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July 8, 2010
Notes from the Pentagon

Russian bomber incursions
Russia is continuing to fly strategic nuclear bombers near U.S. and Canadian airspace because the Russian military is seeking to maintain "the illusion of power," the commander of the U.S. Northern Command says.

Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., who took over U.S. Northern Command in May, said in an interview that beginning a couple of years ago, Russian strategic aviation forces began stepping up training flights of nuclear-capable Tu-95 Bear bombers near or through U.S. and Canadian airspace.

"In some cases, this is about the illusion of power, where power is not quite there," said Adm. Winnefeld, commander of the Colorado Springs-based Northcom. "They are trying to show the world that they are a powerful nation, and we're not giving them the satisfaction ... ."

Adm. Winnefeld, who also heads the U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), said jet interceptors are not ordered to intercept all the Russian bomber flights. "If we intercept every single flight that comes out in our direction, then we're really just feeding into their propaganda," he said.

"So we intercept them when we feel like we ought to, and we have various criteria that we use for that, to include just rehearsing our own skills to be able to do that."

In general, however, "we just leave them alone," he said, noting that the Obama administration has "done a good job of trying to hit the reset button with these guys, and sooner or later they've got to respond."

The new START arms treaty is a good sign that the Russians may be coming around, Adm. Winnefeld said, noting that there are still "elements in Russia" that adhere to Cold War views.

Asked if the flights were continuing, he said: "Every now and then, they'll do a flight. It's maybe not as frequent as it was a couple of years ago, but they are still out there from time to time."

According to Northcom figures, so far this year there have been five jet intercepts of Russian bombers near U.S. or Canadian airspace. Last year, there were 17, and 12 in 2008 and 18 in 2007. By contrast, between 1999 and 2006 there were only 11 encounters in the air with the Russian bombers.

Asked about incursions of Russian nuclear submarines near U.S. shores, Adm. Winnefeld said, "We have haven't had one since I've been here." He assumed command May 19.

"Of course, we're very alert for that," he said. "That's about all I would want to say about that, but it's not a frequent occurrence."

Brennan on jihad
John Brennan, the deputy White House national security adviser for counterterrorism, recently defended controversial statements he made in a speech that Islamic terrorism is not rooted in Islam.

"I wouldn't say that there is an Islamic dimension to terrorism," Mr. Brennan told The Washington Times. "There are a lot of individuals who will use their twisted and perverted interpretation of Islam as the basis for their ideological agenda."

Such terrorists "clearly consider themselves jihadists," he said. "They consider themselves the mujahideen. They are the ones who believe they are engaged in this very holy struggle that is rooted in Islam."

"I am a believer in not according these individuals any religious legitimacy," Mr. Brennan said, adding that he thinks the majority of the Muslim world agrees with him.

Mr. Brennan said most Muslims think extremists hijacked the religion and are providing a false impression of Islam to the world.

He said his recent comments in a speech on jihad were either misunderstood or purposely misrepresented by critics.

Mr. Brennan was criticized by some counterterrorism specialists after he told the Center for Strategic and International Studies in March that jihad, or holy war, was a "legitimate tenet of Islam," meaning to "purify one's self."

A key Islamic text used by terrorists, "Reliance of the Traveler," however, states that jihad "means to war against non-Muslims."

"Clearly, [Osama] bin Laden and al Qaeda believe that they are on this very holy agenda and this jihad," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind that that's what they believe."

"However, my view and in the view of most Muslims of the world and others, is that what we cannot do is allow them to think, and to allow the rest of the world to think, the future terrorists of the world to believe, that al Qaeda is a legitimate representation of Islam and jihad," he said.

Mr. Brennan said the terrorists "have truly just distorted the whole concept in terms of murder murdering innocent men, women and children, murdering fellow Muslims on something that they cast as jihad."

"But I don't believe that they deserve that legitimacy whatsoever," he said.

Mr. Brennan said the Obama administration is working in two ways to counter the al Qaeda "ideological narrative." One is by seeking to promote a "counternarrative" from the Muslim world that condemns the extremists, and the second is by countering lies spread by terrorists about the United States and the West

"Al Qaeda has been able to gain recruits and to propagandize by misrepresenting what the United States and the West is about, and I think what we need to do is ensure that as we present ourselves to the Middle East and to the rest of the world, we have to make sure that people understand that we are not out to conquer countries and to suppress Islam, and to suppress their culture and their people," he said.

Andrew G. Bostom, author of a book on jihad based on primary Islamic sources, said he strongly disagrees with Mr. Brennan.

Since 2001, Muslims have carried out more than 15,350 attacks. Mr. Bostom said Mr. Brennan's view is "a dangerous concatenation of hard-left, Islamophile cultural relativism and the relentless, successful 'Islamic dawa' effort of generations of jihadists."

In his 2007 book, "The Legacy of Jihad," Mr. Bostom stated that the deaths caused by Muslim attacks "should remind us that there is just one historically relevant meaning of jihad, despite contemporary apologetics Jahada, the root of the word jihad, appears 40 times in the Koran meant and means 'he fought, warred or waged war against unbelievers and the like.'"

Mr. Bostom and others who have studied Islam argue that the failure of officials like Mr. Brennan to understand jihad and the Islamic roots of the terrorists has left the U.S. government ill-equipped to defeat the enemy being fought in the current global war.

Afghan special forces
U.S. military officials said one of the untold stories of the war in Afghanistan has been the covert operation to train Afghan special-operations forces over the past several years.

"They're very good," said one military officer familiar with the program. "We trained them, and they learned from the best."

Praise for the Afghan commandos contrasts with numerous reports from Afghanistan on the difficulties of training Afghan conventional military and security forces.

A small number of elite Afghan commandos have been working closely with the large numbers of U.S. and allied special-operations forces that have been in the forefront of killing and capturing key Taliban and other terrorist and insurgent targets throughout Afghanistan. Among them are the Army's secret Delta Force, which has been very active in Afghanistan for the past several years.

The military officer said the Afghan special-operations training carries risk: "We're concerned that some of these Afghans will defect" to the enemy.

Should that occur, the insurgents will learn extremely valuable special-operations warfighting skills that could then be used by the Taliban and its allies to counter or neutralize the special-forces troops and their operations.

Rummy returns
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is in the last stages of writing a book on his life the politician, businessman and architect of the war on terrorism.

"Mr. Rumsfeld is hard at work writing the last sections and putting the final touches on the manuscript," Rumsfeld spokesman Keith Urbahn told special correspondent Rowan Scarborough. "He's enjoying the process. We expect it to be out on bookshelves in the first half of next year."

No title or length to announce yet for the book, to be published by Sentinel, the conservative imprint of Penguin.

Mr. Rumsfeld was pushed out as defense secretary after the GOP lost congressional seats in the 2006 election amid a botched Iraq occupation. Mr. Rumsfeld returned to the Pentagon last month for the unveiling of his official portrait part 2.

Robert M. Gates, tapped by President George W. Bush to replace Mr. Rumsfeld and kept on by President Obama, recalled Mr. Rumsfeld's early moves after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Mr. Gates said the country saw:

  • "A defense secretary put his own safety at risk by rushing to the scene of the Pentagon 9/11 attack to help with the wounded;

  • "Straight talk from the podium about how, yes, we were really going to 'kill' America's enemies who had so grievously harmed our country jarring stuff for a country grown accustomed to euphemisms and political correctness.
  • "And the rapid removal of two odious regimes, in Afghanistan and Iraq."

    On Mr. Rumsfeld's work as a military reformer, Mr. Gates said: "I was struck upon taking this job of just how much more deployable and expeditionary the U.S. military is today, compared to when I left government 15 years earlier."

    The Pentagon's inner corridor now boasts two Rumsfeld portraits. He served as defense secretary in the brief, post-Watergate administration of President Ford.

    PLA hack on Google?
    A new report by a private research group concludes that China's military was most likely behind the cyber-attacks on Google and other U.S. companies.

    The white paper byMedius Research stated that "the likeliest source of these breaches which resulted in the widespread loss of business and government data that might include valuable secrets is the Chinese military, known as the People's Liberation Army (PLA)."

    "One particular installation of the PLA, on the island of Hainan in the South China Sea, has been the single largest single source of cyber-attacks," the report stated.

    "The intrusions into Google seem likely the work of China's efforts to collect political intelligence in order to maintain political order at home; as such, Google is likely facing civilian intelligence agencies inside China," Richard Parker, one of the authors of the report told Inside the Ring. "But Google, other technology companies, as well as the Defense Department are also likely of extreme interest to the PLA in its quest for technological, military and political intelligence."

    The Obama administration was able to determine with moderate confidence that the attack, first discovered a year ago, was carried out with the assistance of Chinese government organs against not just Google, but between 20 and 30 other companies.

    Google's chief legal officer, David Drummond, described the attack in a statement issued in January as a "sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google."

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