Return to

June 18, 2015
Notes from the Pentagon

Congress seeks to block U.S. intel from German NSA probe
President Obama wants to share U.S. secrets with a German parliamentary committee investigating the National Security Agency’s spying in Germany. The move is in direct opposition to Congressional restrictions, which were added to the fiscal 2016 intelligence authorization bill that would block intelligence sharing.

In a notice sent to Congress Tuesday, the Office of Management and Budget outlined a series of objections to the current House intelligence bill, including a section of the bill that would prevent sharing classified U.S. intelligence in response to requests by foreign governments.

The bill states that none of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies would be allowed to use funds “to respond to, share, or authorize the sharing of any non-public information related to intelligence activities carried out by the United States in response to a legislative or judicial inquiry from a foreign government into the intelligence activities of the United States.”

The OMB said in its notice that it “strongly opposes” the restrictions, along with other sections, and the language could lead to a presidential veto.

“This provision could affect our relationships with foreign partners and interferes with the president’s authority to conduct foreign relations and control the dissemination of sensitive national security information,” OMB said.

The country or countries that would be blocked from the receiving U.S. intelligence were not specified by either the legislation or the White House.

A congressional aide said the legislation is aimed to thwart U.S. spy agencies from giving secrets to an investigation of NSA activities by a German parliamentary committee. The panel was formed after spying disclosures from renegade NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The German investigation has uncovered information indicating the German spy service, known as BND, may have helped U.S. electronic intelligence spy on European companies, government officials and politicians. Joint U.S.-German intelligence operations are being carried out at a facility in Bavaria called Bad Aibling.

Mr. Obama is cooperating with the German investigation and may already have provided classified U.S. intelligence.

“The Obama administration is cooperating with the investigation, possibly including the sharing of classified information,” the aide said. “Section 308 would end that cooperation, and Obama wants to preserve it.”

White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price declined to comment.

The White House also is threatening to veto the intelligence bill over language that would prohibit releasing additional terrorists from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

A provision that would limit U.S. spy agencies from creating new “special access programs” — ultra secret programs used for extremely sensitive information, such as human spying operations or electronic intelligence gathering — also is being opposed by the White House.

Pacom may block China from war games
The commander of the U.S. Pacific Command said recently if China continues aggressive activities in the South China Sea he may cancel participation by the People’s Liberation Army in large-scale naval exercises known as Rimpac, for Rim of the Pacific.

Adm. Harry Harris, the newly installed Pacific commander, made the comments in a recent meeting in Tokyo with reporters.

China’s island building in the strategic South China Sea, where some 2,000 acres of islands were created, “increases the challenge for all of us and makes it more important than ever that we continue to confront China on the issue,” Adm. Harris said. His remarks were reported Monday by Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

The four-star admiral further criticized Chinese aggression, noting, “you don’t build sovereignty on ‘castles of sand.’ Sovereignty must be based on rules, norms and international law.”

Most of the islands being built are located on the Spratlys Islands in the southern part of the sea that are claimed by Philippines and other regional states. U.S. officials have said China is now building military facilities, including a runway, and is deploying weapons on the new islands, something Defense Secretary Ashton Carter recently denounced and urged China to stop.

Adm. Harris said if China does not end the island buildup he could retract the Rimpac invitation.

“I don’t want to tell you exactly what those conditions are, because China might come right up to those conditions,” he said, adding, “currently the invitation is extant. We’ll see how it goes.”

Rimpac was held last year and the next exercises, which involve scores of ships and more than a dozen nations, will be held in 2016.

In 2014, China sent two warships to take part in the exercise but also covertly dispatched an intelligence-gathering ship to spy on the maneuvers. The spy ship presence was downplayed by then-Pacific Command commander Adm. Samuel Locklear, who was known as among the most pro-Beijing commanders of the Pacific military command during his tenure.

Adm. Harris‘ comments on disinviting the Chinese to Rimpac are an indication the Pentagon is toughening its posture toward China after years of conciliatory pro-China efforts aimed at trying to build trust with the Chinese Communist Party-ruled military.

U.S. and Japanese naval forces could conduct joint patrols in the South China Sea, a move likely to anger Beijing whose propaganda networks have been waging what Japanese officials have called information warfare against Tokyo over disputes further east in the East China Sea.

“I welcome the opportunity to work closely with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships and aircraft and the Air Self-Defense Force aircraft, throughout the region,” Adm. Harris said of the possible joint naval patrols, adding that the South China Sea remains international waters and not Chinese territorial waters as Beijing claims.

Crowd-sourced analysis: Russia threatened by China
A report by the private strategic consulting firm Wikistrat concludes the geopolitical fallout from Russia’s military annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea “represents the most significant deterioration in East-West relations since the end of the Cold War.”

Moscow has been kicked out of the G-7 economic group of nations, has ended nuclear security cooperation with the West, and has begun nuclear saber-rattling with provocative bomber flights around the world, Wikistrat said in its most recent crowd-sourced exercises it calls “simulations.”

Crowd sourcing is the use of large numbers of people to deal address issues. Wikistrat is capitalizing on far-flung and diverse analysts for its analyses. For its Russian study, 60 Russia affairs analysts drew up 50 scenarios for the coming years during a weeklong simulation. A consensus view was the standoff could end over the next three years but a precondition for improved relations would have to include resolution of Russian aggression against Ukraine, where Moscow is supplying covert arms shipments to pro-Russian rebels in the eastern part of the country.

China is likely to be a key factor in lessening the tensions between Russia and the West, but the Wikistrat report says large-scale Chinese immigration into Siberia could threaten Russian stability in the coming years.

“Indeed, China is the most significant geopolitical threat to Russia’s internal integrity and external position,” the report says. “Regardless of geopolitical theater, a more assertive China in Africa, Central Asia or the Asia-Pacific would be an inevitable catalyst for deeper and more meaningful cooperation between Russia and the West.”

“All scenarios posit a Sino-Russian standoff that would put Western actors in the position of a ‘knight in shining armor,’ doing Russia a favor by helping it curb the excesses of its malevolent eastern neighbor,” the report said. “The West is mostly interested in potential gains from a weakened and/or indebted Russia rather than in limiting the power of China.”

Wikistrat is a start up company launched in Australia six years ago that is providing what some say is a badly-needed alternative to analysis from U.S. intelligence agencies, which critics say has been damaged over the past decade by a series of failures due to institutional “groupthink,” or entrenched conventional thinking.

Wikistrat uses a global network of some 2,000 analysts of varying political stripes, and ranging from Chinese-based analysts to conservative academics and former senior military officers.

The Wikistrat network employs an online Wikipedia-style software program for its analyses of global hot spots. It then produced in-depth intelligence reports for its clients in three weeks or less.

Wikistrat says it’s beating the $50 billion-a-year U.S. intelligence community on some of its most important issues, according to a company executive.

Shay Hershkovitz, Wikistrat’s director of analytic community, told Inside the Ring one of the firm’s main successes was predicting the Russian military annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea last year. The Crimean incursion was listed as one of three possible outcomes in the aftermath of Ukrainian elections.

A senior U.S. official tells Inside the Ring one reason U.S. intelligence agencies missed the Russian military operation against Crimea was its electronic intelligence-gathering methods — the most significant U.S. spying capabilities — were compromised to Moscow by renegade NSA contractor Edward Snowden. By knowing NSA spy methods, the Russian military was able to conduct a large-scale invasion without tipping off the electronic spies.

Wikistrat has accumulated an impressive client list, including the Pentagon, U.S. Pacific Command, U.S. Africa Command, NATO’s allied command transformation unit, the Navy and Air Force, French Air Force and British Royal Air Force.

Its private sector clients include defense contractors Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

  • Return to