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October 2, 2008
Notes from the Pentagon

China disconnect
Expanding U.S. military exchanges with China could help reduce an apparent "disconnect" between China's military and civilian leaders, but caution is needed to guard against possible spying and disinformation efforts. That's one of the key points in a draft report for the secretary of state by the International Security Advisory Board, a panel of outside experts.

The draft report by a task force headed by Robert Joseph, former undersecretary of state for international security, was obtained by The Washington Times and is expected to be completed in a few weeks. It identifies a "separation" between Chinese political and military leaders that it says has been a cause of concern in the past. It gives as an example the April 2001 incident in which a Chinese interceptor jet flew into a U.S. P-3 surveillance aircraft, killing the Chinese pilot and nearly causing the U.S. plane to crash.

"The disconnect between China's civilian leadership and the [People's Liberation Army] may have contributed to potentially dangerous incidents," the report states, noting as an example "the forced landing of the P-3 in 2001."

"While clearly an internal matter for China, addressing this disconnect could reduce the prospects for miscalculation and misunderstanding," it states.

A U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity said another example of a lack of unity between civilian and military leaders came in November, when Chinese officials at the last minute turned away the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk from a Thanksgiving Day port call to Hong Kong planned months in advance. There also were differing official Chinese explanations for a January 2007 anti-satellite weapon test.

The report recommends that the U.S. military expand military-to-military exchanges, dialogue and cooperative efforts in part to resolve such problems.

"In doing so, U.S. planners and participants must remain cognizant that China could use such confidence-building measures to collect intelligence and spawn disinformation," the report says.

The defense official said China has used military exchanges in the past to present misinformation about Chinese military capabilities. One visiting U.S. defense team in the late 1990s was shown an older air defense missile site, rather than China's more advanced missile systems, in an apparent attempt at "strategic deception" about Chinese military capabilities, he said.

Chinese Embassy spokesman Wang Baodong had no immediate comment.

Congress restricted U.S.-China military exchanges in 1999 by passing a law that prohibits any contacts that would "create a national security risk due to an inappropriate exposure." A section of the fiscal 2000 defense authorization bill bars U.S. military exchanges related to force projection operations, nuclear operations, advanced combined-arms and joint combat operations, advanced logistical operations, weapons-of-mass-destruction capabilities, surveillance reconnaissance operations, joint war fighting, military space, advanced military capabilities, arms sales and technology transfer, classified data and access to Pentagon laboratories.

The restrictions were imposed after a visiting Chinese officer asked and was told by a U.S. Navy officer the most vulnerable point on an aircraft carrier. Soon after, U.S. intelligence agencies reported that China had bought advanced wake-homing torpedoes from Russia, according to defense and congressional officials.

The report also recommends that U.S. officials, during interaction with the Chinese, encourage civilian leaders to mandate senior military officers' participation in senior governance bodies as a precondition for promotion while encouraging Chinese Communist Party leaders to take part in military decision-making councils as a condition for their advancement.

The report states that Chinese civilian leaders appear to understand Americans but that Chinese military leaders suffer from "clear paranoia and misperceptions" about U.S. goals.

Nuclear problems
A new report by the Pentagon and Department of Energy warns that the U.S. nuclear weapons deterrent is in serious trouble.

"While the service lives of existing warhead types are being extended through refurbishment, at present the United States does not have the ability to produce new nuclear weapons," the September report says.

The report warns that the ability to maintain a "credible" U.S. nuclear deterrent is declining despite the need for such weapons to protect allies in Europe and Asia and to deter nuclear powers and rogue states. It says nuclear weapons remain "vital" to U.S. strategy in a dangerous and unpredictable world.

In addition to the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran, the report warns that terrorists are seeking nuclear weapons and China and Russia also are concerns. "China and Russia are each modernizing their nuclear capabilities; the future political direction of each remains uncertain," the report says.

The report says that the current nuclear weapons stockpile is safe, secure and reliable but that "the current path for sustaining the warhead stockpile - successive refurbishments of existing Cold War warheads designed with small margins of error - may be unsustainable in the future." The heads of the U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories "have expressed concerns" about whether warheads can be maintained in the future without nuclear testing, currently halted under a moratorium.

Also, the shutdown of the nuclear weapons "pit" manufacturing plant in Colorado several years ago left the United States less able to produce nuclear weapons, the report says.

"The United States has not designed a new nuclear warhead since the 1980s and has not built a new warhead since the early 1990s," the report says, noting that as a result, "the nuclear weapons infrastructure has atrophied and existing U.S. nuclear weapons" have been extended beyond their life expectancy. Critical personnel needed to build nuclear weapons also is being lost through retirements and aging."

Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, in a recent letter to Senate colleagues blamed Congress for failing to make needed investments and warned that "the downward spiral of atrophy and risk threatens the U.S. nuclear stockpile."

"Congress has failed to make the necessary investments for far too long," he said. "It is our responsibility to fix the consequences of that failure now."

Congress recently cut $23.3 million from the Navy for the Reliable Replacement Warhead program designed to upgrade existing warheads.

Campaign intelligence
President Bush recently authorized U.S. intelligence analysts to brief both Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns with classified intelligence on world events, according to Thomas Fingar, the deputy director of national intelligence for analysis.

"The president authorized us to reach out to the campaigns to offer substantive briefings at a time and place of their choosing," Mr. Fingar said in a Sept. 4 speech in Florida.

Mr. Fingar, who also heads the National Intelligence Council, which produces intelligence estimates, stated that "our approach in this is complete transparency. If one campaign asks for something or receives something, we notify the other. We don't want to be an issue. We don't want to appear to be or enable anybody to construe us as being partisan in this. We've provided an array of topics that we think sort of collectively in the community are ones that might want to know about early on. But we'll of course receive any request."

Mr. Fingar said intelligence analysts have been preparing reports and analyses for the next administration, which he said will focus on Iraq, Iran, North Korea and the war on terrorism as well as other topics. "And come January and February and March, again, no matter who wins the election, we anticipate having a large number of new customers who do not know the intelligence community," he said.

"They know about us from infamy, from reputation, from caricature, from open congressional testimony, from scurrilous press, from good repute, through trusted interlocutors. But we will have to again build an understanding of what we can do and confidence in it."

Mr. Fingar said he has sought to bolster a community still recovering from the intelligence failures related to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Mr. Fingar said he will try to head off further intelligence reform by arguing to the next president that "we are not broken." Nevertheless, he also said intelligence agencies are still not as good as they should be. "We are working arguably better than we ever have," he said. "And mostly, we know and agree on where we need to be. Getting there is always a challenge. The devil is in the details. Turf issues arise. Mythology is not yet dead about individual components. But we're getting there."

In a second speech, Mr. Fingar spoke about the intelligence community's project to assess the world in the year 2025, and he concluded that the key feature will be a world of diminished American power.

One of the report's main conclusions is that "the U.S. will remain the pre-eminent power, but that American dominance will be much diminished over this period of time."

He said "the overwhelming dominance that the United States has enjoyed in the international system in military, political, economic, and arguably, cultural arenas is eroding and will erode at an accelerating pace with the partial exception of military."

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

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