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September 9, 2010
Notes from the Pentagon

Mysterious GRU drowning
Last month's drowning death of a senior Russian military intelligence official in Syria has sparked speculation among intelligence officials that the spymaster was killed as part of an effort by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to centralize Russian intelligence power and return to the era of the all-powerful KGB communist political police.

Mr. Putin is a former KGB officer who has spoken openly of returning Russia to its communist Soviet empire days.

Russian military newspaperRed Star triggered the interest of U.S. and other foreign intelligence agencies after a terse statement last month announcing the death of Maj. Gen. Yury Yevgenyevich Ivanov, deputy chief of the Russian military's Main Intelligence Directorate, whose acronym is GRU. The newspaper stated only that Gen. Ivanov "died tragically."

Turkish news reports said Gen. Ivanov disappeared Aug. 6 while swimming in the Mediterranean near the Syrian port of Latakia and that Turkish villagers discovered his body two days later on the shore of the Turkish coastal province of Hatay.

U.S. intelligence sources said the general's death was reported amid signs that Mr. Putin is taking steps to set up a new KGB-like spy service by placing the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, known as SVR, under the control of the domestic Federal Security Service for the first time since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

After the collapse, the KGB's domestic security unit was renamed the FSB, and its foreign spy unit became a separate agency renamed SVR.

The GRU remained separate from the KGB and was a traditional rival for power with the KGB in the Soviet hierarchy.

A CIA spokesman had no comment. A spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington did not respond to e-mails seeking comment.

Kenneth deGraffenreid, a former deputy national counterintelligence executive, said Russia has been conducting for some time what he called an "ominous" reconsolidation of the elements of the old Soviet KGB under the Russian FSB.

"This past summer's uncovering of the Russian 'illegals' network suggests that the practices of the powerful Russian secret police apparatus haven't changed much since the days of Felix Dzerzhinsky's Cheka," he said, referring to the Bolsheviks' secret police chief.

"These developments add more speculation that the recent mysterious death of Gen. Ivanov may be 'no accident,' as the old Soviets were fond of saying."

Gay Afghans
As if Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, did not have enough to worry about waging counterinsurgency warfare, an anthropological study commissioned by the U.S. military concluded that the United States' tribal Pashtun allies in southern Afghanistan prefer boys.

The study, "Pashtun Sexuality," was completed by the Human Terrain Team, a group of anthropologists that work with the U.S. military, according to reporter Eli Lake, who obtained a copy of the report.

The unclassified 18-page report, produced in 2009, stated that while many Pashtun men consider homosexuality to be forbidden under Islam, they do not consider sexual relations between boys and men to be homosexuality.

"A culturally-contrived homosexuality (significantly not termed as such by its practitioners) appears to affect a far greater population base than some researchers would argue is attributable to natural inclination," the report stated in one of its key findings.

The report also said that "homosexuality is strictly prohibited in Islam, but cultural interpretations of Islamic teaching prevalent in Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan tacitly condone it in comparison to heterosexual relationships in several contexts."

Pashtun tribes and clans make up the largest ethnic group in southern Afghanistan and are a major focus of U.S. and allied military efforts to win their support against the Taliban.

The report surveyed recent literature on the subject and provided some anecdotes. One story involves an army medic who was asked in earnest by a Pashtun man how he could impregnate his wife.

One aspect of Pashtun society is that young, hairless boys are often taken as lovers by more powerful men. These boys are usually known as "Halekons." The report said, "known frequently as halekon, ashna, or bacha bereesh, 'beautiful' beardless boys are coveted, almost as possessions, by men of status and position for sexual relationships. Further, the more attractive or talented the boy is deemed, the more his presence elevates the status of his patron."

One military officer said it is one of the most popular reports downloaded by U.S. soldiers off of the secure network known as the SIPRNET.

Asked whether this presents a culture clash for young officers and enlisted men in the field, the officer said: "We encountered something like this in Iraq as well. It can be a problem, but it's not insurmountable."

Navy officer arrested
A civilian judge in Portsmouth, Va., ordered the arrest of a Navy officer on the destroyer USS Cole for disorderly conduct in the courthouse, according to a Navy message obtained by special correspondent Rowan Scarborough.

"Service member arrested for disorderly conduct and interfering with a law enforcement officer," said the Sept. 3 message from the Cole to various Navy offices. "Charges are the result of a series of rude and improper actions towards officials of the court during a routine appearance at traffic court."

A spokesman for Atlantic surface forces confirmed to Inside the Ring that Lt. Timothy J. Barry was arrested. He had just reported aboard the Cole as its combat systems officer.

"The incident is being reviewed by the sailor's chain of command and appropriate action will be taken once the details of the case are clearly known," the spokesman said.

The Navy message said that Lt. Barry, who was in uniform, appeared in court to challenge a traffic ticket. He refused to rise when the bailiff said "All rise" for the judge entering the courtroom. When asked why he did not stand, Lt. Barry asked whether it was a legal requirement.

After Lt. Barry was convicted of speeding, he threw his credit card onto the clerk's desk and refused to hand his driver's license to the clerk.

The judge then summoned Lt. Barry back to the courtroom, where he ordered his arrest on two counts of disorderly conduct and two counts of interfering with a law enforcement officer.

"Media interest not anticipated," the Navy message said.

The Cole was attacked nearly 10 years ago by suicide bombers as the destroyer refueled in the Yemen port of Aden.

The Party army
A new book on the Communist Party of China reveals that China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) is a major rival for power and the current civilian party leader, President Hu Jintao, is seeking to maintain party controls over the armed forces that have been growing in size and power for more than a decade.

Richard McGregor, author of the new book "The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers," has penned a detailed look at the Chinese Communist Party that is must reading for U.S. officials and China affairs specialists who profess to be perplexed at why the regime in Beijing consistently operates like a Soviet-style communist dictatorship and not a Western-style democracy.

"The party never takes the PLA's support for granted," Mr. McGregor, a reporter for the Financial Times newspaper, told Inside the Ring. "That's why party [news]papers relentlessly stress the PLA's loyalty to the [Communist Party] and has been so generous with budgets and hardware acquisition over the last decade."

Unlike most national militaries dedicated to defending a nation, the PLA is dedicated to a single task: preserving the power of the Communist Party, which Mr. McGregor said "has clung onto what I call the 'three Ps' -- the PLA, personnel and propaganda."

"The PLA remains very much the party's army -- it is not the nation's army. This is a distinction that is lost on many people, but it is not lost on the party itself, which understands very clearly that the PLA is its ultimate guarantor of staying in power."

The recent firing of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who was ousted for off-color comments by aides about civilian leaders, highlights the West's demand that national militaries remain nonpolitical. In China, Mr. McGregor notes, a politicized military under Communist Party control is an absolute requirement.

"In China, it is the opposite the [Communist Party] is paranoid about the military becoming de-politicized," he said, noting constant propaganda in party and military newspapers about the unwavering bond between the party and the PLA, propaganda read by most China observers as a worrying sign that ties are strained.

Mr. McGregor points to some evidence: statements by a Chinese general criticizing civilian leaders' conciliatory policy toward Taiwan asserting that the island is lost forever as a part of China.

The book notes that party paranoia can be seen in the fact that the PLA has set up 90,000 party committees within the military that seek to cement party controls.

Russian incursion
Efforts by the U.S. Northern Command to gain the cooperation of Russia so that its nuclear bombers stop trying to run up against U.S. and Canadian air defenses do not seem to be working.

The Colorado-based command is in charge of monitoring and preventing Russian nuclear bombers from attacking the northern portion of North America and scrambling interceptors on some occasions when they get too close.

Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., commander of the U.S. Northern Command, said in an interview in June that Russian bombers were continuing to test air defenses as part of Moscow's "illusion of power, where power is not quite there," noting that Russia is trying to show off and that the U.S. hasn't responded to every bomber practice run.

After the comments, the command conducted a joint exercise with the Russians described in a press release as "straight from a Cold War suspense thriller."

North American Aerospace Defense Command forces and Russian forces working with Northcom tracked a simulated hijacked aircraft across the Pacific in early August. The exercise was sponsored in part by the Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which has sought to minimize the threat from post-Soviet Russia through nuclear safety programs.

The three-day exercise that ended Aug. 11 was "designed to establish clear communication processes that would allow the two forces to work together during a real crisis." It involved U.S. F-22 jets chasing a simulated hijacked Boeing 757 jetliner.

However, any notion that joint exercises with the Russians would reduce the threat of Russian bombers conducting practice nuclear strikes on North America were dashed two weeks later on Aug. 24, when two Russian strategic Tu-95 bombers flew within 30 miles of Canadian airspace and were met by Canadian CF-18 interceptor jets.

A Northern Command spokesman said no similar Russian bomber flights have been made in recent weeks.

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