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March 25, 2005
Notes from the Pentagon

Prison shortage
It's the Army that maintains a network of detainee camps and prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But now the Air Force plans to get more involved. Headquarters sent out a message yesterday asking for 100 airmen to volunteer for "detainee operations duty in Iraq."

Applicants from grades of senior airmen to master sergeant must have a current top-secret clearance, an outstanding performance record and "certification from their commander that they possess the maturity and judgment for this duty."

Character counts. The Army is beleaguered by a number of prison camp scandals in which detainees were abused, and in a relatively few cases killed.

The Air Force message says airmen will be called on for interrogation and analysis. Since those are not typical Air Force missions, candidates will have to undergo interrogation classes at Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

The classes include the Initial Interrogator Course and the Enhanced Analyst and Interrogator Training Course.

Wiggle room
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld did some dancing this week over the issue of troop levels in Iraq. In the process, he managed a slight rebuke of an Army general.

It all unfolded over the weekend. Last Friday, Mr. Rumsfeld revealed some of his thinking on Iraq, saying U.S. forces would have to "undoubtedly bulge" for the December elections in Iraq before contracting again.

Two days later, Mr. Rumsfeld searched for wiggle room on the Sunday talks shows. "I said there 'could be' " an increase in troops, he asserted on ABC's "This Week."

But that was not the language Mr. Rumsfeld had used. "They're going to have elections under the new constitution in December," he said two days earlier. "And during that period, armed forces total, everybody's, coalition and Iraqi will undoubtedly bulge somewhat during those key election periods."

Then came the mild rebuke. He was asked about public comments from Gen. Richard A. Cody, Army vice chief of staff, who predicted reduced troop levels in Iraq next year.

"You know, [a] lot of people talk about this subject," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "It happens that those people aren't involved in the decision-making process. The Army's task is to organize, train and equip and plan to be ready for whatever might be needed. It's General [George] Casey and General [John] Abizaid reporting to me and they will make their recommendations."

Gen. Casey is the top commander in Iraq; Gen. Abizaid is the senior officer in the region.

North Korea threat
A few heads turned in the Pentagon this week at a statement from Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs chairman.

Tim Russert of NBC's "Meet the Press" was pushing the chairman hard on the question of whether a stretched U.S. military can cope with other war scenarios around the world, such as North Korea.

"Make no mistake about it, I don't think North Korea poses a threat to South Korea today," Gen. Myers said. "They know that if they were to start any conflict on the peninsula, that would be the end of their regime, they would lose, and they know that, and we're very confident about that."

Navy Capt. Frank Thorp, Gen. Myers' spokesman, told us the chairman's answer was really addressing the question, "Can we handle the North Korea threat?" and not a declaration of no threat at all.

"I don't think he at all was trying to back off North Korea poses a risk to South Korea," Capt. Thorp said. "He was definitely trying to be definitive. If North Korea was to attempt to invade South Korea and take the peninsula, they would not be successful and it would be the end of the regime."

Added Capt. Thorp, "Tim was really pressing him."

Spy penetrations
Pentagon officials tell us one of the major problems for the new Iraqi government and its security and military services is a lack of good counterintelligence. Iraqi insurgents have succeeded in planting covert agents inside a number of key agencies, we are told.

The penetrations include compromises uncovered so far in the Iraqi prime minister's office, senior levels of the ministry of defense and the security forces in charge of Baghdad International Airport.

In one case, a private Iraqi company that bid on a security contract for the airport was found out to have been a front for Iraqis connected to the insurgency, the officials said.

The officials said counterintelligence efforts to find and neutralize the insurgents in Iraq have been very difficult and have not been given a high priority by either Iraqi or U.S. and coalition officials.

New candidate
A new candidate has emerged for the deputy secretary of defense post being vacated by Paul Wolfowitz. He is Lewis "Scooter" Libby, currently the chief of staff and national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. Other candidates include Stephen Cambone, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and Gordon England, the current Navy secretary.

Pantano update
One odd twist in the case of 1st Lt. Ilario Pantano. The Marine general who is overseeing murder charges against him was once one of the officer's biggest backers.

In 1993, when then-Sgt. Pantano was a sniper-scout and Desert Storm veteran, Lt. Col. Richard Huck endorsed a flattering fitness report. It said Sgt. Pantano was "highly motivated ... always seeking self-improvement ... taking college courses while afloat ... a great orator and instructor."

Maj. Gen. Richard Huck now commands the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, N.C. He will make the ultimate decision whether to court-martial the officer after a pretrial hearing next month.

No security breach
We reported on a cable in our Feb. 4 column stating that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, had ordered an investigation into disclosures of secrets in a new book by journalist and former Greenpeace activist William Arkin.

Gen. Myers' spokesman, Navy Capt. Frank Thorp, now tells us he believes the document was forged, although the origin of the document could not be determined with 100 percent confidence because the Pentagon's computer system contains millions of classified documents.

"This may have been a message at some point," Capt. Thorp said, noting that at least one part of the cable was accurate but others were outdated.

The document stated that Mr. Arkin's book "Code Names" had compromised several secret programs and called for an "operational security assessment" of the disclosures.

Mr. Arkin was quoted in our item as saying he had been "very careful not to reveal anything related to ongoing operations or an intelligence source and method" in the book.

The Arkin book did not trigger anything close to the reaction of senior military and defense officials to the leak of the Iraq war plan in 2002, months before the March 2003 military operation began.

A second senior Pentagon official said a major undercover investigation has been under way since 2002 to try to locate the source of the war plan disclosure, first reported by Mr. Arkin in the Los Angeles Times.

  • 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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