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March 9, 2001

Notes from the Pentagon

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The Pentagon is accelerating the Bush-ordered top-to-bottom review so results will be known in mid-April in time to affect congressional enactment of the fiscal 2002 budget.

Department insiders say President Bush plans to add extra money to his $310 billion military budget. If his plans are not made known by next month, Republicans will have little choice but to mark up a budget blueprint at that level.

But by completing a good deal of the top-to-bottom exercise by mid-April, the White House will be able to signal budget-makers to leave space for more defense dollars, or to provide the exact top number.

If the White House does not signal a defense increase is coming, it would take 60 Senate votes to add money after a budget resolution is passed.

Bush aides are mindful that the fiscal 2002 defense budget is important politically. The president campaigned on rebuilding the armed forces, and the plan would be his first completed defense budget before the November 2002 congressional elections.

There are eight Pentagon task forces now in operation, looking at ways to reform acquisitions and finance, improve the quality of life, develop a new strategy, set force structure and identify the threats troops will face.

The insider said the review is suffering from "cell division." What was planned as a three-group study has swelled to eight and may grow to 10.

To keep the review monster under control, planners folded an intelligence reform task force into a space panel.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, with few of his political appointees in place, is relying on a number of outside specialists to head the working groups and give advice.

Sending early results of the review to Mr. Bush next month will not mean the process is over. Planners will then complete their work in time for the fiscal 2003 budget, which Mr. Bush will present to Congress in February.

'You got me'
Much has been said about accused spy Robert P. Hanssen, a veteran FBI agent who was arrested on suspicion of being a mole who passed secrets to Moscow for 15 years. But no one has heard directly from him yet.

Law-enforcement sources close to the case now tell us Mr. Hanssen showed little emotion at the time of his arrest Feb. 18, shortly after he dropped off a package of classified documents at a Fairfax park.

"You got me and I'm ready to cooperate," he told the arresting FBI agents, according to a source close to the case.

The cooperation so far does not appear to be forthcoming. Mr. Hanssen's attorney, Plato Cacheris, told reporters this week that his client would plead not guilty "at the appropriate time." Prosecutors are watching Mr. Cacheris closely to see if he makes any approach to cut a deal for Mr. Hanssen's cooperation.

Given the sensitivity of the secrets involved in the case, the government, and especially the intelligence community, is hoping to avoid a trial that could further compromise secrets.

So far no negotiations are under way and Mr. Cacheris is sizing up the government's case, which, for the most part, is spelled out in the 100-page FBI affidavit made public last month.

Mr. Cacheris was the attorney for CIA turncoat Aldrich Ames, who was caught spying for Moscow in 1994. After several pretrial legal maneuvers, Ames and Mr. Cacheris reached an 11th-hour plea bargain on the day his trial was to open. Ames is serving a life prison term without possibility of parole.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment on Mr. Hanssen's statements at the time of his arrest.

Anger at China
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice got an earful from a group of three Chinese diplomats who came calling on her at the White House complex.

The three diplomats, former Ambassadors Zhu Chizhen, Li Daoyu and Zhang Wentu, were expected to hold discussions with Miss Rice on a variety of U.S.-China topics: arms sales to Taiwan, China's human rights record and U.S. missile defense plans.

Instead, one of the diplomats pulled out a prepared speech and harangued Miss Rice for some 20 minutes about the Chinese religious group Falun Gong, which China's communist government regards as its greatest internal threat.

Behind the Chinese presentation is China's belief that the CIA is backing the group, a position rejected as ridiculous by U.S. officials.

Falun Gong is a Chinese meditation, exercise and breathing group that is target No. 1 of the Beijing authorities. Its members have been imprisoned and its leaders tortured because of their activism. Several members of the group recently set themselves on fire in Beijing's Tiananmen Square to protest the crackdown.

Miss Rice, we are told, was angered by the Chinese diplomats' tirade and quickly ended the meeting after the 20-minute reading.

The ambassadors are part of a major propaganda campaign now under way by Beijing to influence the new Bush administration before it can get its national security team up and running.

Just like home
The Naval Academy at Annapolis is adding accouterments to Bancroft Hall that make the dormitory more like home.

Seniors, a k a "firsties," may now buy small refrigerators for their rooms. And all midshipmen are getting telephones installed, complete with personal voice mail.

"It's just a quality-of-life initiative that the [Superintendent Vice Adm. John R. Ryan] was committed to and made sense to do since we were renovating the wings," said Cmdr. Bill Spann, an academy spokesman.

Students no longer will have to go down the hall to telephone professors, superiors or home for that matter. "It makes everyone's job a little easier," Cmdr. Spann said.

Firsties may purchase refrigerators at the academy store for $126. Now, people are asking on campus, can microwaves be far behind?

Intercepts

  • The Army is issuing a new uniform component to soldiers: running shoes. The plan is to remove one cold-weather field jacket from the clothing bag and use the savings to buy running shoes.

  • On March 18, at 8 p.m., the FX network will air a made-for-TV movie on the 1989 explosion aboard the battleship USS Iowa that killed 47 sailors. The movie is based on the book "A Glimpse of Hell" written by former "60 Minutes" reporter Charlie Thompson.

    James Caan plays the ship's commanding officer, Capt. Fred Moosally. Dashiell Eaves, a New York theater actor, portrays Gunner's Mate Clayton Hartwig, the sailor the Navy first accused of deliberately sabotaging turret No. 2. The Navy later retracted the charge after independent investigators found no evidence of a bomb.

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at gertz@twtmail.com.Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at scarbo@twtmail.com.


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