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June 26, 2008
Notes from the Pentagon

China EMP arms
China's significant military buildup includes strategic weapons designed to counter U.S. military advantages, including electric pulse weapons, a senior Pentagon official told Congress Wednesday.

James J. Shinn, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs also said during House testimony that China's arms buildup is increasing the danger of a future conflict over Taiwan.

Mr. Shinn warned that one troubling aspect of the large-scale buildup is what he termed a "deliberate and well-thought-through Chinese strategy to invest in asymmetric warfare - cyber-warfare, counterspace capability, a very sophisticated ballistic and cruise missile program and, of course, undersea warfare."

He disclosed that China's military is working on exotic electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons that can devastate electronic systems using a burst of energy similar to that produced by a nuclear blast.

Chinese EMP weaponry "is one of several examples of asymmetric warfare that we need to deal with," Mr. Shinn told the House Armed Services Committee.

"The consequence of EMP is that you destroy the communications network," Mr. Shin said. "And we are, as you know, and as the Chinese also know, heavily dependent on sophisticated communications, satellite communications, in the conduct of our forces. And so, whether it's from an EMP or it's some kind of a coordinated [anti-satellite] effort, we could be in a very bad place if the Chinese enhanced their capability in this area."

"In terms of the danger associated with the military balance across the straits... I think we'd have to conclude that as the balance has shifted toward the mainland, it has materially increased the danger across the straits," he stated,

The recent election of Ma Ying-jeou as Taiwan's president and the renewal of China-Taiwan discussions "at least, appears to have reduced the threat and the probability of the use of force."

Air Force Maj. Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, vice director of the Joint Staff for strategic plans and policy, said he agreed with Mr. Shinn and warned that the increase in Chinese air defense and other war-fighting capabilities in the strait "make it militarily a more challenging area."

Gen. Breedlove said it is hoped that increased military dialogue with China will diffuse the danger of "possible incidents across the strait."

The Pentagon's annual report to Congress on China's military power revealed that Beijing has deployed about 1,000 ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan, which broke with China in 1949 after nationalist forces fled the mainland during the civil war with communists.

Intercept law passage
House passage of the compromise legislation on a new federal electronic surveillance law was a defeat for congressional liberals, who opposed the bill.

Approval of the amended Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was a victory for the Bush administration, which won renewed power to spy on the communications of foreign terrorists and spies, and also defeated liberal lawmakers' efforts to punish American telecommunications companies with lawsuits for supporting the intercept program.

The bill passed the House by a wide margin on Friday, (293 to 129). However, the significance of the vote was that 105 Democrats, mainly centrists, broke ranks with liberals and supported the bill.

Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat, was typical of the defectors. She said in a floor statement that she supported the legislation despite her office phones "ringing off the hook" with calls from opponents.

"After reading every word of it, and after many, many hours working to develop and revise portions of it, I conclude that the compromise replaces bad law, the Protect America Act, with law that actually improves many of the provisions of the underlying FISA law which has served our country well for three decades," Mrs. Harman said.

Other key Democratic centrists who voted for the measure include Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, who heads the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, chairman of the House Budget Committee.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where liberal opponents vowed to filibuster it because a similar version of the FISA bill passed the Senate earlier.

Sen. Kit Bond, Missouri Democrat and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the House passage of the bill was the result of a bipartisan compromise "that will put the intelligence community back in business, protect American families from attack and protect our civil liberties."

Mr. Bond also defended the provisions that protect telecommunications companies. "Case law supports the president's constitutional authority to engage in surveillance of foreign terrorists, and the Democratic-led review of the program found no illegal conduct by telephone companies," he said. "The right thing to do is to protect the patriotic companies that answered their government's call [to] duty after September 11 to help keep Americans safe."

Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, called the compromise a "bad deal."

"The FISA deal announced on June 19 effectively grants retroactive immunity to companies that allegedly participated in the president's illegal wiretapping program, and it does not provide adequate protections for innocent Americans," he said.

Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence J. Michael McConnell stated in a June 19 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that the bill provides intelligence eavesdroppers "key authorities" needed in the war on terrorism. They called provisions that provide private telecommunications companies with protection from lawsuits "vital" in efforts to pursue terrorists and foreign spies.

They opposed, however, the sunset provision, which will require the same reauthorization process in 2012, noting that the public debate "risks exposing our intelligence sources and methods to our adversaries."

Questioning one China
The Bush administration has backed away from China's position on Taiwan by declaring in a diplomatic note to the United Nations that the issue of Taiwan's sovereignty remains unsettled and effectively stating that the island is not under Chinese sovereignty, as Beijing insists.

A copy of the diplomatic note, from August, was obtained by the Heritage Foundation, and its disclosure is likely to upset China's government, which regards U.S. support for Taiwan as the most sensitive issue in U.S.-China relations.

Administration diplomats and other U.S. officials who engage China are under constant pressure from Beijing to adhere to the so-called "one China policy" that in China's view implies formal U.S. recognition that democratic Taiwan is in reality under the sovereignty of communist China, like former colonies Hong Kong and Macao.

The State Department, however, quietly challenged that policy in the summer of 2007 when it privately notified senior United Nations officials that "If the U.N. Secretariat insists on describing Taiwan as a part of the [Peoples Republic of China], or on using nomenclature for Taiwan that implies such status, the United States will be obliged to disassociate itself on a national basis from such position."

Heritage China specialist John J. Tkacik, a former State Department official, said the diplomatic note was triggered by concerns that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was undermining important U.S. trade and other relations with Taiwan by tilting toward Beijing's view of Taiwan.

Mr. Ban stated in March 2007 that the world body considered Taiwan "an integral part" of China. It was the first time any U.N. secretary general had spoken of Taiwan's status since 1971, when Taiwan was expelled and replaced by mainland officials.

Since 1971, the United States and many allies have withheld formal acceptance of China's claims to own Taiwan. However, under Chinese pressure, U.S. diplomats delicately have sought to placate the Chinese by pledging support for "one China." At Foggy Bottom, department officials even call it "our one China policy," which even senior diplomats admit remains undefined but is clearly not Beijing's version.

Mr. Tkacik says he thinks the belated clarification note may be too late. "For six years, the Bush Administration has given Taiwan's voters the impression that America actually wants their democracy to submit to communist China's demands," he said.

While Taiwan, under newly elected President Ma Ying-jeou, is moving toward closer ties with the mainland, the Bush administration appears to be working at cross purposes internally on Taiwan.

"The Bush administration discourages Taiwan from relying on the U.S. to strengthen Taiwan's defenses as it engages in negotiations with Beijing about the island's future," Mr. Tkacik said. For example, the White House recently halted sales to Taiwan worth about $12 billion in new arms procurement, to avoid upsetting Beijing.

"How the United States defends democratic Taiwan's international identity in the current environment will tell Asia and the world much about Washington's willingness to stand against the broader challenge from China," Mr. Tkacik said, noting, however, that Taiwan's new president "will be left to bargain with Beijing with little material or moral support from the Bush administration."

Gates on DNI
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates took a subtle shot at the new office of the director of national intelligence during the military retirement ceremony last week of Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who left the military but is continuing as CIA director, a post once held by Mr. Gates.

The defense secretary pointedly revealed that even though intelligence relations among civilian and military spy agencies have improved, he is still not a fan of the new intelligence czar created by Congress in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Wherever Gen. Hayden has been in government, we have seen within his orbit a shift away from the inefficiencies and turf wars that too often plague government intelligence efforts," Mr. Gates said Friday.

He then went on to say: "It is no secret that I opposed the creation of the current DNI intelligence apparatus. But Mike has proven that even a flawed bureaucratic structure can be made to work if we have the right leaders and right relationships in place."

The comment was made as the current director of national intelligence, J. Michael McConnell, sat in the front row. The comment indicates that relations between the Pentagon, CIA and the office of DNI are somewhat strained.

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

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