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September 11, 2008
Notes from the Pentagon

Chinese documents
Senior State Department officials recently talked about the successful disarmament of Libya's nuclear and other weapons programs, but one of the most revealing aspects of the case did not come up: how U.S. officials found and removed Chinese-language nuclear warhead design documents in Libya.

Paula DeSutter, assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation, said Sept. 3 that the government of Libya agreed and then followed through on its pledge to give up its nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programs in 2003 and 2004. The Bush administration hopes the Libyan model will be followed by other states, including Iran and North Korea.

"We wanted to remove especially the proliferation-sensitive materials before anybody could change their mind," she said. "But what we discovered over time was that the Libyan government had indeed made a strategic commitment to eliminate their materials, eliminate their WMD programs. And that decision having been made at the top, it was fully implemented. And there was a very cooperative and transparent program - not always smooth, not always easy, but we were able to work those things out."

A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Libyans did not get warhead documents from China but from the Pakistani supplier network headed by A.Q. Khan, who developed Pakistan's nuclear arms.

China originally gave Pakistan nuclear weapons technology and equipment in the 1980s as part of a strategic effort to counter India's nuclear weapons, the official said. Mr. Khan then took the Chinese documents and supplied them to Libya as part of a package provided by his private nuclear supplier network. Iran and North Korea, also Khan customers, are suspected of getting the Chinese documents as well.

The documents are now stored in a secret vault at the Energy Department's Oak Ridge, Tenn., facility along with other nuclear equipment given up by the Libyans.

The documents were described as large blueprints that technically are considered primitive and are incomplete but explain how to develop a nuclear device small enough to fit on the tip of a missile. If the Libyans had tried to detonate a nuclear device based on the design, they likely would have caused a serious accident, U.S. officials said.

The documents were removed from Libya under armed U.S. escorts because, though incomplete, the information still could be used to develop nuclear weapons.

The case highlights the danger of not securing nuclear weapons data, the official said.

Chinese Embassy spokesman Wang Baodong said the issue of the documents is "delicate" but that he had no knowledge of whether the matter was investigated by China's government. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said in 2004 that the government was concerned about reports of the documents found in Libya and was trying to learn more.

Laser 'first light'
One of the Pentagon's newest advanced weapons systems reached a milestone this week when the Airborne Laser successfully carried out the first ground testing of a high-powered beam that could be used to shoot down missiles and perhaps aircraft in flight in the not-too-distant future.

Three defense contractors briefed reporters on the laser test, which took place early Monday inside an aircraft hanger at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. They said the test is a major milestone for the laser missile-defense program.

"We are on track for a shootdown in 2009," said Mike Rinn, a Boeing Corp. vice president and program director for the Airborne Laser. Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin are also part of the project under the Missile Defense Agency.

A flight test of the Boeing 747 laser that will attempt to shoot down a missile is set for next year.

Mr. Rinn said the test Monday included a series of seven high-energy bursts of the laser that each lasted less than a second. "We call that first light," he said. The laser gun was built inside the back of the Boeing-747 jetliner and uses chemicals to generate a high-powered beam that will be fired out the nose of the aircraft. The system is considered a "boost-phase" missile attacker that will strike missiles in the early phase of flight.

Mr. Rinn said the test was significant because it was the first time a megawatt laser gun was outfitted in an aircraft and coupled with a beam control system. "This is a first for our nation and a first in the world," he said.

Petraeus guidance
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus leaves command of U.S. forces in Baghdad on Sept. 16 and is widely credited with developing and implementing the increasingly successful counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq. He recently sent out a memorandum to all troops outlining the strategy for defeating al Qaeda and other insurgents and for bringing stability to Iraq.

The first order of the general's July 15 statement is to "secure and serve the population."

"The Iraqi people are the decisive 'terrain,'" he stated. Other guidance is to live among the people, hold areas that are secured and "pursue the enemy relentlessly."

"Identify and pursue Al Qaeda-Iraq and other extremist elements tenaciously," he said. "Do not let them retain support areas or sanctuaries. Force the enemy to respond to us. Deny the enemy the ability to plan and conduct deliberate operations," he said.

In addition to force, other assets must be used to defeat the terrorists and insurgents, he said, including a "comprehensive approach that employs all forces and all means at our disposal - non-kinetic as well as kinetic."

He also urged promoting reconciliation, noting that "we cannot kill our way out of this endeavor."

Counterinsurgency plans call for defeating terrorist and insurgent networks, using intelligence agents to find leaders, explosives experts, financiers, suppliers and operators.

The four-star general, who will lead the U.S. Central Command, called for using money as a weapons system, gathering intelligence aggressively and sending it to those that need it.

The general also called for conducting aggressive information operations to counter terrorist propaganda.

In the war, soldiers need to "live our values," he stated, noting that they should "not hesitate to kill or capture the enemy, but stay true to the values we hold dear. Living our values distinguishes us from our enemies. There is no tougher endeavor than the one in which we are engaged. It is often brutal, physically demanding, and frustrating. All of us experience moments of anger, but we can neither give in to dark impulses nor tolerate unacceptable actions by others."

Finally, Gen. Petraeus urged troops to learn and adapt by constantly assessing the war and adjusting tactics, policies and programs. "Never forget that what works in an area today may not work there tomorrow, and that what works in one area may not work in another," he said. "In counterinsurgency, the side that learns and adapts the fastest gains important advantages."

  • Bill Gertz covers national security affairs. He can be reached at 202/636-3274, or at

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