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January 25, 2008
Notes from the Pentagon

China curbs
The Pentagon is tightening controls on contacts and visits with Chinese military officials to prevent the loss of secrets and war-fighting data, according to a memorandum to Assistant Defense Secretary James J. Shinn, the Asian and Pacific security affairs policy-maker.

A Defense Contact Memorandum was written by Air Force Col. Dave Silvia, an official within the office of the deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for international affairs, and is a form letter to be used by all involved in U.S.-China military exchanges. It states that all proposed visits to China by U.S. military or civilians, or Chinese military or civilian visits to the United States or a U.S. military facility, should explain the benefits to the Defense Department.

The Pentagon, under Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, expanded the U.S.-China military exchange program that critics say has been one-sided in helping China's military learn valuable war-fighting information and in some cases military secrets.

For example, Chinese military officers were invited to attend the U.S.-led military exercises in the Pacific called Valiant Shield in August, but the Chinese military refused to permit U.S. military observers to attend its joint exercises last year with Russia and Central Asian states, even though several other foreign militaries were invited. China's military also blocked a planned port visit to Hong Kong by the aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS Kitty Hawk in November in a sign of anger over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

According to the memo, requests for U.S. travel to China must include details on "DoD's benefit of traveler's attendance" and what "topic of presentation" may be given and if the presentation would benefit the department. U.S. visitors also would be required to explain whether their presentations in China are "enhancing PRC defense capabilities."

U.S. visitors to China under the new policy also must receive a counterintelligence briefing on the risks posed by Chinese intelligence recruitment and collection activities, and to "submit an after-action report" to the office of the secretary of defense upon return.

China learned U.S. nuclear-weapons secrets in the 1990s through exploiting visits of U.S. nuclear scientists to China.

For anyone planning to invite a Chinese visitor, the requester must explain the benefit of the visit, and if the request includes the vague phrase "to further security cooperation," more details are required.

Another requirement is to examine whether a Chinese visit does not violate the law, specifically the provision of the fiscal 2000 National Defense Authorization Act that limits military exchanges with China in 13 areas, to prevent advancing China's strategic arms programs and power projection capabilities.

The 2000 law was passed after the Chinese learned the key vulnerability of U.S. aircraft carriers during a visit. A short time later, Beijing purchased from Russia high-technology wake-homing torpedoes, which China would use against U.S. aircraft carriers in conflict.

The memo also requires proposed military exchanges to control "formal and informal discussions" by requiring officials to explain what will be discussed.

A Pentagon official involved with the exchanges had no comment on the memo.

N. Korea exchange?
A U.S. government official involved in Asian affairs said there are no plans for the Pentagon or the U.S. military to hold military talks with North Korea, as proposed by some State Department officials who want such exchanges to boost the failed six-party talks.

Asked about a recent Wall Street Journal report stating that the State Department would like to hold talks with North Korea's military, which is thought to have more authority in the totalitarian system than the foreign ministry officials involved in the nuclear talks, the official said "this is news to me."

"I don't see anything that is indicative of the U.S. reaching out to the North Korean military," the official said.

Army Gen. B.B. Bell, commander of U.S. forces in Korea, had not been consulted on any proposal to talk with the North Korean military on nuclear issues.

What the Bush administration would like to see is North Korean military officials join the six-party talks, because it is not clear that any other Pyongyang officials can carry out the terms of any dismantlement agreement on nuclear weapons. U.S. military officers participate in the talks, along with civilian representatives from the United States, North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

The U.S. military has had limited interaction with the North Korean military on efforts to recover the remains of U.S. soldiers from the Korean War.

CENTCOM and Islam
The U.S. Central Command, the tip of the military spear in the war on terrorism, recently scheduled a briefing at its Tampa, Fla., headquarters by a member of the Council on Islamic American Relations (CAIR), a group listed by the U.S. Justice Department as an unindicted coconspirator in a terrorism case.

The CENTCOM senior lecture series was to host Ahmed Bedier, CAIR's Tampa chapter director, on Tuesday to discuss "Moderate Islam," but the meeting was postponed after calls from political leaders in Washington questioned the command for holding the meeting, especially in the aftermath over the firing of Joint Staff counterterrorism analyst Stephen Coughlin, a leading proponent of denying credibility to such groups as CAIR because of concerns they will form a future support network for terrorists in the United States.

One CENTCOM spokesman said initially the meeting was postponed. But a second spokesman said later that the meeting was canceled after a review of CAIR and Mr. Bedier, who has supported the Islamic practice of stoning, determined the lecture is "not appropriate."

One official defended the lecture as a way to help analysts understand the domestic Muslim groups. But others said CAIR, which has lobbied House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, to be delisted as a terrorist conspirator, planned to use its appearance at CENTCOM to gain legitimacy. The group is thought to be one of many American Muslim groups that provides cover for the extremist Muslim Brotherhood.

Army failure
Photographic evidence and 11 major investigations clearly revealed criminal misconduct by military personnel in the 2003 Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal in Iraq. Officials consider the scandal the worst U.S. violation of the Geneva Conventions since the 1968 My Lai massacre.

However, after the political fallout settled, the case failed to produce a successful court-martial of an officer. Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the prison's commander at the time, avoided court-martial for dereliction of duty. Eleven enlisted soldiers were convicted by courts-martial.

"As was the case with the My Lai massacre, the Army failed to discipline those responsible," one Pentagon official said.

The official noted that considering the failure of the Army leadership and especially the Army Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG), to "ensure good order and discipline" within its ranks, and to follow their oath as officers to abide by the U.S. Constitution and its laws, "it is ironic that Congress last month quietly elevated the rank of the Judge Advocate General of the Army, as a result of JAG lobbying, from major general to lieutenant general."

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

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