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November 20, 2008
Notes from the Pentagon

Military exchange halt
The Pentagon's military exchange program with China suffered another setback this week when a Chinese general announced that military visits and port calls by ships will not resume until the announced $6.5 billion U.S. arms package to Taiwan is canceled.

Chinese Maj. Gen. Qian Lihua, director of the Defense Ministry foreign affairs office, stated that China wants the Pentagon to end arms sales, which are required under U.S. law.

"We demand the U.S. change its ways, cancel its plans to sell weapons to Taiwan and stop its exchanges with the Taiwanese military. Only if they do so can the [People's Liberation Army] and ministry of national defense resume normal relations with their U.S. counterparts," Gen. Qian was quoted as saying in the Financial Times.

China suspended all military exchanges with the Pentagon in early October, and appeals from defense officials to reconsider were rejected by Beijing officials. Gen. Qian's demand to end Taiwan arms sales is a new wrinkle for China in expressing its anger over the arms sales after the suspension of military-to-military contacts was announced Oct. 7, affecting several planned visits and ship port calls.

The military-to-military program suspension scuttles efforts by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to expand the program over the past two years. Mr. Gates regarded the military exchanges as an important way to "build trust" with China's military, a defense official said.

The exchange suspension caught many Pentagon policymakers by surprise, as they had not expected the reaction. The arms sales do not include help with building submarines or new sales of advanced F-16s and were items announced for sale as early as 2001.

Asked about Gen. Qian's demand, Geoff Morrell, Pentagon press secretary, said the Pentagon values its military-to-military ties to China "and in particular our exchanges with the PLA," as the military is called.

The Pentagon would "welcome the resumption of those exchanges and other military activities with China because they provide excellent opportunities to enhance our understanding of each other's military plans and intentions and to build mutual trust and confidence," Mr. Morrell said.

However, U.S. policy toward Taiwan is "longstanding, well understood and will continue," he said.

"Furthermore, our arms sales to Taiwan are a normal, stabilizing and responsible measure to assist in maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the broader East Asia region," he said.

The rift on exchanges curtailed one interagency group that had planned to brief the Chinese military on the annual report to Congress on China's military power. The Pentagon in the past resisted Chinese efforts to influence the report, which Beijing has opposed as fostering a threatening view of China.

The visit by a group of officials from the office of the secretary of defense, Defense Intelligence Agency and office of the director of national intelligence has not been rescheduled.

Chinese Embassy spokesman Wang Baodong had no comment on the halt in military exchanges.

Iran EFPs
One of the deadliest forms of Iranian military support to insurgents in Iraq is the use of armor-piercing roadside bombs called explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs.

A senior Bush administration official said one idea discussed among senior policymakers some months ago was to begin covertly supplying Iranian opposition groups with captured EFPs for use against Iranian military targets in Iran.

The idea was that if the Iranians began seeing their arms used against them they might think twice about supplying them to the insurgents.

However, three U.S. military, intelligence and defense officials said that whether or not there was discussion of such a plan, it was never implemented.

A Pentagon spokesman said no covert action plan for EFPs was discussed by senior leaders at the Pentagon. A U.S. intelligence official said: "I know of no one in the intelligence community who was either aware of this idea or was party to any discussion of it. If it ever was kicked around somewhere, it wasn't part of a formal process and certainly - absolutely -didn't go anywhere."

A military spokesman in Baghdad also said there was never a plan to covertly supply Iranian opposition groups with the EFPs.

Such lethal covert action would have required a presidential authorization, and none was sought or approved, the spokesman said.

A report on Iranian weapons found in Iraq made public last month by the Counter Terrorist Center at West Point stated that 28 weapons caches out of more than 100 caches uncovered this year contained EFPs or components.

A 2007 Pentagon intelligence report stated that at least 170 American and allied troops were killed by EFPS and 620 others wounded.

The powerful charges are outlined in the report as can-shaped high-explosives that send out a melted-metal projectile that can penetrate armor plating.

Iranian media have reported seven violent attacks inside Iran between August and November, including assassinations or attempts against Iranian officials or clerics. The attacks were blamed on Iranian insurgent groups, including the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), Jundollah, and the People's Liberation Forces of East Kurdistan.

Improve human spying
Former CIA officer Duane "Dewy" Clarridge agrees with Sen. John McCain on the need to create a more effective U.S. human spying system.

During the presidential campaign, Mr. McCain called for setting up a new, more agile human spying agency modeled after the World War II predecessor of the CIA, the Office of Strategic Services. The OSS was composed of a combination of Ivy League intellectuals, businessmen and adventurers who carried out clandestine spying and covert-action operations behind enemy lines.

President-elect Barrack Obama also has called for improving human spying but has provided no specifics during the campaign on what he would do as president.

Mr. Clarridge, a 33-year veteran who helped set up the CIA Counterterrorist Center, said the most important step to improve spying on the ground would be to reform what he called the CIA's overly bureaucratic directorate of operations, as the espionage branch is called, which he said is hamstrung by risk-averse lawyers.

"We need to get back to the basics: human intelligence and getting the lawyers out of the operational chain of command," Mr. Clarridge said. "People have got to understand that when you operate abroad as an agent or spy, you're breaking that country's law. So why do you need a lawyer in the chain of command?"

Also needed are "real leaders" of U.S. intelligence who are closely tied to the president, he said. "We don't need so-called leaders who nave never been involved in taking risks, read [signals intelligence] officers, for example," Mr. Clarridge said.

"A businessman who has had profit-and loss-responsibilities knows what prudent risk-taking is all about," he said. "Get the lawyers out of the operational chain of command; lawyers by training abhor risk and always seek to mitigate it. Get back to Spying 101."

One way of training spies, he said, is to supply each new case officer with a copy of the 1949 book by secret agent Alexander Foote, "Handbook for Spies."

"It tells you all you need as a case officer."

CIA spokesman George Little said any suggestion the agency is risk-averse is "absurd."

"The operations undertaken by the CIA, ranging from counterterrorism to counterproliferation, demand that the agency take bold, intelligent risks, and we do," Mr. Little said. "If the remarks by Mr. Clarridge, who left the CIA years ago, are recorded accurately, he doesn't have a clear picture of what happens here now." Mr. Clarridge was indicted in 1991 for perjury in connection with the illegal diversion of funds to the Contras in the mid-1980s. President George H.W. Bush pardoned Mr. Clarridge in 1992 before his trial ended.

China on UAVs
Chinese Embassy spokesman Wang Baodong responded to the item in this space two weeks ago on China's development of an advanced unmanned aerial vehicle.

"I don't know what document you've obtained, but as I understand, UAV is a kind of very common flying object," Mr. Wang said in an e-mail. "Many countries in the world, including the United States, use a lot of such tools for military or civilian purposes," he said. "And it's no secret that some units in China are involved in researching and developing such vehicles."

Mr. Wang said he wanted to "stress that China develops such vehicles only for the purpose of serving the welfare of the people and self-defending its national security and territorial integrity, which will constitute no threat to anyone else."

The internal Chinese document described a crash program by China to build a high-altitude, low-speed, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle in two years. The state-run company in charge of the program is a major Chinese weapons manufacturer, the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC).

The document said China plans to compete with the United States and Israel on UAVs and noted that both countries "have mastered the technology central to this type of aerial vehicle, and they have imposed a technology blockage to other countries and have exerted especially strict control with regard to our country."

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

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