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June 20, 2003
Notes from the Pentagon

China's missile tests
China's military is preparing to conduct a flight test of the new DF-31 mobile missile, according to U.S. officials. The test is one of three missile shots expected to take place in the next several weeks.

In addition to the DF-31 test, China's military also will flight-test a medium-range DF-21 missile and a submarine-launched JL-2.

All three missiles are part of China's strategic military buildup.

A U.S. official confirmed the missile tests after a Russian press report last week said Beijing's Defense Ministry had notified Moscow of the three upcoming tests.

The tests are expected to take place from the Wuzhai missile test center north of Beijing, and the missiles' dummy warheads will be targeted at an impact range in the remote Lop Nur test range in northwestern China.

British government electronic eavesdroppers are taking credit for intercepting two key al Qaeda telephone conversations on the eve of the September 11 attacks.

A new book by London Daily Telegraph reporter Michael Smith, "The Spying Game," states that Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the counterpart to the U.S. National Security Agency, captured the phone calls warning: "The match begins tomorrow," and "Tomorrow is zero [hour]."

The calls were listed in the U.S. and British watch list of al Qaeda telephone numbers and e-mail addresses that were being monitored. The calls were not translated from Arabic for two days after being intercepted, Mr. Smith stated. A British government intelligence probe into the intercepts concluded there was no forewarning of the September 11 attacks.

Mr. Smith said 30 percent to 40 percent of GCHQ's electronic spying was focused on al Qaeda after September 11, and he noted that the agency played a supporting role for military operations in Afghanistan and recently in Iraq.

The NSA director, Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, told Congress last year that NSA "did obtain" two pieces of information suggesting that people with terrorist connections believed "something significant" would take place September 11, 2001.

He stated that the information did not "specifically indicate an attack would take place on that day, and it didn't contain any details on the time, place, or nature of what might happen."

The information was not reported until Sept. 12 "because of the nature of the processes" for disseminating intelligence, he said.

Roche nomination
President Bush has approved the nomination of Air Force Secretary James G. Roche to be the next Army secretary, defense insiders tell us. The nomination paperwork is expected to go to the Senate shortly.

But congressional aides say Mr. Roche is likely to receive some rough treatment on a number of issues. They say they still expect the nomination to win Senate confirmation, but would not be surprised if one or more senators placed a "hold" on Mr. Roche to get the White House's attention.

The rub comes on three issues: Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's decision to cancel the Crusader artillery system, the Air Force Academy sex-abuse scandal and a feeling on Capitol Hill that Mr. Rumsfeld and his civilian staff mistreated the Army.

Mr. Rumsfeld fired Army Secretary Thomas White in April and was never on especially good terms with Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff who retired earlier this month after a four-year term.

SEAL sub
Supporters of a new submarine for Navy SEALs are pointing at recent test successes as a reason Congress should fund a second Northrop Grumman-produced boat.

A team of Navy testers oversaw a sea trial of the first and only Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS) last month. It executed two ship-to-shore missions off the attack submarine USS Charlotte.

The minisub returned to the Charlotte, recharged its battery and then conducted a second underwater operation, as required. The ASDS carried out the missions with a new, redesigned propeller that resulted in a quieter vessel a key Navy requirement. A previous test in February 2002 identified the old propeller as the main source of excessive noise that can lead to sonar detection by enemy forces.

Defense sources say the test has convinced Naval Sea Systems Command it can start construction of a second boat.

The changing ASDS design prompted, in part, a negative report from the General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm.

Some in Congress want the Navy to build a second boat, a move that may delay production.

The House approved $23.6 million in advanced procurement money for the second boat, but the Senate deleted those funds, shifting the battle to a House-Senate conference.

"Because of the long lead time required [18 months] to build the ASDS hull and composite nose and tail assemblies, eliminating the advanced procurement funding will delay the construction of ASDS No. 2 by one year," the Pentagon said in a message to Congress.

The sub requires a crew of two and can hold eight SEALS. A Navy policy statement says the ASDS "was designed to reduce the risk to Navy Special Operations forces [during] the transit from a submarine to shore. ASDS permits long-range special forces operations. It also enhances the effectiveness of the insertion teams by delivering them to their destination rested and better equipped as well as the means of conducting shore surveillance prior to landing."

Reagan's wings
At 5 p.m. today, flatbed trucks will begin moving huge sections of a Boeing 707 from the old Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino, Calif., to Simi Valley and the Reagan Library.

The 100-mile, police-escorted convoy is part of an operation by Boeing and the library to put the 707 on permanent public display by late 2004. This 707 flew for 28 years in presidential service, including as Air Force One, and was used the most by President Ronald Reagan.

It took him to Berlin in 1987, when he issued this challenge at the Brandenburg Gate, "Mister Gorbachev, tear down this wall." It was also this 707 that he and wife Nancy boarded and flew home to California after his two-term presidency.

Boeing is the largest employer in California, where Mr. Reagan worked as an actor, union leader, corporate figure and governor.

Rudy deLeon, a former deputy defense secretary who directs Boeing's Washington office, said the company's role is twofold. It dismantled the plane in San Bernardino and will put it back together once a host pavilion is finished at the library.

"What's very important is the public will be able to go on board the aircraft," Mr. deLeon said. "I think we all know Air Force One, the trip to the summit in Switzerland or previous trips President Nixon to China. The plane is very much part of our history."

Mr. deLeon said Boeing relied on volunteers, retired company employees and paid workers to complete the dismantlement.

The 707, tail No. 27,000, replaced President John F. Kennedy's plane.

Ambush probe
The Army has completed a commander's inquiry into the March 23 ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company that resulted in the deaths of 11 soldiers and the capture of Pfc. Jessica Lynch.

The inquiry, officially called regulation number 15-6, is designed to tell commanders what went wrong in major incidents such as the 507th ambush. The inquiring officer may also recommend personnel for disciplinary action.

But a Pentagon official said the inquiry does not recommend any punishment and found that every 507th soldier acted properly, and in some cases heroically.

Pfc. Lynch is hospitalized, recovering from several fractures suffered when her vehicle crashed during the chaos of avoiding Iraqi firing from all sides in the town of Nasiriyah.

The Army plans to release the inquiry's executive summary, perhaps before month's end.

  • 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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