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September 2, 2005
Notes from the Pentagon

Roche is back
We've learned that former Air Force Secretary James G. Roche has signed a consulting contract with his old employer, Northrop Grumman Corp., where he ran the electronics sector until 2001.

The signing has raised a few eyebrows in the defense industry because Northrop is gearing up to compete with Boeing for a billion-dollar contract to build the Air Force's next-generation tanker refueling jet.

It was the tanker issue that resulted in Mr. Roche's exit from the Pentagon. He pressed within the Air Force to lease tankers from Boeing. But it turned out the Air Force did not follow Pentagon regulations in constructing the deal. A Pentagon inspector general's report laid much of the blame at the feet of Mr. Roche.

He was to become Army secretary, but Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, who called the lease proposal a sweetheart deal for Boeing, blocked the nomination. Mr. Roche then resigned as Air Force secretary.

Contacted yesterday, Mr. Roche confirmed he had signed on with Northrop to give strategic advice. "It has nothing whatsoever to do with tankers. That's in writing," Mr. Roche said.

"I'm not giving that person any reason for yelling at me anymore," Mr. Roche added. When asked to identify "that person," he said, "Whoever that person might be."

The retired Navy captain said Northrop's attorneys had thoroughly screened his contract and approved it.

Northrop is expected to announce a teaming arrangement with European Airbus to build A330s in Mobile, Ala., if it wins the tanker competition.

Randy Belote, a Northrop spokesman, said the company has nothing to announce at this point on a tanker competition. He said Northrop does not confirm whom it hires as consultants.

French rescue
Paris has made clear it will not help out militarily in Iraq, a main customer of French arms and nuclear know-how during the regime of Saddam Hussein.

But France is giving some military assistance in Afghanistan. It recently rejoined the coalition there, U.S. Air Force officials say, to provide air power during the Sept. 18 elections for a new parliament.

The French have deployed 500 airmen in the Afghan theater, along with three Mirage 2000s, three Mirage F1-CRs and two C-135 FRs. The fighters will provide close-air support. The Mirage F1-CR will conduct reconnaissance flights.

French bombers helped oust the Taliban in 2001. Mirages flew from a base in Kyrgyzstan to hit targets around Kabul and Kandahar.

Tenet on 9/11
Former CIA Director George J. Tenet has challenged the findings of CIA Inspector General John Helgerson, who recently issued a report critical of the agency and Mr. Tenet for intelligence failures related to the September 11 attacks.

Mr. Tenet twice has responded to the report, a former intelligence official said.

"I will not comment on Tenet's response to the IG other than to say that he does not point fingers elsewhere but simply defends the work of the agency, which, as the 9/11 commission said, did more than any other part of government to fight al Qaeda before 9/11," the former official said.

The IG report recommends setting up a special accountability review board to determine whether Mr. Tenet should be held accountable for failures to resolve differences between the CIA and the National Security Agency, which conducts electronic eavesdropping, on conducting operations against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda before the 2001 attacks, former intelligence officials said.

Dissing dissidents
In January, President Bush declared in his inaugural address and the State of the Union message that his administration was beginning a major effort to promote democracy and freedom. The effort appears to exclude communist-ruled China.

Worse, we have been told that White House National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley recently met with Chinese Communist Party official Zheng Bijian, who is often touted by pro-China officials in the Bush administration as a reformer.

Mr. Zheng had hoped to meet with Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney but instead had his visit limited to Mr. Hadley. The meeting is part of a program by National Security Council staff member Dennis Wilder to bring Chinese officials to the White House.

As a result of the effort to court supposedly reform-minded Chinese communists, the White House has blocked visits by Chinese dissidents and pro-democracy activists such as Wei Jingsheng and Yan Jiaqi.

A senior administration official said the White House has a "good record" on contacts with Chinese dissidents and an "active dialogue" with them. But the official could not say whether any Chinese dissidents had visited the White House.

Virtual safe haven
Maj. Gen. Douglas Lute, Central Command's director of operations, provided a broad view of the war on Islamist terrorists during a question-and-answer session at the U.S. Embassy in London. Among his observations:

"Increasingly we've seen beneath the umbrella of [the Osama bin Laden] ideology a loose, not at all hierarchical, network of franchises, if you will, crop up that we believe constitute a regional and even global threat. We call that the 'Long War.' ... The Long War for us is against al Qaeda and associated movements."

"There is a counterpart to the physical safe haven and it's what we call the 'virtual safe haven.' So here I'm talking about the use of the Internet by the same al Qaeda and associated movements to do much of its bidding virtually, so they don't have to occupy physical space to recruit on the Internet, to transfer funds, to propagate weapons tactics, techniques and procedures. If you go on the Internet today, for example, and learn how to create a detonator for a roadside bomb in Iraq, you don't have to go to Iraq. You don't have to have the training devices there."

"We didn't eliminate the Taliban to produce a narcostate. So, the international community as a team has got to step up to that problem. ... I'm not sure we're there yet, but there will come a time in the next I would guess the next couple of years, where the narcotics problem will surpass the remnants of the Taliban as the top priority."

  • 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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