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August 3, 2001
Notes from the Pentagon

Militarized freighters
Large-scale war games near Taiwan on China's Dongshan island have included the use of commercial ships for combat practice.

U.S. intelligence officials told us three Chinese freighters took part in the recent war games, including one that had artillery mounted on the deck that fired on land targets.

The use of commercial ships for military operations undermines the widely held view in the U.S. intelligence community and some parts of the military that China lacks military forces for amphibious attacks against Taiwan.

The use of the commercial ships shows that China could mount an amphibious attack on the island using large numbers of its nonmilitary vessels, ranging from freighters to fishing boats.

Missile-miss details
U.S. intelligence officials said an Iraqi surface-to-air missile that nearly hit a U-2 spy plane over Iraq earlier this week was an advanced version of the Russian-made SA-6 missile. The officials said the missile was fired "ballistically" meaning without electronic and radar guidance.

The missile nearly hit the spy plane and caused the pilot to be thrown forward in the cockpit by the turbulence from the missile passing the aircraft.

New NIC China hand
Robert Sutter, the national intelligence officer for East Asia (the senior U.S. intelligence community China analyst in charge of coordinating estimates) stepped down this week. He will take up a teaching assignment at Georgetown University.

U.S. government officials say the leading candidate for the influential National Intelligence Council post, known as the NIC, is Robert S. Ross. Mr. Ross, a Boston College professor, is viewed by critics in Congress and the Bush administration as part of the China-is-not-a-threat school of analysts known to populate the CIA's analytical ranks.

A 1998 book Mr. Ross co-authored concludes China is Asia's weakest power and poses no danger. The book also contains the outdated claim that China's relationship with Moscow has gone from bad to worse an embarrassing prediction in light of last month's strategic partnership agreement between Moscow and Beijing.

And on China's arms-proliferation record, which the CIA has identified in several reports to Congress as a major problem, Mr. Ross stated in a 1997 journal article that "Overall, Chinese policy has supported the development of the global non-proliferation order." That view is clearly out of step with the Bush administration and the CIA.

The White House, we are told, was asked to intervene in the appointment of Mr. Ross but decided not to block CIA Director George J. Tenet's NIC East Asia choice.

"This indicates the George Tenet soft line regime is continuing," said one official, who reminded us that Mr. Tenet is a Democratic holdover from the Clinton administration.

A CIA spokesman declined to comment on the candidates for the NIC position but said as of yesterday no one was offered the post.

IG probe
Col. Ron Williams, spokesman for U.S. Southern Command, told us yesterday that the Pentagon inspector general (IG) has given no indication when it will complete a probe into the climate at the higher levels of the Southern Command.

"They've called who they want to talk to in a very confidential manner," Col. Williams said.

The Washington Times reported yesterday that a female officer anonymously filed a hot-line complaint with the IG. She charges that Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, who heads Southern Command, tolerated anti-female attitudes that included a mandatory weekly run designed to make women drop out.

Command officials defend the run, saying participants were divided into groups according to ability.

Marine colleagues of Gen. Pace's say the Vietnam combat veteran is one of the Corps' finest officers. Gen. Pace has been under consideration as the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, say Pentagon officials.

Asked if Gen. Pace would discuss the probe, Col. Williams said, "I don't think he can talk to you or anyone else can talk to you until the investigation is complete."

Base closing retreat
When the Pentagon briefed congressional aides this week on its proposed base-closing legislation, one change in the previous law raised eyebrows. Briefers said the defense secretary would have a veto over any changes a nine-member independent commission may make in its list of closures.

"The [defense] secretary can block any additional closure or realignment, or the expansion of any realignment, by written notice to the commission," states a Pentagon briefing document we obtained.

Congressional sources said a number of staffers objected to that provision when Pentagon officials briefed them on Wednesday. By yesterday, the department was backing off that proposal.

"It is an independent commission," Pete Aldridge, the Pentagon acquisition chief, told reporters. "It has the list. It can make any decisions that it desires. Now, we're still working out some details. Suppose there is a significant difference between what the commission wants and the secretary wants, and that has to be worked out. We haven't gotten to that point yet."

Congressional staffers are already making fun of the Pentagon's new name for the old, painful practice of closing bases. The new name is the Efficient Facilities Initiative of 2001, or (EFI). Some aides have taken to calling it "Iffy," signifying the difficulty the administration faces in winning Congress' approval.


  • After discussions with Army officials, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Maryland Republican, did not offer an amendment as planned Wednesday that would order the Army to stop buying and distributing Army berets.

    The Army was reportedly fearful that Mr. Bartlett's proposal, once included in the House Armed Services Committee budget bill approved on Wednesday, would ultimately force the service to retrieve millions of berets already handed out.

    Mr. Bartlett issued a statement yesterday saying: "Revisiting the issue of headgear would further detract from the Army's transformation into a 21st century force. The ultimate goal is improving our national security. As someone responsible for making tough choices with limited resources, now is the time to move forward in the mutual goal of assuring that the U.S. Army is the greatest military force in the world."

  • So far, soldiers in Europe are out in the cold when it comes to receiving new black berets, now standard issue for most personnel. An Army message to soldiers says the new headgear should start arriving in Germany in late September or early October. Once most soldiers have the new headgear, U.S. Army Europe "will designate a date when soldiers in theater will don the beret without ceremony. Until then, the battle dress uniform (DU) cap remains the garrison headgear."

    Other instructions: "Soldiers reporting to [Europe] on permanent assignment from units where the beret is already being worn will store their berets until all soldiers in theater begin wearing them."

  • Brig. Gen. Frank J. Toney Jr. is stepping down in September after just one year as the Army's top Green Beret. Commanders normally serve two to three years at the helm of U.S. Army Special Forces. Command spokeswoman Carol Darby said, "Gen. Toney has almost 30 years in the Army and he has decided he is going to retire."

    Gen. Toney is being succeeded by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert.

  • 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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