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July 21, 2006
Notes from the Pentagon

Show of force
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, the Bush administration's point man on negotiating away North Korea's nuclear weapons program, tells us the press focused too much on the regime's failed launch of a Taepodong-2 missile on July 4.

While the malfunction was interesting, what was troubling and almost ignored was the fact that North Korea successfully launched six medium-range ballistic missiles that fell into the sea as intended. The signal is that the Stalinist regime has the capability to fire scores of missiles into South Korea, threatening U.S. troops as well as the country's civilian population.

Double agent
Lost in the discussion of House intelligence committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra's leaked letter to President Bush is the suspicion that the CIA bureaucracy often works against the president in the war on terror. Republicans have long suspected that Langley is stocked with left-wingers loyal to the Democrats. Thus the leaks to the mainstream press on sensitive matters.

"There has been much public and private speculation about the politicization of the agency," Mr. Hoekstra wrote in a letter also dedicated to congressional oversight issues and first reported by the New York Times. "I have been long concerned that a strong and well-positioned group within the agency intentionally undermined the administration and its policies."

The Michigan Republican specifically mentioned the episode of former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV and his wife, Valerie Plame, a CIA officer until her recent retirement.

Mrs. Plame worked behind the scenes to get her husband sent to Niger to investigate a British intelligence report that Iraq had made overtures to buy yellowcake, refined uranium that can lead to nuclear-weapons-grade material. According to a Senate intelligence committee bipartisan report, neither CIA headquarters nor the White House was informed that Mr. Wilson, a fierce foe of President Bush who was working for the election of Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, had been picked by the CIA bureaucracy to conduct such a sensitive mission.

He later wrote a column in the New York Times implying that the White House had sent him. The committee report said his column differed from the oral report he supplied to the CIA.

Republicans always have wondered how a foe of the president with little or no experience in intelligence investigations was picked to go to Niger.

Of course, the trip led to a criminal investigation of the White House when officials, contacted by the press, said Mr. Wilson's wife, not the White House, was principally responsible for Mr. Wilson's trip. She was a covert officer whose identity was kept secret by the agency.

In his letter, Mr. Hoekstra also complained that the new director of national intelligence was becoming too caught up in the bureaucratic weeds instead of making sure that things happen.

"I am concerned that the current implementation is creating a larger, bureaucratic and hierarchical structure that will be less flexible and agile than our adversaries," he wrote.

Israel's force
We asked a former Navy combat pilot to assess the Israeli air force's war against Hezbollah. He told us:

"I'm reminded of the 1982 war with Syria. I was sitting off the coast of Lebanon on the USS Independence. Every day there would be headlines about how the Syrians had shot down another Israeli aircraft. A close look at the news clips showed that they had actually shot down a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle]/drone not an Israeli aircraft. This was, in fact, an Israeli tactic. They knew how many SAMs [surface-to-air missiles] Syria had and were counting down the attrition rate. They denied Syria any Soviet resupply of those SAM assets. When Israel had determined that Syria had expended their inventory of SAMs, they launched a tremendous air strike against Syria, which resulted in a victory within about 48 hours.

"So, today, I think the war of attrition is still the plan. Israel really wants the current government of Lebanon to succeed, but know they don't have the wherewithal to accomplish it without getting rid of Hezbollah and ensuring that Hezbollah cannot be resupplied by Iran or Syria.

"Ergo, the bombing/cratering of the runways at Beirut international airport these Israelis are not dumb a careful review of their bombing will show you that they carefully, with precision, cratered the runways at intersections so that no runways could be used. The road to Damascus was cratered so that no supplies could be brought in.

"Israel knows within a dozen or so how many Katyushka missiles Hezbollah has [and their inaccuracy] and how many other Iran-supplied longer range missiles that could hit Tel Aviv. I suspect they're waiting this attrition out and will then make an effort to destroy Hezbollah. I also won't be surprised when Israel air forces pass unmolested through Iraq airspace [controlled by the U.S.] on their way to and from Iran."

From the front
It has been said that many combat veterans find God in a foxhole. Our troops are also finding that out in the streets of Iraq. We received an e-mail from Army Capt. Dave Pate about an incident that took place earlier this month.

U.S. soldiers working with troops of the Iraqi army's 3rd Brigade, 6th Division, came under small-arms fire July 7 and ended up chasing one terrorist into a nearby mosque. As they were shooting, a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) was fired at Capt. Pate and his team, which had been lured into a trap.

"I just wanted to drop a line and thank the Lord for his protection today," he said in the July 7 e-mail.

"My team took small arms fire and chased some terrorists through the city today. They ended up holing up in a mosque, where they proceeded to fire their machine guns on us. It was a trap, because as we opened up, we began to take fire from all around, and were hit with grenades and mortars, too. When things were really getting hot, I heard an RPG leave its gun tube. I looked up and saw the RPG coming right for us, but a power line got in its way and veered it off course, causing it to impact about 50 feet above us into a building directly to our rear. We ended up with no one hurt, but one enemy [killed in action], three wounded and 24 prisoners. It was a great day. I've never felt so proud to be an American.

"I'll never forget the sound it made as it flew toward us," he said in an e-mail to his pastor, Mark Chanski, of the Reformed Baptist Church of Holland, Mich., who shared it with us after receiving Capt. Pate's permission.

Capt. Pate noted that there were no angry Iraqis after the mosque shooting. "You would think the people would have been angry," he said. "But when we were driving back with the dead and wounded and other prisoners, people were everywhere in the streets, and wouldn't let us pass. They were all giving us the thumbs up, waving, giving high fives, holding up their kids for us to kiss, it was unbelievable. The people were so happy that we got those bad guys."

  • 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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