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November 21, 2003
Notes from the Pentagon

Communist infiltration
North Korea's communist government is successfully exploiting the openness and democracy in the South by infiltrating spies and saboteurs, U.S. military officials in South Korea tell us.

Both Koreas remain technically at war with only a truce holding back conflict. As a result, the infiltration of South Korea by North Korean agents has continued apace since the 1950s, according to an official.

The official said the North Koreans initially sent teams of commandos in groups of up to 60 to land at night on South Korean shores and then enter society. South Korean military counterintelligence had a fair track record in hunting down the commandos. Then in the 1980s the North Koreans favored using small submarines to conduct infiltration operations in the South.

But when South Korean society loosened up in the 1990s, the North began using different methods. "Now they're using agents with fake passports who are posing as tourists," the officer said. The agents are sent for intelligence-gathering work and also for assassination and sabotage missions in the event conflict starts up.

Army Gen. Leon LaPorte, commander of U.S. forces in South Korea, said earlier this week in an interview that North Korea's 120,000 special-operations commando force is the largest in the world and is the key element in Pyongyang's "asymmetric" warfare strategy.

Another major security problem is a result of the South's pro-North "sunshine" policy of taking a conciliatory approach toward Pyongyang. South Korean counterintelligence efforts against North Korean agents have decreased sharply. Fewer North Korean agents are being uncovered and those that are often get freed by the government.

"We call it catch and release," a second senior officer said. This officer said some spies have been caught in the last few years but many are being missed. North Korean propaganda also has been given a huge boost by the sunshine policies. Once unthinkable, South Korean media now regularly feature pro-North Korean propaganda on both electronic and print outlets.

"We'll see reports from KCNA [the official North Korean news agency] replayed on South Korean media shortly after they come out," the senior officer said.

Covert backtrack
A House-Senate conference on the fiscal 2004 intelligence authorization bill has killed language that critics say would have imposed new restrictions on covert action operations by U.S. special-operations commandos.

The report of the conference states that classified Senate report language has been replaced with language "reaffirming the functional definition of covert action" that was set out in a 1991 intelligence authorization report.

The substitute language says, "The conferees attach critical importance to the requirements for covert action approval and notification in the National Security Act of 1947. ... Neither the administration nor the conferees have sought or agreed to modify, amend, or reinterpret the scope of the act, or approval and notification requirements under the act. The conferees expect all departments and agencies of the U.S. government to continue to comply fully with the act and its legislative history."

A defense official said the language effectively restores the legal definition from 1991 used to distinguish covert intelligence activities related to military and intelligence operations.

"This is a huge victory," said another official, noting that the substitute language preserves the flexibility of Special Operations Command in military covert action.

It also breaks the CIA's monopoly on covert action and blocked efforts by agency officials to get control over Pentagon "special activities."

The covert action legal dispute was first reported in The Washington Times.

Israel's help
Early in the war on terrorism, the Pentagon acquired from Israel special electronic equipment that can detonate roadside bombs from a safe distance.

The Pentagon is tight-lipped on what types of technologies it has sent to Iraq to counter the ever-present improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

But a source tells us the Israelis perfected a truck-mounted electronics suite that sends a radio pulse across a designated area to detonate any hidden IEDs. They have used it to explode bombs still attached to Palestinian suicide bombers. The system is not foolproof, however. The remote control device is sometimes on a frequency not covered by the pulse.

IEDs have killed scores of American soldiers in Iraq. Iraqi fighters hide them among debris or just underground along routes traveled by U.S. convoys. The Iraqis detonate the bombs by remote control, sometimes using cell phones.

In an interview last week with The Washington Times, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Israel has been willing to help. Typically, Israeli officials do not, on the record, discuss military assistance it gives America for fear of raising Arab ire.

"I believe every experience that the state of Israel has is open to the U.S." said Mr. Mofaz, the former military chief of Israeli Defense Forces.

Navy cuts
The Navy is close to finalizing a decision to cut 10,000 sailors from its end strength over the next five-year budget plan. The savings will be used to further modernize the fleet.

The cuts are possible because of reforms instituted by Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations.

•Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Mr. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or at Mr. Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or at

  • 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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