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July 23, 2004
Notes from the Pentagon

Covering up?
U.S. officials tell us that the FBI is focusing on a single document in its investigation of former White House National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger. Investigators are trying to determine why Mr. Berger improperly removed a highly classified after-action report by Richard A. Clarke, an aide to Mr. Berger, that was harshly critical of the Clinton administration's response to the so-called millennium terrorist plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport and other targets in late 1999.

Mr. Clarke was the National Security Council staff aide who ended up as a Democratic holdover in the Bush administration. He went public before the September 11 commission with harsh criticism of President Bush and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice for failing to take his advice in doing more against al Qaeda before the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Officials said the investigation into the removal of the Clarke memorandum is expected to lead to the declassification and publication of the document. This could expose the duplicity of Mr. Clarke, who had little criticism of the Clinton administration in public.

U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies have used the millennium plot as an example of a counterterrorism success. But the Clarke memorandum is likely to portray a different picture.

Strings attached
The Air Force is offering personnel $300 more per month. But there's a catch. They must agree to longer tours in South Korea.

It's part of a test program to see whether airmen will agree to serve extended time in overseas billets, thus further engendering the idea that the armed forces of today are truly all-volunteer forces.

An Air Force message said the assignment incentive program (AIP) will last through December next year and is designed to "provide more stability for airmen and units [and] improve readiness in Korea."

"Other incentive programs such as home basing and follow-on assignment, overseas tour extension incentive and in-place consecutive overseas tour program will continue but cannot be used in conjunction with this new [AIP].

"An open season will allow airmen who signed up under another incentive to switch to the new program. Airmen who have already received benefits under another program are not eligible for the new incentive."

China proliferation
The White House and Energy Department apparently do not want the public to know that China was the source of nuclear warhead design information supplied to Libya and possibly other rogue states by the covert nuclear supplier group led by Pakistani Abdul Qadeer Khan.

Asked recently about Chinese-language warhead design documents found in Libya, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said he could not speak to the "chain" of how design information reached Libya from the Khan network.

Mr. Abraham referred the Chinese document question to the White House National Security Council, which also ducked.

The NSC told us that President Bush said in February that Mr. Khan had sold a blueprint for 'a nuclear design stolen from the Pakistani government.'

But the NSC statement noted: "We cannot offer any further details about Dr. Khan's transactions but continue to support Pakistan's efforts to investigate and prosecute those associated with Khan's network."

Other officials said the Energy Department and NSC are trying to avoid linking the warhead documents to China to keep from upsetting Beijing.

China's government initially said it was investigating reports of the Chinese warhead documents found in Libya, but has not revealed what its investigation found.

U.S. security officials said China provided the warhead documents to Pakistan. Depending on when they were transferred, the discovery could prove to be a violation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which China signed in 1992.

Hunting bin Laden
A senior CIA official said this week that the hunt for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is continuing.

"We have pins on a map. We have reports," the official said at CIA headquarters. "We're looking for one person here in a part of the world where not many people have gone before. There are several candidates for that part of that world, by the way."

The official said it took four years for the agency to capture Mir Amal Kansi, the Islamist who fatally shot several CIA employees in their cars as they waited to enter the Langley headquarters. And it took seven years to capture al Qaeda leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

"So bin Laden's time will come. We won't give up until that time comes," the official said.

Arab illegals
U.S. border agents since October have picked up five Arabs trying to cross into the United States illegally from Mexico, according to U.S. officials. The arrests are raising new concerns that al Qaeda terrorists are trying to enter the country from Mexico.

However, officials at the Homeland Security Department's Customs and Border Protection section formerly the U.S. Border Patrol were quick to dismiss as erroneous an Internet report this week that said a "flood" of Middle Eastern men were caught recently trying to sneak into the United States across the Mexican border with Arizona.

The officials said the report probably was based on the recent arrests of a group of people from a small southern Mexican Indian tribe. Known as the Oaxacan, the tribesmen were caught trying to cross the border. The Oaxacans speak a very different Spanish dialect and completely different indigenous language that was mistaken for Arabic, the officials said.

Rummy vs. Sy
The Pentagon has waged a below-the-radar battle against Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker. Donald H. Rumsfeld and other defense officials say Mr. Hersh writes "fiction" about their counter-terrorism efforts. They have written letters of complaint to the liberal magazine, but gotten no relief.

Mr. Rumsfeld's dislike for Mr. Hersh's reporting broke into the open in a recent interview by Juan Williams of National Public Radio.

Mr. Williams: But you, I believe, had some knowledge of these pictures and the things that we're talking about that had taken place at Abu Ghraib. But at the time you knew about it, you didn't respond or make it public until the newspapers, until I believe the New Yorker made it public.

Mr. Rumsfeld: If you're talking about the Seymour Hersh article in the New Yorker is that it? Was that it?

Mr. Williams: Yes.

Mr. Rumsfeld: Yes. We've had people here trying to figure out what in the world he was talking about. We still can't figure it out. So any connection to that article and what we're talking about here, I just can't draw any linkages. I've had a team of people trying to find out if there's anything like what he wrote about and we've not been able to discover. Second, I saw the pictures for the first time on television just like you did.

  • 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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