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October 14, 2005
Notes from the Pentagon

Source problems
Defense officials tell us the recent subway terrorism scare in New York highlighted several internal problems, including the U.S. intelligence community's inability to check the validity of its human sources.

The main source in Iraq for intelligence reports over the past two weeks was a Defense Intelligence Agency contact who claimed terrorists were planning to attack New York subways using suicide bombers with explosive backpacks or baby carriages.

A "subsource" linked to that informant claimed 19 suicide bombers already were in the United States for the attack. That information was found to be not credible, unraveling the main source's warning.

The Iraqi national who provided the information to DIA also identified three other Iraqis supposedly directly involved in the plot. They were arrested in Baghdad, and their interrogation led officials to dismiss the subway bombing threat.

What the incident showed, however, is that Iraq has become a new training ground for terrorists and other Islamist militants. The three captured Iraqis linked to the plot had been outside the country and returned to Baghdad to undergo training in terrorist activities for use outside the country.

Bureaucratic black hole
The new Office of the Director of National Intelligence is living up to some skeptics' expectations that it would grow into an added layer of bureaucracy for an already overly bureaucratic U.S. intelligence community.

All U.S. government reports that involve or mention intelligence now must be sent first to the ODNI for a "scrub," which usually means taking out or adding material that fits the views, often politically liberal, of its analysts.

The Pentagon's recent report on China was a case in point. To soften the harsh assessment by the Pentagon of China's aggressive military buildup, the ODNI analysts under the National Intelligence Council insisted on adding language that sought to play down China's arms buildup. It appeared to be an attempt to avoid offending Beijing's communists.

The office now has taken over commissar duties for another annual report that in the past was done by the CIA. The arms proliferation report known as the "721 Report" (after the provision of the congressional legislation that required it) is being held up by the National Intelligence Council.

Defense officials tell us they suspect that NIC analysts, under the leadership of pro-China chief Thomas Fingar, are reworking the report to minimize China's arms proliferation activities, which continue apace despite years of pledges by Beijing to curb illicit arms sales.

Iraq 'hold 'em'
Televised Texas hold 'em poker matches is the new card craze, but not too long ago the "most wanted" deck of cards was causing quite a furor.

Hans C. Mumm was recently rewarded for being on the Defense Intelligence Agency team that created the deck of cards used to help capture Iraqi war criminal suspects, including the Ace of Spades himself, Saddam Hussein.

"That was the most notorious card in the deck," Mr. Mumm told us last week.

The Jaycees named Mr. Mumm one of the 10 annual outstanding young men in America. He was feted in Boston Sept. 18, not only for the deck of cards but also for two companies he founded, including one that develops unmanned vehicles and robots.

Mr. Mumm was a second lieutenant in the Army Reserve during the Iraq war. He is now a first lieutenant in the Army National Guard and may be called to active duty again as an intelligence officer. He belongs to the Vienna Jaycees in Virginia.

Whether it comes from an embedded reporter or a gunnery sergeant or a four-star general, the message from Iraq is the same: The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are vastly improved compared with their sorry state a year ago.

What isn't always stated is the huge volume of basic equipment needed to fortify a force approaching 200,000.

The United States has provided money for more than 200,000 sets of body armor, 20,000 vehicles, 700,000 uniforms, 190,000 AK-47 automatic Kalashnikovs and nearly 170,000 pistols.

The coalition opted for the Soviet-designed AK-47 over other brands because they are low-maintenance and because they were standard-issue under the Saddam Hussein regime.

The United States has built more than 20 facilities for Iraqi soldiers and police, including five sizable military bases from which to launch operations.

One anecdote told by Americans is this: Iraqis do not always know the latest in military tactics and strategy. But from the get-go they know how to use, break down and reassemble the AK-47.

Defense sources say one of the biggest disappointments for Army Lt. Gen. David Patraeus, who oversaw the creation of the ISF, is that the Western press virtually ignored the Iraqis' achievements. Gen. Patraeus recently concluded his tour in Iraq.

Salvage operation
Bruised by a defeat on the Senate floor, Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, is furiously working behind the scenes to save his cherished Defense Department authorization bill from extinction.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, pulled the fiscal 2006 bill off the floor when it became clear it would take three weeks of debate or more on scores of amendments. In all, senators filed more than 200 amendments on everything from missile defense to treatment of detainees.

In Senate hallways, the talk was that a "failure of leadership" was to blame for not culling the number of amendments and cutting debate time.

Responds John Ullyot, Mr. Warner's spokesman, "Every senator has a right to offer amendments on any piece of legislation. There is no way to limit the number of amendments unless there is an agreement on both sides."

A defense lobbyist tells us Mr. Warner and Mr. Frist needed to play hardball, threatening to defund home-state projects unless senators withdrew amendments.

Mr. Warner is now in discussions with Mr. Frist and Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee's ranking Democrat, to limit amendments and debate time. Mr. Warner and Mr. Levin already have agreed to a manager's package of 100 amendments that would be voted on as one.

Mr. Warner lost a bid to attach the authorization bill to the 2006 defense appropriations bill, which supplies more than $400 billion for Pentagon programs. Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, outmaneuvered Mr. Warner on a parliamentary procedure vote.

Said Mr. Ullyot, "Senator Warner is confident that a deal will be struck to allow the bill to be brought up this fall."

  • 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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