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March 16, 2001

Notes from the Pentagon

Hackers hit Sandia
The U.S. intelligence community is conducting a damage assessment of a major hacker incident involving Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico. "It's big," said an official familiar with the incident. Few details could be learned, however.

According to U.S. intelligence officials, hackers suspected of having links to a foreign government successfully broke into Sandia's computer system and were able to access sensitive classified information. The incident took place in the past several weeks.

The suspected governments, according to the officials, include Russia, China, Iraq or North Korea — all nations thought to have well-developed information-warfare capabilities.

"It's an ongoing effort to figure the origin of these kinds of attacks," said another intelligence official.

Sandia is one of three Energy Department laboratories that are major targets of foreign intelligence services, according to intelligence reports. Sandia is operated for the department by Lockheed Martin Co. and builds all non-nuclear components for nuclear weapons, including high explosives used to trigger nuclear blasts. It also works on developing nuclear monitoring and has an international center that has numerous foreign visitors.

In 1999, all classified computers at Sandia and two other Energy Department laboratories were shut down for a security review aimed at improving cyber-security.

Spokesmen for Sandia, the CIA and Energy Department declined to comment on the incident, citing policies of not discussing intelligence matters.

Taiwan arms brief
For the first time in years, the executive branch will provide a classified briefing to Congress today on Taiwan's annual arms sales request to the United States. State Department and Pentagon officials were forced into the briefings by a little-noticed provision of a law passed last year that requires the administration to consult with Congress in advance of its talks with Taiwanese officials set for next month on the annual request for arms.

The Senate briefing was organized by Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, and will include Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, and other leaders. The House briefing will be led by Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican and chairman of the International Relations Committee and will include other House national security leaders.

The administration briefers, we are told, will include two key China policy officials in place under the Clinton administration —Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Fred Smith, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Darryl Johnson who handle the China account. Both are said to be trying to hold onto their jobs in the new administration — despite the differing approach to China by the new administration.

The briefing is a major break with past policy. The Clinton administration routinely turned down congressional requests for Taiwan arms briefings, even though the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act requires administrations to consult with Congress on the issue.

Taiwan is requesting four Aegis-equipped guided missile ships, Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile systems, HARM anti-radar missiles and other advanced weaponry. Sales of these arms were rejected by the Clinton administration for several years in a row to avoid upsetting Beijing under the engagement policies.

Beret update
Army officials are floating the idea on Capitol Hill of giving the Rangers a new color of beret. A change of color, the officials hope, will mollify critics who say giving all soldiers a black beret is a slap at Rangers who have worn that color since 1951 and officially since 1975.

One Senate defense aide tells us he finds the compromise "unsatisfactory." Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is carrying out President Bush's order to review the universal beret policy.

Meanwhile, the Army is marching full speed to have every soldier wearing the headgear by June 14, the Army's birthday. A Pentagon warehouse in Philadelphia is stockpiling hundreds of thousands of the headgear in anticipation of handing them out starting mid-April.

The Army has begun what is called "chain teaching" so soldiers know how to wear the new garment properly. Many generals have received instruction, as have command sergeants-major around the world.

Gen. Eric Shinseki, Army chief of staff, announced the beret policy in October, saying it will symbolize the service's transition to a lighter force.

Army sources say there are other motives. The top brass wants the Army's birthday to gain the same special significance afforded other branches' anniversaries. And, sources say, the Army wants to capture the same esprit de corps exhibited by the Marine Corps.

In other developments this week, Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, wrote to Gen. Shinseki, saying he may hold hearings.

"While we respect your goal of having this matter resolved prior to the celebration of the Army's birthday, we do not believe that this concern overrides Congress' clearly enumerated policy that defense industry jobs should be directed to American companies and workers whenever possible," wrote Mr. Burton and Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican.

This was a reference to the fact the Pentagon bypassed a "buy America" law and is buying berets made in communist China and other Third World nations to meet the Army's June 14 deadline.

Gen. Shinseki sent Mr. Burton a detailed letter last December explaining why he opted for berets for all. The general said he was not done trying to improve recruiting or morale. "It is about our excellence as soldiers, our unity as a force, and our values as an institution," he wrote.

Two more senators are calling on Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to rescind the policy. "The unintended consequence of the beret order is that it belittles the symbol of the elite Army Rangers," wrote Sen. Riohard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican and Senate Intelligence Committee chairman.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and Senate Armed Services member, sent a similar letter yesterday.

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and Armed Services chairman, has urged Mr. Rumsfeld to suspend the beret buying until a new Army secretary reviews it.


  • The History Channel will air "Modern Marvels: The Pentagon," an inside look at the world's largest office building, at 10 p.m. Tuesday, March 27.

    "The Pentagon has been called everything from a modern-day wonder to 'Fort Fumble' and the 'Puzzle Palace,' " says a History Channel press notice. "It has 6.5 million square feet of office space and 17.5 million miles of corridors. However, its revolutionary design makes it possible to walk between any two points in the building within 10 minutes."

    The building rose as quickly in 1941 as the country's rapid militarization. "Its no-frills design substituted ramps and stairs for elevators or escalators to save money and time," the History Channel says.

    One enlightening fact: Every day 250 bulbs are replaced in the Pentagon's 85,000 light fixtures.

  • Cmdr. David O. Zimmerman, the F-18 pilot who mistakenly bombed a group of training range observers in Kuwait, was flying "visual flight rules" or VFR at the time. That fact should rule out weather as a contributing factor in the deaths of five U.S. servicemen and a New Zealand officer.

    "That said, remember that there is no place so dark as flying over the ocean at night. The second hardest is flying over desert at night," said a former Navy pilot. "The problem is basically the same, as neither provide anything for reference to the ground. No lights on the ground."

  • Chris Williams, the former national security adviser to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, has been appointed by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to a senior policy post. Mr. Williams will take the job for three months before going to work for the defense contractor Lockheed Martin, we are told.

  • Last week we reported that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice listened intently while three former Chinese diplomats presented a 20-minute verbal complaint about the Falun Gong religious group. A White House official called to tell the diplomats did not meet Miss Rice, but her deputy, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

  • 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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