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August 18, 2006
Notes from the Pentagon

China eavesdropping
Pentagon officials tell us China is engaged in massive electronic eavesdropping through a series of ground stations, many in western China. Some stations can now be viewed without a security clearance for the first time from high-resolution satellite photographs recently made available on Google Earth.

The officials said Chinese military and civilian intelligence units operate several key facilities in western China that are collecting hundreds of thousands of e-mails, among other electronic signals, that transit cyberspace through satellites. Using large dish antennas, the signals intelligence sites take the data and filter it using high-speed computers and commercial software obtained from U.S. companies.

By putting in key words, the Chinese eavesdroppers can gain valuable intelligence for both their military and commercial programs, the officials said.

One facility is located near Changi in northwestern China, which we first identified in this column in 2000 as it was being expanded with the addition of new satellite dishes. The Changi listening post is operated by the military intelligence unit known as the 3rd Department, 12th Bureau. It spies on foreign satellites and is thought to be part of China's anti-satellite program. A second major facility is located at Shule.

A third Chinese electronic spying facility at Kashi was able to predict the start of the U.S. ground war in Iraq in 1991 five days before it began by intercepting Saudi Arabian military communications, intelligence officials said.

Tim Brown, an imagery analyst with, said the Chinese eavesdropping sites gather vast amounts of data transiting from Europe to Asia.

"They've got enough of a capability to selectively scoop up on a very narrow set of targets," Mr. Brown said, noting that the information is useful for economic espionage as well as military communications traffic analysis.

Undeclared war
There is a battle going on between Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction (SIGIR), and bureaucrats responsible for thousands of rebuilding contracts in Iraq.

But it's an undeclared war. As is his mission, Mr. Bowen simply puts out a series of reports detailing failings in the reconstruction effort. The bureaucrats, who don't dare publicly speak against an IG who has wide support in Congress, fire back by issuing a stream of press releases recounting accomplishments in Iraq.

Privately, Bush administration officials tell us that Mr. Bowen's quarterly reports and audits are too negative and that he glosses over what they have been able to achieve in the face of an extremist enemy who will kill anyone, at any time, to stop a project.

A good example of the battle unfolded earlier this month. Mr. Bowen went to Capitol Hill to testify on his most recent reports: one a quarterly report that described rampant corruption on the part of Iraqis; the other a history of the missteps and wasted time and money in developing contracting procedures in Iraq.

Here is Mr. Bowen's description of a project to build the Basra Children's Hospital. The contractor is Bechtel and the government sponsor is the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The hospital was supposed to be completed by Dec. 31 last year.

"For a variety of reasons, including an increasingly hostile security environment, the project fell well behind schedule. On March 26, 2006, Bechtel informed USAID that the hospital could not be completed until July 31, 2007. In addition, the contractor reported that its estimated cost-to-complete had increased by 96 percent, and that final costs were projected to be more than 200 percent above the initial estimated cost for construction. In its review, SIGIR identified many reporting anomalies, including weak accounting systems and poor cost-projection processes."

While Mr. Bowen's office was issuing reports leading up to his testimony, the Pentagon's Iraq Project and Contracting Office was sending out press releases telling another story.

An Aug. 2 release told of completion of the Pave Attia water canal project in Taji. Completed July 24, the newly paved canal "improves flow and quality of drinking and irrigation water for 50,000 residents and farmers."

Two days later, another press release told of the completion of the Mahalla water network in Sadr City, Baghdad. "The completed project brings potable water to approximately 60,000 residents of the Sadr City area."

The statement also referred reporters to an opinion piece by Jim Crum, the contracting office director, sent to major publications. Its title: "Untold Good News from Iraq."

We should point out that Mr. Bowen's latest report does include praise for the reconstruction effort. Little of those comments, however, make it into the press or the congressional debate.

Commander's choice
Perhaps the brightest spot in Iraq reconstruction is the role of U.S. commanders. They were given huge sums of cash nearly $2 billion to fund public works projects in such places as Sadr City, the Shi'ite slum in Baghdad. The initiative, the Commander's Emergency Response Program, was started by L. Paul Bremer, who was U.S. administrator in Iraq.

"Our audits show that these represent the most successful programs and, indeed, mind- and heart-changing programs in Iraq," Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, told Congress. "They meet the Iraqi needs at the ground level, which is what's happening now through the provincial reconstruction and development councils and the provincial reconstruction teams."

Military officials in Iraq are upset that terrorist insurgents in Iraq are posting operational videos on an extremist Web site.

U.S. officials identified the Sunni extremist site earlier this month after it was found to be posting videos of attacks on U.S. troops and statements in support of terrorists.

The site is a used by the insurgent group called the Army of the Rightly Guided Ones and is updated regularly.

Recent items on the main page included a video of an improvised explosive device attack and a rocket attack. One essay included information about the "foreigner's jihad."

The administrator for the site has an e-mail address at Yahoo and an address in Sunnyvale, Calif., although officials said terrorist Web sites often use false data to mask their origins.

The Web site is still operating. A U.S. military spokesman declined to comment when asked why the site has not been shut down, stating that it was an intelligence matter.

  • 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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