Return to

December 24, 2004
Notes from the Pentagon

Inauguration threat
U.S. officials say security will be heightened for President Bush's inauguration on Jan. 20. Intelligence officials say the main worry is that terrorists will attack with car bombs or other homemade explosives.

"There's no specific intelligence of a terrorist threat to the inauguration," one official said.

But the threat from what officials call "IEDs," or improvised explosive devices, and "VBIEDs" or vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, is a security danger, primarily along the presidential parade route from the Capitol to the White House.

"It's a proven method of attack, as we've seen in Iraq," the official said.

Mr. Bush will travel by motorcade, or possibly on foot, after the swearing in and speech on the Capitol steps. The route normally goes down Pennsylvania Avenue and around the block to the White House.

Security measures will include special electronic-jamming equipment that could disrupt remote-control electronic signals that might be sent to a bomb planted along the route.

Vehicle traffic and parking also will be strictly monitored and limited along and near the parade route, to preclude a car-bomb attack.

Question questioned
Some conservatives are questioning the accuracy of a reporter-fed question to a soldier during Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's town hall meeting with the troops Dec. 8 in Kuwait.

Here is what the soldier asked:

"Our soldiers have been fighting in Iraq for coming up on three years. A lot of us are getting ready to move north relatively soon. Our vehicles are not armored. We're digging pieces of rusted scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass that's already been shot up, dropped, busted, picking the best out of this scrap to put on our vehicles to take into combat. We do not have proper armament vehicles to carry with us north."

Here is how Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Speakes described the actual condition of the 278th Regimental Combat team a week later at a Pentagon press conference.

Reporter: At the time the question was asked, the planted question, the unit had 784 of its 804 vehicles armored?

Gen. Speakes: The theater had to take care of 830 total vehicles. ... Up north in Iraq, they drew 119 up-armored Humvees from what was called stay-behind equipment. That is equipment from a force that was already up there. We went ahead and applied 38 add-on armor kits to pieces of equipment they deployed over on a ship. They also had down in Kuwait 214 stay-behind equipment pieces that were add-on armor kits. And then over there they had 459 pieces of equipment that were given level-three protection [fabricated at the base]. And so when you put all this together, that comes up with 830. ... In other words, we completed all the armoring within 24 hours of the time the question was asked."

Reporter: If he hadn't asked that question, would the up-armoring have been accomplished within 24 hours?

Gen. Speakes: "Yes. This was already an existing program."

Force protection
Tuesday's bombing of a mess tent in Iraq that killed 22 U.S. service members, American contractors and Iraqis has focused more attention in the Pentagon on the issue of force protection.

In addition to suicide bombers penetrating base security, enemy rocket and mortar attacks continue to be a major threat that the Pentagon is working to counter.

Weapons designers have started one crash program that uses the Navy's Mk15 Phalanx Close-In Weapons System, known as the CIWS and pronounced "sea wiz." The gun uses six extreme rapid-fire 20 mm cannons guided by search-and-tracking radar that has been used effectively by ships to guard against anti-ship missile attack.

The land-based system uses a fire-finding radar that can detect mortar and rocket launches, allowing the Phalanx gun to lay down a line of fire in the direction of the incoming round.

Tests at the White Sands, N.M., testing range have shown that the ground-based CIWS can hit targets up to 50 percent of the time. While not perfect, the new anti-mortar system would provide limited protection from insurgent attacks and may be rushed into service in Iraq.

Help the wounded
We were provided with an Army list of donations to wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The hospital, and other organizations, have handed out:

•More than 5 tons of clothing and personal items. They include socks, sweat shirts, winter coats, luggage and personal hygiene items. •More than 75,000 phone cards so soldiers can make free long-distance calls.

•Invitational travel orders to allow the relatives of seriously wounded soldiers to travel to and from the hospital at government expense. The Fisher House provides travel vouchers for families that do not qualify for government-paid tickets.

The Army says: "No soldier is dependent on volunteer donations to meet basic needs. On the other hand, items donated by many organizations and individuals supplement the benefits provided by the U.S. Army."

Father's view
With Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld being criticized for letting a machine sign his name to letters of condolence, we decided to reprint parts of a letter from a Marine's father first posted on the popular Powerlineblog. The letter was written by Mike Becker of Arizona, whose son, Joshua, is a lance corporal.

"If our son had been killed, we would have been first informed by a visit — in dress blues — from a condolence team typically consisting of two Marines and one Navy chaplain. We know many families who've received that knock on the door. No letter is required. No words are required. A simple peek through the view hole in the door and the sight of dress blue blouses, white covers and white gloves tells you all you ever need to know. A letter of condolence from the SecDef is, honestly, not even worth opening. Families are much more interested in hearing from the men who served with their son and from their families.

"We know families of fallen Marines who've been flown to sites where President Bush was speaking. He met with them privately after his event, never any press coverage, and the families have said that, after being given an agenda for their time with the president and being told that he's on a very tight schedule — Mr. Bush talked to every family member as long as they wanted to talk. ... Bottom line: We support Secretary Rumsfeld. The people who are making a big deal about this ... need to have a serious priority check on what people in positions of responsibility should be doing with their time."

  • 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

  • Inside the Ring Archives
    1999 Columns
    2000 Columns
    2001 Columns

    2002 Columns
    2003 Columns
    2004 Columns
    Return to