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June 11, 2015
Notes from the Pentagon

Ashton Carter’s remarks suggest an Obama policy shift on China
The Obama administration appears to be in the early phase of a policy shift on China. Tougher rhetoric and policies, most recently demonstrated by remarks in Asia from Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, coincide with the departures of two key officials long known for advocating more conciliatory policies toward Beijing.

Paul Heer, who for years held the influential post of national intelligence officer for East Asia, retired recently, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said. From his position as the most senior intelligence official on China, Mr. Heer was known for a steadfast bias that sought to play down the various threats posed by China in favor of more conciliatory views. His influence also is said to have extended to personnel appointments within the CIA’s analytical section, which critics say resulted in “groupthink” on China.

A second major personnel change was the departure last week of the White House’s senior China specialist, Evan Medeiros, who left after a reported dispute with White House National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice. Ms. Rice has a reputation as a prickly manager known for swearing profusely at subordinates. Mr. Medeiros was regarded by critics as among the most pro-China policymakers in the White House’s highly centralized foreign policy and national security power structure.

Congressional Republicans have said Mr. Medeiros was behind the White House decision several years ago to deny sales of advanced U.S. F-16 jet fighters to Taiwan to bolster its flagging air forces.

Mr. Medeiros, in academic writings before his White House posting, has asserted that the Chinese military posed little or no threat and that Beijing’s policies are generally benign.

A government source said Mr. Heer is leaving the intelligence post over concerns that the administration is becoming too hawkish on China. He is said to oppose the gradual abandonment of the long-held foreign policy establishment view of China as a long-term benign power.

Both Mr. Heer and Mr. Medeiros could not be reached for comment.

Pro-China intelligence officials and policymakers have been advocating policies of joint cooperation with China as part of a new world order, and to eventually resume U.S. arms sales to Beijing that were cut off after the bloody 1989 Chinese military crackdown in Tiananmen Square.

The pro-China faction that includes both Mr. Heer and Mr. Medeiros is gradually being replaced by a more hawkish coalition of officials across several agencies and departments. The officials have succeeded in shifting U.S. policy in a more skeptical direction regarding China, and appear to have won the long-running debate over whether China threatens U.S. interests or is a benign power. The new policy group regards China as a growing threat to the interests of the U.S. and its regional allies.

Mr. Heer’s long tenure with the CIA, which he joined in 1983, and at the National Intelligence Council since 2007 also coincided with numerous intelligence failures that have been attributed to poor CIA analysis, including the failure to properly gauge Chinese strategic intentions, misreading Beijing’s use of strategic deception and failures related to China’s buildup of advanced weapons systems, including many that emerged with little or no warning from U.S. intelligence agencies.

The White House said Mr. Medeiros‘ departure will not mean a shift in policy, according to The Washington Post. However, relations between Washington and Beijing have soured in recent months over China’s destabilizing actions in the South China Sea, where the Chinese have built some 2,000 acres of artificial islands in disputed waters and are beginning to build military bases on the islands.

The Chinese also were linked to the major cyberattack announced last week involving the compromise of personal data on 4 million federal government workers.

A White House official said Mr. Medeiros left for personal reasons.

“From the earliest days of the administration, Evan has been a key architect of the president’s Asia rebalance strategy, and especially U.S. policy toward China,” National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said.

Amid all the controversies of recent actions from Beijing, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee is criticizing the Pentagon for hosting China’s top general.

People’s Liberation Army Gen. Fan Changlong, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, the ultimate military authority within the communist system, on Monday visited the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in San Diego, and then stopped at Boeing Co. in Seattle — despite the fact that Chinese military hackers have carried out what U.S. officials say were major cyberattacks against U.S. defense firms in the past.

Gen. Fan will meet Thursday with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, and the subject of Chinese island-building and militarization in the South China Sea will be raised. Mr. Carter last week called on China to halt the island-building and end the military buildup in the international waters, which handle trillions of dollars in regional trade.

Rep. J. Randy Forbes, chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on sea power, said of Gen. Fan’s visit that military-to-military ties with China “seem to be conducted on a quantity-over-quality basis.”

“China poses a challenge across a number of areas, from cyber espionage to Beijing’s efforts to undermine the military and political balance in the South China Sea,” Mr. Forbes, co-chairman of the Congressional China Caucus, said in a statement. “Inviting a senior Chinese military official to tour sensitive installations sends completely the wrong signal, both to our allies and to Beijing.

“Chinese behavior must have consequences, and rewarding espionage and artificial island construction with red-carpet treatment only encourages further destabilizing behavior,” Mr. Forbes added.

The last CMC vice chairman to visit the United States was Gen. Guo Boxiong in 2006. Gen. Guo is currently the highest-ranking PLA officer under investigation as part of a major corruption probe involving military promotions for pay.

Rick Fisher, a China affairs analyst with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, noted that China frequently downgrades military ties with Washington to express anger over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

“Now Washington has plenty cause to downgrade these ties over China’s invasion of the South China Sea, [arms] proliferation and hacking,” Mr. Fisher said. “China is invading the South China Sea and is at cyberwar with the world, but Gen. Fan gets generous intelligence visits to an aircraft carrier and Boeing. This is very wrong.”

The State Department is warning American embassies and companies overseas that cybercriminals are using fake social media sites to pose as U.S. ambassadors who then offer ambassadorships to the United Nations for a fee.

“Fake social media accounts purporting to belong to U.S. ambassadors are targeting embassy contacts, offering victims a position at the United Nations or processed travel documents in exchange for payment,” the May 28 security report states.

The fraud, called an advance-fee scheme, entices victims to send their cash and then wait to receive the promised goods, which never arrive.

“The current scam impersonating U.S. ambassadors has frequently targeted foreign nationals,” the notice to members of the State Department-led Overseas Security Advisory Council says. U.S. companies “may also be at heightened risk if malicious actors continue to exploit embassy contacts,” the report said.

The fraud operation has been underway since December and involved fake social media profiles of American ambassadors at eight nations in Europe, Asia and the Middle East — Bahrain, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

The scam starts with Facebook or LinkedIn requests to connect with someone purporting to be a U.S. ambassador. Once connected, the cyberfraudster sends a message stating for a fee the victim can be named a U.N. “Goodwill Ambassador” or a “United Nations Ambassador of Peace.”

Other cons have involved emails requesting money for the processing of immigrant visa documents or work permits in the United States.

In April, the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon issued a statement in response to the scam, headlined “The Ambassador Does Not Want Your Money,” Reuters reported.

“Ambassador [David] Hale does not make U.N. appointments and would not solicit funds from people,” the statement said.

The department’s Office of Diplomatic Security had no immediate comment on the scam.

Tipoffs to the scam include poor use of English, a low number of connections or endorsements and lack of a verification checkmark for the alleged ambassador page on Facebook.

The number of fraud attempts using social media has increased sharply in the past five years, and many have been modeled on the longest-running and infamous advance-fee schemes the Nigerian letter scam,” that raked in millions annually, according to the report.

“While the Nigerian letter scam cast a global net to find victims, impersonating U.S. ambassadors to target embassy contacts indicates this recent campaign is more focused than generic spam,” the report said. “As Internet users become better informed on various cyber threats, social engineering is often employed to feign familiarity and lure victims into scams.”

The report concludes by warning that companies in regular contact with U.S. embassies could be targets of the scam.

“Any information shared (proprietary, personal, or otherwise) is potentially at risk when replying to unsolicited communications, given the potential of the target to trust messaging coming from an embassy — especially if it appears legitimate,” the notice said. “This activity serves as a reminder of the pervasive threats on social media.”

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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