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October 21, 2005
Notes from the Pentagon

Latin intervention
The Bush administration has settled on a basic strategy for preserving democracy in Nicaragua: divide and conquer.

A senior administration official tells us the goal is to break up an alliance between Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega and Constitutionalist Liberal Party member and ex-President Arnold Aleman, a one-time Ortega foe.

Referred to as the "Pacto," the alliance effectively has taken control of the Nicaraguan parliament and the courts. Democracy advocates fear the next move may be for a judge to file charges against President Enrique Bolanos, a strong U.S. ally, and then for the legislature to impeach him.

Washington has little hope of peeling away support from Mr. Ortega's Marxist Sandinistas. But officials do think they can persuade a sufficient number of Liberal Party members to quit the axis in time for the November 2006 national elections.

The administration suspended military aid earlier this year, but now has restarted it with assurances from the Nicaraguan army that it plans, as promised, to destroy its cache of SA-7 missiles, which could fall into the hands of terrorists. But as of now, the "Pacto" in the legislature is preventing Mr. Bolanos from dumping the missiles. Washington is not shy about its intervention. Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick traveled to the Central American country earlier this month and uttered some blunt warnings toward Mr. Ortega and Mr. Aleman.

"I want to be frank," he said. "There's a corrupt pact by Aleman and Ortega, and that is Nicaragua's past. It's not its future."

Mr. Zoellick praised Mr. Bolanos as a man of "very strong conviction and courage."

The administration has freed up $4.5 million for private groups to ensure that next year's elections are free and fair.

Civilians in the Office of the Secretary of Defense were snickering last week at a CIA report, which said the CIA predicted all of the upheaval that came after the ousting of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. The CIA's boasting was in an agency magazine.

Defense sources have a decidedly different recollection. They said they cannot recall any comprehensive report that predicted either the deep-seated Sunni insurgency or al Qaeda deciding that Iraq would become a major battlefield.

Instead, they remember reports that mentioned a series of possible outcomes, including tribal warfare between Sunnis, Kurds and Shi'ites. But they say what is happening is not tribal war fighting, per se, but an insurgency.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said several times he wished the intelligence on post-Saddam Iraq had been better.

"I think what you are hearing is CIA striking back at DoD," a senior administration official said. The official said the CIA "really didn't produce a product that policy-makers could use to develop policy."

The Washington Times in 2004 obtained a copy of a secret study done by the Pentagon's Joint Staff and U.S. Central Command on what went wrong in Iraq. The study blamed the failure to predict the insurgency on rushed war planning. Officials simply did not spend enough time brainstorming about all of the possible scenarios and never properly carried out the interagency process through the National Security Council.

DIA, unchained
An emboldened Defense Intelligence Agency is looking for new tools with which to spy on Islamic terrorists and other adversaries. It has added 1,000 employees and asked Congress to let it go undercover to recruit Americans as spies.

But it also is sticking to one proven method for obtaining information on foreign countries' armaments. It gets such data, in part, from American defense contractors who visit those countries and obtain information during the normal course of business.

"As they travel the globe and have entree to defense officials, they acquire information that is of value to us," Jim Schmidli, deputy DIA counsel for operations, told us. "It's not to say we recruit those people. We have an interest in the information they obtained. When we have an opportunity to [obtain] that information, we've made the best of our capabilities."

No phone link
China's military this week declined to agree to a Pentagon proposal to set up a direct defense telephone link with the Pentagon, despite calls during Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's visit to China by U.S. and Chinese defense officials for greater military-to-military interaction.

Defense officials tell us the reason the secretive Chinese military opposes the telephone link is that it fears the communications channel will permit U.S. intelligence agencies to trace the location of senior Chinese decision makers who use the telephone.

Little is known about Chinese military decision making. The three main centers of power in China include the Politburo offices, within the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in central Beijing; the military's General Staff Headquarters; and the Western Hills Command Center about 15 miles from downtown Beijing. The telephone link would have to be at one of those locations, all of which are off-limits to foreigners.

The Chinese government, which this week announced its continuing commitment to "democratic dictatorship" by the Communist Party, is extremely worried that U.S. intelligence agencies will be able to locate and spy on key Chinese leaders, including the top officials of the Politburo Standing Committee and the Party's Central Military Commission, which controls the army.

One official also told us that another reason China's military is opposed to a direct telephone link with the Pentagon is that "anyone who answers the phone can't make a decision."

N. Korea missile tests North Korea is continuing to develop its missile programs, and several engine tests have been detected in the past several months, the commander of U.S. forces in South Korea said yesterday.

Army Gen. Leon LaPorte said there are no indications that North Korea plans to conduct a flight test of its Taepo-Dong-2 long-range missiles.

He said, however, that "We've seen indications of missile engine testing on some test facilities that they have."

Gen. LaPorte said it has been difficult to make detailed analyses of its missiles because of the number of underground facilities.

"And that's where a significant number of these missiles and their transporter-erector launchers, the TELs, are housed," he said.

North Korea has about 800 medium-range No-Dong missiles currently deployed in South Korea, along with hundreds of Scud missiles.

It has not test-fired a Taepo-Dong-2 missile since August 1998, when it surprised Japan by firing one of the long-range missiles over the island.

There are no indications that North Korea plans to conduct a flight test of its Taepo-Dong-2 long-range missiles.

  • 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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