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August 5, 2005
Notes from the Pentagon

Sleeper cell
Among the 520 detainees at Guantanamo Bay is a U.S.-educated Kuwaiti who has not offered much in the way of details about how al Qaeda operates.

The man went to college in South Florida and speaks excellent English. He traveled to Afghanistan sometime before the October 2001 invasion and was captured on the battlefield.

U.S. officials think he was in America to set up al Qaeda "sleeper cells," such as the ones that carried out the September 11 attacks. But so far, he has not admitted to such activity nor provided names of possible cellmates.

French option
We hear from a reliable defense source that senior French military officials do not think ongoing efforts will stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Instead, the French high command talks privately of containing Iran once it becomes a nuclear power.

President Bush, of course, has other ideas. He wants European negotiators to insist that Tehran's Islamic hard-liners end the country's nuclear weapons ambitions.

More than a few retired U.S. military officers say they would not be surprised if Mr. Bush ordered air strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities if no commitment comes by late 2008 as the president's second, and final, term ends.

Pantano's release
The Marine Corps has approved a request from 1st Lt. Ilario Pantano to resign, effective Aug. 26.

The Corps had wanted Lt. Pantano to return to Iraq, after its murder case against him crumbled during a pretrial hearing and after the investigating officer slammed the government's main witness as unreliable.

The Corps accused Lt. Pantano of slaying two Iraqi insurgent suspects in April 2004; Lt. Pantano said he fired in self-defense, a claim that was borne out by evidence uncovered by his defense attorney, Charles Gittins.

After the charges were dropped, Lt. Pantano submitted his resignation. His unit, meanwhile, went back to the volatile Anbar Province, doing what Lt. Pantano's platoon was doing a year before - hunting down insurgents.

Mr. Gittins declined to comment on the officer's plans. Lt. Pantano's story is compelling. Born in New York City, he served as a Marine in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and then worked as a stockbroker and TV producer until the September 11 attacks. He volunteered to rejoin the Marines because he wanted to fight terrorists and found himself in Anbar leading a platoon of young Marines.

Navy's X-Craft
The Navy this week added the first of a new type of high-technology, low-cost coastal patrol boat known as the Littoral Surface Craft-Experimental (LSC-X), or X-Craft.

The ship, known as the Sea Fighter, can move at speeds of up to 50 knots and has a range of some 4,000 nautical miles.

The ship joined the Navy's 3rd Fleet in San Diego and is the first of a series of low-cost weapons being promoted by Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. The new catamaran-design hull is meant for high speed in coastal waters.

Defense officials say the X-Craft could be a valuable weapon if any conflict breaks out with China over Taiwan. The Navy says the X-Craft is needed to deal with 21st-century threats.

"Today's absence of a global naval threat to the United States has replaced the need to fight conflicts in the open ocean with the requirement to project sea-based power ashore," the Navy said of the new boat.

The boat will be used for battle force protection, mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare, amphibious assault support and humanitarian support missions.

"This is the wave of the future," Mr. Hunter said. "We make a lot of speeches about military transformation, but this ship is real transformation."

Gitmo react
Spokesmen for Democratic Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Daniel K. Akaka of Hawaii have gotten back to us about the senators' recent trip to Guantanamo Bay.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Kennedy said the staff member traveling with the senator did not remember receiving any complaints from the soldiers who met with the senator.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Akaka said the senator had a good meeting with Hawaii-origin soldiers and could not remember any complaints coming his way from service members. "For the most part, it was very positive," the spokeswoman said.

We reported that some prison staff complained about the anti-Gitmo statements uttered by some Democratic senators. Mr. Kennedy is a leading critic of how terror suspects are treated at Guantanamo.

Warner ire
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, was one of the earliest to come out for Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee as Senate majority leader.

But he is not all that pleased these days with Mr. Frist. That's because the majority leader yanked Mr. Warner's cherished defense authorization bill off the floor last month, when he could not get 60 votes to end debate.

To Mr. Frist, the gambit worked. He fought off unwanted Democratic amendments to the defense bill and then won passage of a pro-gun legislation.

Asked about the Warner-Frist relationship, the chairman's spokesman, John Ullyot, said, "He intends to work with the Senate leadership to get a bill authorized this fall. Senator Warner has a very good working relationship with Majority Leader Frist."

Warner's staff
Judy Ansley, director of the Senate Armed Services Committee majority staff, is leaving this month to take a post at the National Security Council, European division.

Committee Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, is bringing a former senior staffer, Charles Abell, out of the Pentagon to take her place. Mr. Abell is now principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. Next year will be Mr. Warner's last as chairman because of term limits. Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, is next in line.

  • 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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