Return to

October 15, 2009
Notes from the Pentagon

Loosening export controls
President Obama recently shifted authority for approving sales to China of missile and space technology from the White House to the Commerce Department -- a move critics say will loosen export controls and potentially benefit Chinese missile development.

The president issued a little-noticed "presidential determination" Sept. 29 that delegated authority for determining whether missile and space exports should be approved for China to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

Commerce officials say the shift will not cause controls to be loosened in regards to the export of missile and space technology.

Eugene Cottilli, a spokesman for Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security, said under new policy the U.S. government will rigorously monitor all sensitive exports to China.

The presidential notice alters a key provision of the 1999 Defense Authorization Act that required that the president notify Congress whether a transfer of missile and space technology to China would harm the U.S. space-launch industry or help China's missile programs.

The law was passed after a late-1990s scandal involving the U.S. companies Space Systems/Loral and Hughes Electronics Corp.

Both companies improperly shared technology with China and were fined $20 million and $32 million, respectively, by the State Department after a U.S. government investigation concluded that their know-how was used to improve China's long-range nuclear missiles.

Section 1512 of the 1999 law requires the president to certify to Congress in advance of any missile equipment or technology exports to China that the export will not harm the U.S. space-launch industry and that "missile equipment or technology, including any indirect technical benefit that could be derived from such export, will not measurably improve the missile or space launch capabilities of the People's Republic of China."

The new policy appears aimed at increasing U.S.-China space cooperation, which has been limited since the Loral and Hughes case. It follows the Chinese military's test of an anti-satellite missile that produced potentially dangerous space junk after the missile destroyed a Chinese weather satellite in a January 2007 test. Henry Sokolski, director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, said restoring Commerce Department control over the sensitive experts is a "step backward."

"It's as though Commerce's mishandling of missile-tech transfers to China in the 1990s never happened," said Mr. Sokolski, a former Pentagon proliferation specialist. "But it did. As a result, we are now facing much more accurate, reliable missiles from China."

Mr. Sokolski said he expects the U.S. government under the new policy to again boost Chinese military modernization through "whatever renewed 'benign' missile technology" is approved.

"It was foolish for us to do this in the 1990s and is even more dangerous for us to do now," he said.

Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, which monitors export control policies, said he was surprised by the decision to shift responsibility back to Commerce -- a change that Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush did not make.

"It is shocking that it would be delegated to the secretary of commerce, whose job it is to promote trade, rather than to the secretary of state or the secretary of defense, who have far more knowledge and responsibility within their organizations for missile technology," Mr. Milhollin said.

Mr. Milhollin said a similar delegation of power would have been criticized in previous administrations. "In fact, the delegation turns the present law upside down because Congress passed it after finding that the Commerce Department had improperly helped China import U.S. missile technology in the 1990s," he said.

Edward Timperlake, a Pentagon technology-security official during the George W. Bush administration, said he agrees that the new policy likely will loosen export controls on dual-use technology that could be used to boost China's large-scale missile program.

China's military recently displayed new long-range and cruise missiles during a military parade in Beijing marking the 60th anniversary of communist rule.

"It looks like we're going to have Loral-Hughes part two," Mr. Timperlake said of the policy shift.

"The issue is that this will renew the pattern and practices of the Department of Commerce in the 1990s, when sensitive technology flowed under the rubric of space cooperation and, tragically, the Chinese ICBM force was fixed and modernized," he said.

Mr. Timperlake said the new policy is "greenlighting engagement with China in very bad areas that will negatively impact United States' national security."

Petraeus: No
Debate over a new troop surge, this one in Afghanistan, is again throwing the political spotlight on Gen. David H. Petraeus.

"Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, the Republican nominee in 1996, told Politico that he would like to see Army four-star Gen. David Petraeus - the head of the U.S. Central Command, which includes Iraq and Afghanistan -- run for president as a latter-day Ike," the news organization's heavyweights, Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, wrote last month. Of course, Dwight D. Eisenhower, our 34th president, is the most famous general-politician. Most recently, Gen. Wesley K. Clark, a retired four-star Army general and former commander of NATO, ran unsuccessfully for the White House in 2004.

But Gen. Petraeus, who has undergone treatment for prostate cancer, denies that he has any political aspirations. He has no intention of changing his mind, a colleague told special correspondent Rowan Scarborough. The colleague asked not to be named because he was discussing private conversations.

The publicity recalls the first time the topic of Gen. Petraeus as a political candidate arose. As the Iraq troops surge proved successful in late 2007, pundits began floating his name.

"Gen. David Petraeus has a sterling reputation, the love of the press and the adoration of the GOP," wrote the liberal American Prospect in January 2008. "Don't be surprised if a Democratic presidential win in '08 starts an effort to recruit Petraeus as the Republican candidate in '12."

The clatter became so incessant that year that Gen. Petraeus, then the top general in Iraq, convened a meeting of a few close advisers to find a way to put out the fire and end the distraction.

He had invoked "Shermanesque" type statements to no avail. When Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman was being prodded to run as a Republican in the 1884 election, he said, "I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected."

Since then, that statement has been uttered in various forms by scores of American politicians, including President Lyndon Johnson when he declined to run for re-election in 1968.

But Sherman was failing Gen. Petraeus. He wanted a new way of saying "no."

That is when his public relations officer, Col. Steven A. Boylan, tapped into his love of country music. He suggested the general recite a classic song, "What Part of No Don't You Understand?"

The general was immediately intrigued. "Find me exactly what was said and who said it," Gen. Petraeus ordered.

Col. Boylan researched, found the 1992 Lorrie Morgan hit and the lyrics and presented them to his boss.

By April 2008, Gen. Petraeus had the world audience he needed. Brian Williams asked him on "The NBC Nightly News" if he had a political future.

"Never," the general answered. "And I've tried to say that on a number of occasions. Some folks have reminded me of a country-western song that says 'What part of no, don't you understand?' "

B61 update
Congressional appropriators have compromised in the fight over funding a study to extend the shelf life of a 1960s nuclear bomb that the Pentagon said is urgently needed for NATO and the new F-35 jet.

Conferees working on Energy Department appropriations earlier this month agreed to approve $32.5 million of the $65 million requested by the Obama administration for the B61 nuclear bomb life extension program study, according to the Joint Explanatory Statement of the Committee of Conference.

Under the compromise, the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration also will be able to shift $15 million more from other programs to the bomb upgrade once the Pentagon completes its Nuclear Posture Review.

The House Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water cut all funds for the B61 upgrade because of what the subcommittee said was a lack of direction for U.S. nuclear weapons. The counterpart Senate Appropriations subcommittee version of the funding bill contained the full $56 million request.

The B61 upgrade study will help meet a deadline of 2017 for modifying the bomb so it can be carried by the F-35, according to defense officials. The F-16s that now can carry the bomb are being phased out of service over the next eight years. The U.S. Strategic Command has said the B61 is the oldest nuclear weapon in the stockpile and needs "urgent upgrades" to include modern safety and security features.

Command briefing slides show that the B61 upgrade would boost reliability by upgrading arming, fusing and firing.

Climate spying?
The recent creation of a CIA center to study climate change does not mean the agency will be conducting espionage operations against greenhouse-gas emitters or spying on polluted skies or rivers around the world.

"This small unit -- which will engage closely with its government counterparts and private-sector experts -- is focused solely on the potential national security implications of climate change," said CIA spokesman George Little.

"Of course, intelligence is provided only to our government," he said. "This isn't about deploying clandestine officers to take air samples in polluted cities or to monitor sea lions. It's about developing analytical insights for policymakers."

The CIA announced Sept. 24 that it had created the Center on Climate Change and National Security, led by analysts within the Directorate of Intelligence and the Directorate of Science and Technology.

It will examine the national security impact of climate-change phenomena, such as desertification, rising sea levels, population shifts and heightened competition for natural resources.

"Decision-makers need information and analysis on the effects climate change can have on security. The CIA is well-positioned to deliver that intelligence," said CIA Director Leon E. Panetta.

Much of the work will focus on reviewing and declassifying satellite images and other data that could be useful for scientists.

The center also will involve "outreach" to academics and think tanks. "The goal is a powerful asset recognized throughout our government, and beyond, for its knowledge and insight," the CIA statement said.

Return to