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May 7, 2009
Notes from the Pentagon

Iran's nuclear program
Iran has dramatically increased the amount of low-enriched uranium produced by its growing number of centrifuges that are part of its nuclear fuel production system.

According to a CIA report to Congress, "During the reporting period, Iran continued to expand its nuclear infrastructure and continued uranium enrichment and activities related to its heavy water research reactor, despite multiple United Nations Security Council Resolutions since late 2006 calling for the suspension of those activities."

The little-noticed report covering 2008 was released without comment by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) on March 12. It was produced by the CIA's Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control Center, known as WINPAC, and approved by the National Intelligence Council.

The findings, similar to those reported by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog, come as the Obama administration prepares to engage Iran in a new diplomatic approach to the nuclear program.

The report repeats a controversial 2007 U.S. intelligence judgment that Tehran in 2003 halted nuclear weapons design and weaponization activities. However, it stated that "we do not know whether Tehran currently intends to develop nuclear weapons," although the Iranians appear to be considering it.

Iran says its nuclear activities are peaceful and not intended to make atomic weapons.

This year's report, known as the Section 721 report after a provision of the 1997 intelligence authorization law, provided more details than a 2007 report.

A comparison of the two reports shows that Iran produced 75 kilograms of low-enriched uranium (LEU) in 2007 and about 555 kilograms of LEU last year, described by the CIA as a "significant" increase.

At Natanz, the underground Iranian nuclear site, the number of centrifuges increased from 3,000 in 2007 to about 5,000 by November. Between December 2007 and November, Iran fed about 8,080 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride gas into the centrifuges to produce the LEU.

Additionally, Iran began using more advanced centrifuges last year, identified as IR-2 and IR-3, which were fed with test amounts of uranium hexafluoride.

Low-enriched uranium can be used for fuel in electricity-generating nuclear power stations, but it also can be further enriched to produce fuel for nuclear weapons.

The CIA report said the IAEA continued to call on Iran to explain past "military-led, covert uranium conversion and nuclear weaponization work prior to 2003."

Iran also continued development of Shahab-3 medium-range missiles with assistance from China, North Korea and Russia, the report said. Additionally, Iran is attempting to purchase advanced S-300 air defense missiles from Russia and "we judge likely deployment locations for this system include Iran's nuclear facilities," the report said.

China also was criticized in the report for continued proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

"Chinese entities - which include private companies, individuals, and state-owned military export firms - continue to engaged in WMD-related proliferation activities," the report said.

Sanctions were imposed on several Chinese companies for the sales last year and the report noted that despite the release of new Chinese government export controls "enforcement continues to fall short."

"Chinese entities continue to supply a variety of missile-related items to multiple customers, including recent exports to Iran and Pakistan," the report said, noting that Pakistan was China's most important market for advanced conventional arms.

A Chinese Embassy spokesman did not return telephone calls and e-mails seeking comment.

Pentagon reorg
In one of the first major reshufflings inside the Pentagon policy shop, officials are moving counterterrorism duties out of the special operations unit, special correspondent Rowan Scarborough reports.

Inside the Ring obtained an internal "action memo" written by two senior officials: Michael G. Vickers, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict; and Bob Salesses, a senior aide for the assistant secretary of defense for homeland security and Americas' security affairs.

Both offices fall within the purview of Undersecretary for Policy Michele Flournoy, who is reorganizing a bureaucracy that submits advice papers to the defense secretary.

The March 23 memo recommends moving the counterterrorism portfolio out of special operations and into homeland security. A senior official tells Inside the Ring that the shift was approved by a senior Flournoy deputy and will be completed by the end of May.

The official, who spoke on the condition that he not be named, said he feared the move would fragment counterterrorism efforts.

But in the memo, Mr. Vickers and Mr. Salesses write, "This move will consolidate all [counterterrorism] policy oversight in [the office of secretary of defense] to a single office, gaining economy of effort and streamlined coordination with the Joint Staff, the combatant commands, military departments and the interagency."

Among the programs under the counterterrorism portfolio are development of armored vehicles, protecting energy infrastructure and protecting department offices and personnel in foreign lands.

IG report withdrawn
Under pressure from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, the Pentagon inspector general has taken the unusual step of withdrawing a report that exonerated the Pentagon of wrongdoing related to a program that used retired military officials in a public relations campaign.

Deputy Inspector General Donald M. Horstman stated in a May 5 memorandum that the report was taken down from the IG Web site because of unspecified "inaccuracies" related to data in an appendix on retired military analysts' relations with defense contractors. The memo said an internal review found that the report failed to meet "quality standards" because it used Internet searches to check on corporate affiliations of military analysts involved in the program.

Withdrawal of the IG report followed a report in this space April 23 that stated that retired military officers, many of whom appeared on television, were angered over the awarding of a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the issue.

The withdrawn IG report, released in January, rebutted the major allegations of the New York Times' winning story that asserted that retired military officers had improperly used private Pentagon briefings to gain unfair competitive advantage for defense contractors they represented.

The IG pulled the report after Mr. Levin, Michigan Democrat, wrote to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Feb. 2 rejecting the IG report and asking him to have the IG office conduct a second investigation.

In his letter, a copy of which was obtained by Inside the Ring, Mr. Levin asserted that using friendly retired military officers to support Pentagon policies should be illegal. He also requested that the IG carry out additional "review and analysis."

Click here to view the Levin letter

Mr. Levin also wrote that he wanted the IG to look not only at ties between contractors and the 70 defense analysts, but also into the personal finances of the analysts.

He noted that the IG report "fails to assess whether the retired military analysts themselves obtained financial benefits from contractors as a result of their favorable access to DoD information and officials."

A defense official said Mr. Levin's letter was forwarded to the IG by Mr. Gates on March 3, along with Mr. Gates' request for additional analysis and review, and ultimately led to the withdrawal of the report.

The letter to Mr. Gates carried additional political weight because Mr. Levin's committee must confirm or reject the next inspector general. The post has been vacant since July.

Mr. Horstman, the deputy IG, stated in the memo that former Pentagon officials involved in the program refused to be interviewed by IG officials and thus "no conclusion can be reached in the affirmative or negative regarding the relationship of the retired military analysts and potential competitive advantage."

Mr. Levin, who has worked closely with the Pentagon IG office in the past, in January called the report "disappointing." He was quoted in the New York Times as saying that the IG report findings did not match evidence he had uncovered. Mr. Levin also has praised past IG reports that were critical of the Pentagon under Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Levin, Tara Andringa, said the senator expressed concerns about the report to Mr. Gates and referred questions to Mr. Gates on whether the letter played a role in the decision to pull the report. "From the IG's [memorandum] it would appear that they were headed in this direction on their own," she said.

Larry Di Rita, a former specialist assistant to Mr. Rumsfeld who was aware of the program, suggested that other flawed IG reports should be withdrawn. "If recalling flawed reports is a IG service, perhaps we can nominate a few more for consideration," he said.

David Barstow, the New York Times reporter who won the Pulitzer, declined to comment for this item. He reported on the withdrawal of the IG report May 6, but made no mention of the Levin-Gates pressure on the IG.

China military exchange
The Bush administration's senior White House policymaker criticized the Pentagon as well as China for the poor state of U.S.-China military relations, even though it was China that cut off the military-to-military program in October in a bout of pique over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

Dennis Wilder, the National Security Council staff specialist on Asia, said in remarks to the Chinese-American group Committee of 100 on May 1 that both the Pentagon and China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) are the problem.

Mr. Wilder said his "greatest disappointment" in office was the lack of candor and cooperation between China's communist-controlled military and the U.S. military.

"There is plenty of blame on both sides for this problem in the relationship," Mr. Wilder said. "The Chinese side, I think, frankly, is too secretive about their military. And we were too demanding about reciprocity in the relationship. So I hope the Obama administration will find a way to engage the PLA in a much more constructive relationship."

Asked about the comments, Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, told Inside the Ring in an e-mail that the Pacific Command under his leadership has focused U.S.-China military relations on "a more collaborative or collective approach to security, stability, and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region."

China's military has been invited to participate in exercises and offered chances for a variety of exchanges.

Adm. Keating disputed Mr. Wilder's assertion about demanding too much reciprocity. "We have not presented them 'either-or' type of choices," he said. "Our goal is be inclusive, not exclusive."

While military relations have improved gradually in recent years, "China's recent suspension of mil-to-mil dialogue is not helpful," he said. "Pacific Command looks forward to resumption of mil-to-mil exchanges at the appropriate time."

Mr. Wilder did not respond to an e-mail seeking further comment, and a Pentagon spokesman had no immediate comment.

Chinese Embassy spokesman Wang Baodong could not be reached for comment.

Former State Department China specialist John Tkacik said he disagreed with Mr. Wilder. "The Pentagon is not to blame for the tense state of military-to-military relations with China," he said.

U.S. defense commitments to Taiwan were spelled out 30 years ago by the Carter administration and Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping accepted the terms, he said of the arms sales dispute.

"With the unfortunate exception of the 1999 NATO bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade, every one of the military and naval confrontations between the U.S. and China since 1994 - the Taiwan Strait missile threats of 1996; the South China Sea midair collision of a Chinese jet and a U.S. recon aircraft; constant harassment of U.S. Navy ships in international waters adjacent to China; China's 2007 anti-satellite test; not to mention the annoying invitation-disinvitation-reinvitation for the Kitty Hawk battle group to visit Hong Kong at Thanksgiving a year ago - all were orchestrated and stage-managed by Beijing for maximum propaganda effect," he said.

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

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