Return to

June 27, 2003
Notes from the Pentagon

China ties
The Pentagon is preparing for the first visit to the United States by a high-ranking Chinese military officer in years.

China's new defense minister, Gen. Cao Gangchuan, will come to the United States this fall as part of the Pentagon's military-exchange program, defense officials said.

No precise date has been set for the visit, which would be the first by a Chinese defense minister since relations soured over the April 2001 imprisonment by China's military of the U.S. crew of a damaged EP-3 surveillance plane that landed on Hainan island.

Gen. Cao, a supply officer who never commanded combat troops, was head of the technology-gathering part of China's government known as the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (Costind). The general has focused on building up China's military with modern weapons and technology.

As the Costind director from 1996 to 1998, Gen. Cao's benefited his career with the illegal transfer of missile technology from U.S. companies in the 1990s, which improved China's space launchers and long-range missiles.

He took over Costind after several Long March rockets failed. Since then, China's launch record has been flawless, thanks to U.S. technology.

Unfortunately, the technology transfers increased the danger of Chinese missile attacks because the space boosters are nearly identical to China's long-range missiles.

To reciprocate for Gen. Cao's visit, the chairman or vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is expected to travel to China.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, a skeptic on China who was invited to visit the country by Beijing's leaders, has no plans to travel there anytime soon, we are told.

E-mail spat
An Air Force public affairs officer threatened to ban a Canadian reporter from any court-martial in the Afghanistan "friendly fire" deaths of four Canadians in April 2002.

"FYI. You are removed from the Tarnak Farms e-mail group," Air Force Capt. Denise Kerr said in an e-mail to the Citizen's reporter Glen McGregor in Ottawa. "Also, I am seriously considering whether to ban you and your publication from the base, if we go to trial."

The spat erupted last week, when Capt. Kerr's office released Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson's decision in the friendly-fire bombing. The office mistakenly also released its confidential public relations strategy for handling the announcement that the two American pilots will not be ordered to stand trial. Since then, one pilot has refused an offer for nonjudicial punishment, and the Air Force has decided to court-martial him, but has not set a date.

Mr. McGregor, as did other reporters, quoted from the document, which said, in part, "emotional level will be moderate to high among the Canadian and Illinois/St. Louis media. Canada is seeking vindication."

Capt. Kerr was not happy. "It was very unnecessary to quote from a plan you received accidentally," she said in an e-mail to Mr. McGregor on June 20. "The statement you quoted simply illustrated the 'situational awareness' of the case. ... If you feel great reporting from a source that you were not meant to receive, then it speaks to your character as a journalist."

Replied Mr. McGregor: "That's a little unfair. It was an unclassified document released into the public domain, and it concerned a highly topical news value. There was nothing sensitive from a security standpoint."

We e-mailed Capt. Kerr, asking if she had banned Mr. McGregor. She replied: "If you checked the e-mails, you will see that I did not decide to ban the reporter from this base. I do not even know if the trial is open to the press."

Capt. Kerr said in an interview that "he was not banned and he got his e-mails like everybody else. It was a misunderstanding."

Myers renominated
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld announced Wednesday that President Bush had asked Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers to serve a second two-year term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The selection was not surprising because Gen. Myers has a close working relationship with the defense secretary and has been credited with recent military successes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The four-star general, however, has been a target of quiet criticism by one of his predecessors, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who was also chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

According to administration officials, Mr. Powell thinks Gen. Myers has not been tough enough in standing up to civilian defense officials in protecting the military's interests. Friends of Gen. Myers, however, said Mr. Powell doesn't know what he's talking about. They believe Gen. Myers has steered the proper course between advising the president and defense secretary and keeping out of Washington politics.

Air show blues
The jazz clubs remain hot, and the 2000 Bordeaux is a hit. But the biennial Paris Air Show was a dud, say U.S. defense contractors who made the cross-Atlantic trip this month.

The Pentagon greatly scaled back its participation at this year's show, a move attributed to the Bush administration's unhappiness with Paris' vehement opposition to toppling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

But the no-show appears to be more a permanent cost-cutting move. Some aerospace executives are now wondering if there are too many air shows and that the Paris event may be forced to become a quadrennial affair, rather than biennial.

"There is no U.S. military over here," said an executive with a big American defense contractor. "There are no customers to deal with. The CEOs are all rethinking the value of air shows."

The source said companies spend as much as $3 million to rent chalets, provide entertainment, ship products and pay personnel costs.

Sky-high polls

One of the few entities to outpoll President Bush's 63 percent approval rating is the military he commands.

The latest Gallup poll shows the U.S. armed forces win the approval of 82 percent of Americans, the highest rating for any of the nation's major institutions.

The poll asked the public if they had a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the military and 14 other public and private institutions and businesses. The military ranked at the top with 82 percent, while health maintenance organizations sat at the bottom with 17 percent.

At 50 percent or higher, after the military, were the police, the presidency, banks and organized religion.

"This is the second highest level of confidence in the military in the several decades of the Gallup Poll, surpassed only by the March 1991 level of 85 percent [after Desert Storm]," the company said. "Among political affiliations 92 percent of Republicans, 79 percent of independents, and 74 percent of Democrats expressed a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the military."

Also, there was no sex gap. Women as well as men respect the military equally.

  • 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

  • Inside the Ring Archives
    1999 Columns
    2000 Columns
    2001 Columns

    2002 Columns
    2003 Columns
    Return to