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May 2, 2008
Notes from the Pentagon

Mughniyah hit
Many theories are circulating inside U.S. intelligence agencies on who killed notorious Hezbollah terrorist Imad Mughniyah, who was blown up in a car bomb attack in Damascus Feb. 12.

One theory popular in the Middle East is that the hit was an Israeli intelligence operation. An Israeli hit is considered possible but unlikely since even though Israel's Mossad has a long arm, the bombing took place in the Syrian capital, considered a very difficult intelligence operating area.

A prime suspect is Syria itself, specifically Syrian intelligence agents who would have known Mughniyah's personal security measures and travel. Syria's government is investigating the killing and recent reports from the region state Damascus is blaming Saudi Arabian agents for the killing, a charge Riyadh has denied.

Iran also is suspected. Despite its decades-long backing of Mughniyah, Tehran, this theory goes, was not happy with Mughniyah and wanted him out of the way. Even Hezbollah is a suspect, based on stories of growing factionalism inside the Iranian-backed Lebanese terror group. Still another theory is that the killing was the work of Lebanon's security service, in retaliation for the terrorist killings of Lebanese officials.

Asked who killed Mughniyah, Mark Kimmitt, deputy assistant defense secretary for the Middle East, said in a brief interview recently that he knows at least 15 theories on the death of Mugniyah, who has been blamed for killing more Americans than any other terrorist, not counting al Qaeda.

"And all 15 could be wrong," said Mr. Kimmitt, a retired Army one-star general, adding: "Whoever did it, the world is a better place without him."

Hedge strategy
Michael Pillsbury, a Pentagon consultant on China, said recently that the U.S. strategy of "hedging" against an emerging military threat from Beijing by building up U.S. forces in the Pacific likely will continue whoever is elected president in November.

Mr. Pillsbury made the comments during a panel discussion at a Jane's U.S. Defense Conference and noted that a key part of the strategy is the U.S. buildup of forces on Guam. The recent deployment of additional U.S. forces there prompted some "hysteria" from the state-run Chinese news media, he said.

The hedge strategy, Mr. Pillsbury said, remains below the public radar, however, with Bush administration officials saying it is not directed at China. However, so far none of the current presidential candidates has sought to repudiate the strategy, he said.

Mr. Pillsbury quoted a senior Navy civilian as saying the new Pacific game plan is needed because "hope is not a strategy," meaning the hope that China's rise will be peaceful.

The hedge strategy is the Pentagon's grand design to beef up military forces in the Pacific and upgrade alliances in the region to be ready to counter a hostile China, that is rapidly deploying advanced nuclear and conventional missiles, submarines and other naval forces and more mobile ground forces, but will not disclose the extent or target of the decades-long buildup.

Some pro-China academics and officials have suggested the hedge strategy, first developed under Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, never existed or if it did, it ended with Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation in 2006.

That notion was dispelled by recent testimony from David Sedney, deputy assistant defense secretary for East Asia, who told a congressional China commission hearing last month that the hedge strategy is a response to excessive Chinese military secrecy.

"Hedging is going on everywhere, including here in the United States," Mr. Sedney said. "And hedging, the need to hedge against the bad possible outcomes [of China's development] is, in many ways created by that opacity, that lack of transparency, lack of understanding of China's strategic intentions."

Mr. Sedney also said hedging is "going on with every country around China as well."

"And the degree to which people hedge is, I think, determined by the degree of threat to which they feel they might be subject to in the worst-possible outcome," he said.

Missile defense
House Democrats held a hearing this week focusing on problems with U.S. missile defense. It included testimony from two Democratic critics, former Clinton administration defense testing official Philip Coyle and former Democrat congressional staff member Joseph Cirincione.

Rep. John F. Tierney, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform national security and foreign affairs subcommittee, said at the hearing Wednesday that earlier panels had "raised very serious concerns about the effectiveness, efficiency, and even the need for our country's current missile defense efforts."

Countering the critics was Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering, director of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, who said the missile defense opponents are misguided.

"The fact is that many of our critics disagree with the policy choice that we ought to deploy strategic or tactical systems to counter the ballistic missile threat," Gen. Obering said. "They have other approaches, to include, denying that the threat exists, or using more destabilizing or destructive solutions."

The Pentagon has a limited missile defense against long-range missiles with interceptors at bases in Alaska and California and is gradually developing better strategic defenses.

Gen. Obering quoted from a draft presidential memorandum that stated: "A number of arguments for deployment of a less-than-perfect ballistic missile defense are most persuasive. A ballistic missile defense, even though of limited capability, could be very effective against a simple attack by a minor power, a small accidental attack, or a small attack constrained by arms control measures.

"Such a defense would contribute to the deterrence of blackmail threats and to the stability of arms control agreements. A ballistic missile defense of limited capability would contribute to the deterrence of large attacks by raising doubts about the attacker's ability to penetrate. Such a defense, even though limited, greatly complicates the design and tactics for offensive systems."

The memorandum was dated Oct. 6, 1962, during the administration of President John F. Kennedy.

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

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