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March 17, 2006
Notes from the Pentagon

Saddam's helpers
The tapes of Saddam Hussein are fast getting attention, if not in the mainstream press, certainly in the conservative journals and blogosphere. Saddam apparently wanted a record of his palace meetings with top aides, so he taped hours of conversations. The United States has been able to acquire more than 500 hours of tapes, and has been translating and analyzing the contents for the past three years.

There are no bombshells so far, a congressional source tells us. But the tapes do show the degree to which the hard-line Baghdad regime went in the mid-1990s to trick U.N. weapons inspectors. They also show Saddam and his henchmen had the full intention of rebuilding an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction once U.S. sanctions were lifted.

We thought one particular taped comment from aide Tariq Aziz, who is now imprisoned, was noteworthy. It came as inspectors were trying to find Baghdad's biological weapons.

"On the subject of biological, which still remains," Aziz told Saddam, "the French and the Russians, if they help us, we can reach a solution."

Enemy shortfalls
You would not always know it by reading the daily coverage of the war on terror, but the enemy is having problems, too.

The Joint Staff, which is the Joint Chiefs of Staff's planning and operations arm, has written up an unclassified briefing on the "long war" that lists al Qaeda's mounting problems. The briefing is given to small groups of academics and civic leaders, upon request.

The briefing states:

"The enemy's violent acts, vision of the future and ideology do not reflect the beliefs of the Muslim majority. Murder of ordinary people widely unsupported within the Muslim population. Repressive Taliban-like regimes do not appeal to the average Muslim."

"The enemy has inherent weaknesses as well: Monolithic view of Islam underestimates cultural and religious differences. No military capacity to expand their fight beyond terrorist tactics. Underestimates the will of America and our allies."

Beijing attache
The Pentagon is sending a combat veteran to Beijing as defense attache, a break with past tradition of sending intelligence specialists with limited battle experience.

Army Col. Michael E. Rounds was named to be the next U.S. defense attache to China, a post that is growing in importance under Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's Pacific forces transformation program. Col. Rounds will move to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing later this year.

Until recently, Col. Rounds was commander of the operations group at the Army's Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La.

A Chinese language speaker, Col. Rounds was an Army attache in the past and is considered a realist on China. He shares the view of Pentagon officials who see China as an emerging threat to the United States.

He is a combat veteran of Iraq, where he headed a unit of Stryker combat vehicles for the Army's 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which saw action in Samarra and Mosul.

Col. Rounds, who has been selected for promotion to brigadier general, was appointed over another China specialist, Army Col. Charles Hooper, for the Beijing posting. Col. Hooper was a former National Security Council (NSC) staff member and is considered close to CIA analyst Dennis Wilder, now the White House NSC's top China specialist, and Thomas Fingar, former State Department intelligence chief and now chairman of the National Intelligence Council. All three are viewed by Pentagon officials as holding overly benign views on China, and Col. Hooper's ties to Mr. Wilder and Mr. Fingar were a factor in picking Col. Rounds, we are told.

Moving on
Veteran wire service reporter Charlie Aldinger, dean of the Pentagon press corps, is retiring after 22 years covering the world's largest office building. The bow-tie-sporting reporter for Reuters news agency has covered the past seven secretaries of defense and put in countless miles in the worldwide travel that the job entails. He was honored by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at a press briefing Tuesday.

Mr. Rumsfeld called him "one very special reporter, who even I have to admit almost always gets it right, or about right" high praise from a defense secretary who never misses an opportunity to castigate the press.

"When I heard Charlie was retiring, my first thought was, 'He's too young. It's a very bad precedent, and I don't like it at all,' " Mr. Rumsfeld said. "But when you've had the career that Charlie has, covering seven secretaries of defense ... and working in the Pentagon for some 22 years, even I have to agree that he deserves at least a break." He thanked the reporter for his service "to the truth."

After the cameras were turned off, Mr. Aldinger was presented with a cake and the chair he sat in for many years in the front row of the Pentagon briefing room, where he, by tradition, asked the first question at briefings. He also was shown a video presentation of his many overseas travels.

U.N. blues
Maybe Michael New is on to something. The United Nations is as popular these days with the American people as is President Bush.

Mr. New is waging a public relations battle against increased U.N. powers at the same time he is trying to get a federal appeals court to throw out his conviction for disobeying an order. The former Army medic refused an order in 1994 to don the U.N. insignia and deploy to Macedonia.

Now comes a Gallup survey headlined "Americans' Ratings of United Nations Among Worst Ever."

The Feb. 6-9 poll found just 30 percent saying the United Nations is doing "a good job in trying to solve the problems it has had to face." And, 64 percent of Americans say the assembly is doing a poor job, "the highest negative rating of the United Nations Gallup has ever measured."

Al Qaeda HR
Al Qaeda tries to take care of the people it recruits to torture, kidnap, behead and hijack.

Its very own human resources manual calls for vacation time, increased salaries for married terrorists and free round-trip plane tickets once a year to visit family.

The al Qaeda employment contract is contained in the first batch of released papers from thousands seized by the United States in the war on terror. There are an estimated 48,000 boxes of papers taken from Iraq alone. They are being analyzed and translated by the intelligence community.

"The married have a vacation by rotation for a week every three weeks, and in certain cases al Qaeda may deny this vacation for four months," the contract states. "A bachelor can have a vacation by rotation for five days every month. Al Qaeda may deny his request for vacation in certain cases. Request for vacation travel should be submitted 2 months before the travel date."

"The brother who wants to leave al Qaeda without a legitimate excuse does not qualify for [severance,]" the terror group's HR contract said.

Because of an editing error, an item in last week's column incorrectly described what the National Bureau of Asian Research was funding in the name of retired Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, former Joint Chiefs chairman. It is a chair in national security studies.

  • 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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