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August 12, 2005
Notes from the Pentagon

Covert listeners
It was one of the major, behind-the-scenes military moves after the September 11 attacks.

The Pentagon took a super-secret unit, which used to go by the code name Grey Fox, and put it under the wing of U.S. Joint Special Operations Command.

The marriage would work this way: The formerly named Grey Fox is a classified group of technicians and spies who specialize in eavesdropping on communications, anywhere on the globe. JSOC, which includes Army Delta Force and Navy SEALs, is committed to hunting down high-value terror targets. Thus, Grey Fox would work directly with JSOC to give covert warriors the actionable intelligence they need.

A well-placed defense source tells us the marriage is still in place, but a little shaky.

Commandos in the field are not always happy with products produced by the technical unit, which has not always been successful in listening into conversations and Internet communications by terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq.

To make matters worse, the spies are so much in demand all over the world that they are not always available for JSOC's missions. One answer has been that JSOC has turned to private contractors to fill in the gap. Think of it another way. Twenty years ago there were only a limited numbers of ways to communicate. Today, terrorists can use cell phones, satellite phones, Internet chat rooms, e-mails and text messaging. It translates into millions of communications daily to sift through.

Chinese military visit
A Chinese general's threat to use nuclear weapons against "hundreds" of U.S. cities apparently was not serious enough for the U.S. Pacific Command to cancel a visit by Chinese military officials.

The commander of the Chinese military's Guangzhou military region, Gen. Liu Zhenwu, and five other PLA military officers traveled to Hawaii to meet with Adm. William J. Fallon, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, on July 16.

That was the day after Gen. Zhu Chenghu, head of China's National Defense University, told reporters in Beijing that China will use nuclear weapons against "hundreds" of U.S. cities if U.S. forces defend Taiwan from an armed mainland attack.

Gen. Liu is the top general of the military region that imprisoned 23 U.S. military personnel who were forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan island in the South China Sea, after a Chinese pilot flew into their EP-3 surveillance aircraft over international waters. The incident caused a break in U.S.-China military ties.

Pentagon and Pacific Command spokesmen had little to say about the Chinese military visit, which also took place as the Pentagon released its annual report highlighting China's rapid military buildup.

The six-member delegation also visited the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and met with the Joint Staff director, Air Force Lt. Gen. Norton Schwartz, and acting Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England.

"The visit was a goodwill visit. Nothing substantive was discussed," a Pentagon spokesman told us.

Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, slated to be the next Joint Chiefs chairman, also raised a number of concerns among some Pentagon officials when he dismissed the nuclear threat from Gen. Zhu.

Though Gen. Zhu stated explicitly that China is "determined to respond" with nuclear weapons against U.S. cities in a Taiwan conflict, Gen. Pace said several days later that "there's absolutely no reason for us to believe there's any intent on their part" to use nuclear weapons.

Pentagon officials said Gen. Pace's comments were an official Joint Staff statement and reflected the ongoing efforts of pro-China officials in the Bush administration to play down the threat from China.

Byrnes travails
The abrupt end to Gen. Kevin Byrnes' illustrious Army career overshadowed the challenge he faced at U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. The Army announced this week that he had been dismissed for inappropriate conduct. Military sources said he had an affair outside his marriage.

Tradoc, as it is called, is responsible for training recruits and polishing senior officers for command assignments.

What Gen. Byrnes faced was an exodus of seasoned instructors. The war on terror, especially fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, created a pressing demand for officers to lead battalions and brigades. Gen. Byrnes saw his best instructors pulled out of the classroom and sent to the front. He was forced to cancel some courses, depriving future generals of critical training.

"The Army is just too small for what they want it to do," said a retired general.

Indian heritage
The Washington Times reported this week that the two U.S. military commands responsible for protecting North America from terrorists have banned long-standing references to American Indians in naming their exercises.

The word warrior, for example, was banished in favor of "phantom," said U.S. Northern Command and the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD).

We thought it was a good opportunity to note that polls of American Indians do not reveal any widespread opposition to such usage.

For example, an extensive poll by the University of Pennsylvania's National Annenberg Election Survey in 2004 found that 90 percent of American Indians were not offended by Washington's National Football League team using the nickname Redskins.

In fact, a tribal high school in Arizona calls its newspaper the Redskin. Another national poll found that 81 percent of American Indians answered no when asked whether colleges and high schools should drop Indian nicknames.

Hammers and nails
Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs chairman, delivered an update this week on construction in Iraq:

"Ongoing projects are making a difference, and they include more than 140 new primary health care facilities are being built, more than 3,200 schools have been renovated, 100,000 teachers are being trained."

New post
Larry Di Rita, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's right-hand man and chief spokesman, may be headed for a new Pentagon post. Word in the building is that he may be appointed to the vacant position of undersecretary of the Army.

Mr. Di Rita declined to comment.

  • 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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