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July 30, 2009
Notes from the Pentagon

Nuclear weapons future
The United States favors eliminating all nuclear weapons but will not unilaterally disarm because of the need to deter hostile nuclear powers and others, a senior Energy Department official in charge of nuclear security said Wednesday.

"In his Prague speech [in April], President Obama charted a new course for the United States," said Thomas P. D'Agostino, head of the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration.

"Like President Reagan before him, he spoke of a long-term glide slope to zero nuclear weapons," Mr. D'Agostino said during a conference on nuclear deterrence at the U.S. Strategic Command headquarters near Omaha, Neb. "But he also made clear that, [a]s long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies.' "

Mr. D'Agostino said two efforts are under way that will impact U.S. strategic nuclear forces. The Pentagon's Nuclear Posture Review will examine the types of nuclear weapons to be in the arsenal. Second, the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) negotiations with Russia will examine cuts in nuclear forces, he said.

While a new START agreement is important, Mr. D'Agostino also said modernizing the U.S. arsenal and infrastructure is needed.

"As our stockpile gets smaller, it becomes increasingly important that remaining forces are safe, secure and effective, and, to mitigate future technical and geopolitical risks, that our nuclear infrastructure is responsive," he said.

"My main concern with respect to infrastructure and deterrence ... is that we must continue to modernize, advance and exercise our technical capabilities."

A Pentagon-sponsored panel of experts headed by former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger recently uncovered alarming deficiencies in the strategic arsenal, according to a source familiar with its classified findings.

The panel discovered that the "physics packages" - the nuclear explosive module of a warhead - and the electronics of many nuclear warheads made in the 1970s and 1980s are becoming obsolete and need to be modernized to make sure they can be used when needed and to increase security against unauthorized use.

Air Force Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, said earlier at the conference that strategic deterrence has been neglected for two decades and that the conference was called to examine the issue for 21st-century threat.

"I believe it is vitally important not only for our nation, but also for global security, that we reinvigorate thinking about strategic deterrence," Gen. Chilton said.

American medals
Congress is set to face off behind the scenes over a provision of the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill that would require the U.S. military to purchase medals and uniform insignia made only in the United States, not abroad.

The "buy America" provision was drawn up by Rep. Mary Fallin, Oklahoma Republican, and passed by the House after several types of medals and insignia were found to be made in whole or part in places such as China, Taiwan, Thailand and India.

"We believe the least we can do for our men and women in uniform is ensure that their decorations, medals and insignia are made in the United States," Mrs. Fallin, author of the House language, said in an interview.

Mrs. Fallin said she sponsored the legislation after several veterans contacted her to complain that some of their U.S. military medals were made in China and other Asian states and were of poor quality.

The Senate should adopt the House language on the bill and codify in law the policy of buying American-made medals and ribbons, she said.

The House bill would require all decorations, ribbons, badges, medals, insignia and other uniform components to be manufactured in the United States.

A similar measure was sought in the Senate version of the bill by Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, but was blocked by Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The House provision will have to be reconciled during the closed-door House-Senate conference on the defense bill that is expected to begin this week.

According to congressional aides, Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is opposing the "buy America" provision for medals based on a 2007 Pentagon letter sent to him by Michael L. Dominguez, principal deputy within the office of undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

A spokesman for Mr. Levin had no immediate comment.

The letter said that though it is not required by law to buy uniform components from domestic suppliers, the services use American suppliers unless domestic equivalents are not available. In 2007, eight uniform items were foreign-made, including white cotton gloves, presentation swords, sabers, scabbards, tanker jackets, sweaters and three types of Air Force boots.

The House provision would amend the Berry amendment, which requires the military to buy many products from U.S. manufacturers, to include medals and insignia as products that must be U.S.-made.

The House provision was supported by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat, and garnered bipartisan support within the committee. As one House staff member put it, "Wearing a medal is like wearing a part of the United States of America."

A Pennsylvania company paid a $500,000 settlement to the Pentagon and a California company after the company lied in claiming its American flag emblems for troop uniforms were made in the Untied States. In fact, the flag emblems were made in Thailand.

Supporters of the House measure also say that foreign-made medals and insignia have been found to be lower in quality to lower costs, and the legislation would mandate higher quality-control standards than now required under Pentagon policies.

Cohen on Gates
Former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said this week that he sympathizes with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in dealing with the difficult problem of fashioning the Pentagon's strategy and budget and providing for the needs of war fighters.

Mr. Cohen, in a meeting with reporters and editors of The Washington Times, said he is a big fan of Mr. Gates' but was surprised that he stayed on under President Obama.

Mr. Cohen said that when he met Mr. Gates during the Bush administration, the defense secretary would tell him, "I can't wait to get to Seattle," where Mr. Gates has a home.

"I was frankly surprised that he decided to stay," Mr. Cohen said. "I thought he was likely to leave, and I was very, very pleased to see him stay."

Mr. Gates has a "tough job" because of declining support for the military, Mr. Cohen said, noting that "it's not so much how much you spend but how you spend it."

"That's what he's dealing with now," Mr. Cohen said.

Mr. Gates has to balance current needs against later threats in an "opaque future."

In the short term, defense needs to be equipped to deal with terrorism and failed states, and longer-term military threats are likely to include China and a resurgent Russia, Mr. Cohen said.

Mr. Gates favors using advanced technology for future U.S. forces, notably in unmanned aerial vehicles and ground-combat systems, he said, at the same time recognizing the need for more troops.

"That's an expensive proposition," with additional troops costing "billions" more, Mr. Cohen said.

Mr. Cohen said he disagrees with Mr. Gates, who favors cutting missile defenses. "I've always been in favor of missile defense," he said, noting that limited defenses against Iranian or North Korean missiles "makes sense."

Iranian spies and terror
Lawrence A. Franklin, the former Pentagon Iran-affairs specialist who was caught up in the Israeli spying case involving the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, said Iran has both intelligence operatives and terrorist cells inside the United States.

"Is there a threat of Iranian-sponsored terrorism in the United States? Yes, but it will be something that they're choosing," said Franklin, who pleaded guilty to improperly storing and disclosing classified information in 2005.

Before his legal problems, Franklin was one of the Pentagon's top analysts on Iran.

Franklin said during a recent interview that though he no longer is in government, he maintains contacts with numerous Iranians and has a good picture of Iranian support for terrorism and Iranian intelligence activities.

"There are sleeper [terrorist] cells in this country," he said. "Some of them operate through Hezbollah, Lebanese radicals that live in our cities. They also are very active in the capital here. They follow dissidents around. They take pictures of anti-regime demonstrations. They do a number of other things that I'm looking into right now."

The main intelligence collectors for Iran are members of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, or MOIS, who operate out of the Pakistan Embassy on Wisconsin Avenue, Franklin said.

The Iranian intelligence personnel are involved mainly in collection of information and recruitment of agents.

"They meet with people, Iranians, who are cooperatives and noncooperatives," he said.

The MOIS can recruit Iranians in the United States by investigating those with family back home and "putting a little pressure on them" to cooperate, he said.

"It's quite a sophisticated operation. A lot of its intelligence gathering and recruitment [is] now in this country," he said.

Regarding Iranian support for terrorism, the Iranian government maintains relations with "scores" of terrorist groups around the world, including areas outside the Middle East, he said.

"It's a beast that changes form. Yes, they were happy that the Taliban-al Qaeda nexus was overthrown in Afghanistan," he said. "But as soon as it happened, they welcomed al Qaeda into Iran, and they have cooperated on terrorist operations. So has it abated? No sir, and its been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans in Iraq."

Franklin said he could only guess when Iran will complete the development of nuclear weapons.

"I can tell you this: They will not stop," he said. "They may indeed have enough fissionable material already. They need to perfect their delivery system. They already have a [missile] delivery system. I'm talking about shaping and various metallurgical changes that they need to make" for a complete nuclear bomb.

Franklin said U.S. and Israeli estimates may differ on when Iran will become a nuclear power, "but be assured there is no guarantee that if we were to hit them, or the Israelis, or both of us or anyone else, there is no guarantee that we would get everything."

Iran's nuclear facilities are sophisticated and protected from attacks, and any strike would not be as simple as the daring and successful April 1981 Israeli military air strike on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactors.

Iran's government denies supporting terrorism or seeking nuclear weapons and has stated that its uranium enrichment is for electrical power generation.

Asked about Iran's nuclear-weapons intentions and whether Tehran is engaged in deception, Franklin said:

"Just put yourself in an Iranian's shoes. No matter what his political persuasions, pro-regime or anti-regime, they live in a region where Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons, where Russia has nuclear weapons, where Israel has nuclear weapons, and you've answered your own question."

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