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September 7, 2007
Notes from the Pentagon

Pakistan problems
Pentagon counterterrorism officials are growing more and more frustrated with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf over his continued refusal to allow U.S. forces and personnel to conduct military and paramilitary strikes against al Qaeda terrorists in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

The 10,507-square-mile region bordering Afghanistan is one place al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his key aides are thought to be hiding.

The Pakistani leader is refusing to permit U.S. attacks because of pressure from Islamists in his own government.

One big problem is the Pakistani intelligence service, known as ISI. "The ISI is playing a double game," said one Pentagon official who noted that Islamist elements of the service are backing America's terrorist enemies.

Following the recent rise in anti-government violence in Pakistan, the State Department is trying to broker political changes in the Islamabad government that some in the Pentagon say will likely further destabilize Gen. Musharraf's regime.

One plan is to arrange some type of political arrangement with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who is said to be popular in the country, and who could return in the near future. Another former leader, the exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, also will soon head back to Pakistan, perhaps as early as next week.

Intelligence sources said Gen. Musharraf is ready to accept Mrs. Bhutto's return, but not that of Mr. Sharif. Indications are that Gen. Musharraf has a military aircraft ready and waiting to force Mr. Sharif out of the country as soon as he tries to come back.

Gen. Musharraf, a key Washington ally despite the problems, seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1999 that sent Mr. Sharif into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Iraq progress report
A major political event unfolding Monday will be the report to President Bush by Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker.

A senior military officer said there will be no written presentation to the president on security and stability in Iraq. "There is no report. It is an assessment provided by them by testimony," the officer said.

The only hard copy will be Gen. Petraeus' opening statement to Congress, scheduled for Monday, along with any charts he will use in explaining the results of the troop surge in Baghdad over the past several months.

That testimony will follow the meeting of the president, Gen. Petraeus and Mr. Crocker at the White House.

Gen. Petraeus is expected to tell the president the surge is working but that more work is needed. He is not expected to recommend withdrawing significant numbers of U.S. troops, as the U.S. troop presence is still needed to bolster the slowly growing Iraqi security forces' capabilities.

The picture presented by Mr. Crocker will be critical of the new Iraqi government for not doing more to foster political stability.

Soft on China
President Bush left no doubt at the Asia summit in Australia this week that his administration is following a conciliatory, pro-business policy line toward China.

On Wednesday, a day before meeting with China's leader, Mr. Bush was asked whether he would raise the issue of a Chinese military computer attack on the Pentagon in June that got inside an e-mail system close to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

The president said "I may" discuss the matter with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

But a post-meeting briefing by White House officials revealed that Mr. Bush did not broach the subject, much to the concern of Pentagon officials. "There was no discussion of that," National Security Council aide Jim Jeffrey said of the computer attack.

The president repeatedly has called relations with China "complex" but has avoided all criticism of China's military activities, including the provocative anti-satellite missile test in January, and growing Chinese information warfare capabilities. He has limited criticism of China's repressive political system to its lack of religious freedom.

"It's the Goldman Sachs China policy," said one defense official, referring to former Goldman Sachs executives Henry M. Paulson Jr., now Treasury secretary, and Joshua B. Bolten, White House chief of staff.

The pro-China policy is also said to be the result of advice from other key White House aides and senior U.S. intelligence officials intent on playing down the growing threat from China.

The Pentagon officials said the failure to press the Chinese on the computer attacks sent the wrong signal to Beijing, and will prompt stepped-up computer probes, which in the past included damaging and costly penetrations of networks at an Air Force records system in Texas, National War College computers in Washington, and the Naval War College network in Rhode Island.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell sought to play down the Chinese origin cyber-attacks. "I'm not going to get into who attacked us and how they attacked us," he told reporters Wednesday. "I will say this: I mean, there has been ... an attack on our computer system here."

A Pentagon official later said that Mr. Morrell misspoke in calling the activity an "attack" and that he should have referred to the computer-based intrusions by the more benign term "probes."

Asked Wednesday whether China's aggressive computer attacks have been raised during the numerous U.S.-China military exchanges, Mr. Morrell said he is not aware that any of the high-ranking military visits included discussions of Chinese military hacking.

No-name phone book
What organization but the Defense Department would publish a telephone directory without any names? The Pentagon phone book for decades was a mainstay of beat reporters who could quickly look up officials and dial them up.

No more.

For the past several years, the phone book was published but without any names, only office numbers. Those with access to military computers can use an online version with names.

"You can call up an office, but you won't know who you're calling," said one defense official.

The listing for secretary of defense includes only "Hon. ..." for the Honorable Robert M. Gates.

The reason?

"Opsec," the official said, referring to the catchall phrase for "operations security," which is designed to keep spies and terrorists from learning secrets.

  • Bill Gertz covers the Pentagon. He can be reached at 202/636-3274.

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