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June 4, 2004
Notes from the Pentagon

Pacific buildup
Days after the Pentagon released its annual report highlighting China's steady military buildup, defense officials have disclosed new details of plans to beef up U.S. military forces in the Pacific.

Officials say several more attack submarines will be deployed at the U.S. base at Guam. In the past, the base has been used mostly as a major supply depot and bomber airfield.

Under a force-restructuring plan being worked out by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Pacific Command, Guam is slated to become a major strategic operational hub for naval forces keeping an eye on China.

"We need to be able to get to the Taiwan Strait faster than we can right now," one official said.

Guam has three attack submarines that were recently moved to the island. As many as three more submarines could be deployed there by 2006, officials said.

The other major power projection effort in the Pacific will be the deployment of another aircraft carrier closer to Asia. Officials tell us Guam does not have the infrastructure to support a carrier battle group.

Plans call for deploying a group from the West Coast to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, we are told. The carrier battle group would be able to augment the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier group based in Japan.

Who's lying?
The breathless headline in a major daily newspaper read yesterday, "Polygraph Testing Starts at Pentagon in Chalabi Inquiry."

Trouble is, no one at the Pentagon with whom we checked knows of anyone in the building being polygraphed by the FBI. Nor has the Pentagon been notified by the FBI that it is investigating the supposed leak of classified information to Ahmed Chalabi, who heads the Iraqi National Congress.

"No official has been polygraphed or told to expect to be polygraphed," a Pentagon official said. The official and others said there has been no notification from the FBI that anyone is under investigation and needs to be questioned, in the Chalabi matter.

The case broke open when the United States intercepted a cable from an Iranian spy in Baghdad to Tehran saying that Iran's code had been broken by the Americans and that Mr. Chalabi was the source for this information.

An FBI spokesman said he did not know whether anyone at the Pentagon had been questioned. He said the bureau is investigating whether any government official leaked classified information to Mr. Chalabi or his group that found its way to Iran.

Why, ask Pentagon officials, would the Iranians disclose such a development in a cable they know will be read by the United States? Some suspect the whole episode is a plot by Tehran to discredit Mr. Chalabi, a Shi'ite who opposes Tehran's hard-line, Shi'ite theocracy.

Brooks moving
The public probably remembers Army Brig. Gen. Vince Brooks as the face and voice of the war to topple Saddam Hussein. From a media center in Qatar, Gen. Brooks delivered a spare, just-the-facts war briefing to an international press corps.

After the war, the general moved from U.S. Central Command back to the Pentagon's Joint Staff. Now, we hear he is returning to the profession of public affairs. Next month, he becomes deputy chief of Army public affairs.

Fay report
Maj. Gen. George Fay, the Army's top intelligence officer, has returned to the United States to write his report on how his soldiers interrogated enemy detainees at Abu Ghraib prison and at other detention facilities.

The report is much anticipated by the press and the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will likely call Gen. Fay as a witness before the ink is dry. His investigation is called a "Procedure 15" the Army regulation for investigating how intelligence is collected.

Gen. Fay, relying on a staff of more than two dozen investigators who have interviewed soldiers in Iraq and Germany, will hopefully be able to outline the full scope of the scandal. He might be able to say whether the abuse of prisoners during interrogations was limited to a relatively few soldiers at Abu Ghraib, and to some sporadic cases at other facilities.

One Pentagon official said he thinks most of the misconduct at Abu Ghraib occurred on two nights and involved about a dozen soldiers.

Gitmo
Pentagon officials say they anguished over the rules for interrogating terror suspects at the war's first central holding center the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

President Bush decided that as terrorists the detainees from the Afghanistan battlefield were not specifically covered by the Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war. But they decided to abide by the guarantees. Still, officials decided they could allow techniques that put stress on al Qaeda members, such as sleep deprivation, management of light and darkness to disorient them, and temperature fluctuations.

In the end, intelligence collectors, who included personnel from foreign governments, learned volumes about the identify of al Qaeda members and how the organization operates. Most of the information on planned attacks was garnered at coalition headquarters at Baghram, north of Kabul, before the detainees were flown to Guantanamo.

Personnel shift
Pentagon speechwriter Mark Theissen, who has spent the past three years crafting speeches for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, has moved on to the White House. Mr. Theissen, a former aide to retired Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, is now helping President Bush shape his election-year messages.

Also, Mark Esper, a deputy assistant defense secretary for negotiations policy, has moved on to Capitol Hill, where he once worked as a national security specialist for both the Senate and House. Mr. Esper has been hired by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to be director for national security affairs in that office.

Security breach
The Pentagon is one of the most secure buildings in the world. At least one intruder has been fatally shot in the hallway after attempting to reach the military command center several years ago. Security forces also constantly conduct electronic sweeps to make sure no electronic bugs are planted in the building.

But security police were unable to keep out one intruder who nearly reached Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's third-floor office. We spotted a 2-inch-long cicada at the foot of the escalator some 20 feet from the door to Mr. Rumsfeld's office. The red-eyed winged insect was spinning helplessly.

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


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