlefield detention and internment centers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The office is within the domain of Michele A. Flournoy, the undersecretary of defense for policy. She is heading a review of her organization.

The Pentagon created the detainee office in 2004, when Donald H. Rumsfeld was defense secretary, as the Guantanamo prison came under increasing assault from human rights groups and various foreign governments.

Charles "Cully" Stimpson, the second deputy assistant secretary for detainee affairs, resigned in 2007 after he was criticized for questioning the motives and financial ties of lawyers defending terrorist suspects. The post is vacant.

The position had led a joint committee within the Pentagon that handled issues such as whom to release back to their home country. At its peak, the prison held nearly 800 detainees, most captured in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

Phillip Carter, a former Army officer who headed the Obama campaign's outreach to military veterans, has been mentioned as the next detainee office chief.

Nuclear dangers
William H. Tobey, until recently the Energy Department's deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation at the National Nuclear Security Administration, stated recently that the danger of terrorists obtaining nuclear material for a bomb is real.

Mr. Tobey said U.S. aid to Russia has helped secure nuclear facilities but concerns remain about nuclear material being stolen or smuggled out of the country. "There are research reactor sites in Russia that use highly enriched uranium; they remain a concern," he told the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control.

On terrorists seeking nuclear material, Mr. Tobey said: "I don't think you can separate terrorists and nonproliferation issues. We're worried about the material falling into the hands of terrorists, but we're also worried about it falling into the hands of nation-states that would pursue illicit weapon programs."

In Russia, the threat of nuclear-material smuggling depends on the type of facility, he said. "If you're talking about research reactors, it's probably less likely that it would be an insider threat," Mr. Tobey said. "But if you're talking about other, larger, facilities where weapons-usable material is handled, an insider threat would probably be more acute. We know from experience that bulk material is more vulnerable to theft by insiders."

One of the key questions for those seeking to prevent the use of a terrorist bomb is whether the origin of the material can be traced after one is set off.

Asked if a nuclear bomb detonated in the United States could be traced, Mr. Tobey said, "At this point I think there's an excellent chance that we would be able to determine physical characteristics which would point to the origin of material that went off in a bomb. But these things take time. It's not something that could be done overnight. Moreover, even if the country of origin of such material is known with certainty, it does not necessarily explain how it came to be in a weapon that detonated. Was it, for example, used directly by a nation-state, sold by a nation-state to a third party, or stolen by a third party?"

Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project, said Mr. Tobey's disclosure that Russian research reactor sites remain vulnerable is worrisome.

"These sites probably contain many bombs' worth of highly enriched uranium in the form of fresh reactor fuel," Mr. Milhollin said. "It would increase everyone's security to have this material fully protected. The new administration should make it a high priority to protect these sites. It is the one obvious thing we can do to reduce the risk of weapon-ready nuclear material falling into the wrong hands."

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

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