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September 18, 2008
Notes from the Pentagon

The Pentagon is expected to notify Congress in the next several days that it wants approval to sell Taiwan a major arms package, which would end a freeze on arms sales to the island state imposed before the Beijing Olympics, according to a senior defense official.

The arms package is expected to include seven weapons systems but not advanced F-16 jets sought by the island, said Jason Yuan, Taiwan's chief diplomatic representative in the United States.

The de facto Taiwanese ambassador told reporters and editors at The Washington Times that he expects the Pentagon to make the notification before Congress adjourns around Sept. 26. "I'm optimistic because we don't think we're going to get any opposition from the Congress," Mr. Yuan said of the formal notification and expected 30-day congressional approval process.

Mr. Yuan disputed the widely reported arms freeze that was put in place and acknowledged by Adm. Timothy J. Keating, the U.S. Pacific Command leader.

As first reported in this space in May, the arms freeze was backed by U.S. Ambassador to China Clark T. Randt Jr., who urged President Bush to temporarily cut off sales to avoid upsetting China before the Olympics.

Mr. Yuan said political squabbling in Taiwan caused delays in approving Taipei's arms budget, which finally passed the legislature in June.

Mr. Yuan said that after the inauguration in May of Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou, the Bush administration asked for a "direct message" from Taiwan about whether the government wanted the arms.

"We made it very very clear from the top down to here," Mr. Yuan said of Taiwan's need for the arms deal. "We said we're serious, [the arms budget] already passed the [Taiwan] congress. Please notify the [U.S.] Congress."

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell declined to say when the arms-sale notification would go to Congress, and he said the package remains under interagency review. "When the interagency process achieves a final decision for any specific arms sales, we will notify Congress," he said in an e-mail.

Mr. Yuan said "time is short" for the notification and that if it is not made before Congress ends its current session, the contentious budgeting process in Taiwan will have to be repeated, beginning in January.

The arms package is expected to include most or all of the following requested arms: E-2T surveillance aircraft upgrades; Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile systems; a feasibility study for building eight diesel-electrical submarines; submarine-launched harpoon missiles; transport and attack helicopters; and a midrange anti-armor missile.

Mr. Yuan said Taiwan also had budgeted for the purchase of advanced F-16 jets to replace older Taiwanese indigenous fighters, but the Bush administration is not expected to approve jet sales until the other arms are purchased first.

All the arms are defensive weapons needed to help Taiwan engage in a dialogue with mainland China, Mr. Yuan said. "Defense items [are] the key," he said. "If we don't have strength, how can you open up a dialogue with them? They still have a thousand missiles aimed at us."

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw T. Sikorski is urging the U.S. Congress not to cut funding for U.S. missile defenses because he is worried it will undermine Polish support for the recent U.S.-Poland agreement to build missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic.

"The implementation of the Ballistic Missile Defense Agreement will require political commitment of both sides and appropriate funding," Mr. Sikorski stated in a Sept. 9 letter to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat.

The minister stated that the Polish public is closely watching the congressional debate on missile-defense funding as part of the fiscal 2009 defense bill.

"A significant reduction in funding for the missile-defense site in Europe may be interpreted in Poland as a lack of commitment to the common defense against missile threats," he stated.

Mr. Sikorski also stated that the Russia-Georgia war makes U.S. and Polish security ties "more necessary than ever."

A spokesman for Mr. Obey had no immediate comment.

The Pentagon asked Congress for $285 million for European missile defense work, including the Polish interceptor site, radar and construction funds. The House cut $165 million, leaving $119 million.

A new book on the CIA reveals that the arrest of an al Qaeda foot soldier disrupted a 1998 U.S. bombing raid on al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Former national security reporter John Diamond states in his forthcoming book that Pakistan arrested al Qaeda member Mohammed Sadeeq Odeh the day of the bombing.

Odeh was supposed to take part in a meeting of al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan, including bin Laden, on Aug. 20, 1998. The meeting was canceled after Odeh's arrest in Pakistan prompted concerns in al Qaeda that details of the meeting were compromised, Mr. Diamond writes in "The CIA and the Culture of Failure," due out Monday.

Odeh had helped assemble the bomb used in the attack on the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, and was ordered by al Qaeda to depart Nairobi the night before the attack and go to Pakistan and from there to Afghanistan for the meeting.

However, he was detained in Karachi for carrying a false passport and was in airport detention when the bomb went off in Kenya on Aug. 7, raising suspicions that led authorities to find explosive residue on his luggage.

The arrest became known to bin Laden, who canceled the meeting and thus thwarted the Clinton administration's cruise-missile strike on Afghanistan called Operation Infinite Reach.

"The result was that U.S. cruise missiles struck empty tents and crude terrorist training obstacle courses, to the embarrassment of the superpower attacker," said Mr. Diamond, who is the first to reveal why the raid failed.

Mr. Diamond stated that "the problem was your classic non-communication between agencies. In this case, the FBI, who took custody of Odeh about a week after his arrest, was not in the loop concerning Infinite Reach."

"What Ive focused on in this book is the interconnectedness of intelligence," Mr. Diamond said in an e-mail. "We have had a tendency, particularly in the chaotic post-Cold War era, to lurch from one intelligence controversy to another, witnessing failure, or alleged failure; calling for investigation; reporting on the CIAs lapses; and, at times, imposing consequences. These lessons-learned reviews have tended to unfold in isolation, missing the linkages that strongly influence what happens -- and doesnt happen -- at CIA."

Mr. Diamond said his book shows that although the CIA is a prone to "spectacular failure, the blame, or a share of the blame, sometimes belongs elsewhere in the Oval Office or on Capitol Hill."

A CIA spokesman had no immediate comment.

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

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