Return to

September 26, 2003
Notes from the Pentagon

Crash site
Government investigators reached Navy Capt. Scott Speicher's F-18 crash site in Iraq earlier this month, but found no evidence that would solve the mystery of whether the pilot is dead or alive.

The Washington Times obtained a secret Pentagon report earlier this summer that said no evidence to date had been found that could determine his fate. The report cast doubt on an Iraqi informant's veracity when he said he had seen Capt. Speicher alive in the mid-1990s. The report said the U.S. search team previously tried to reach the crash site after Baghdad fell, but was turned back by gunfire from Iraqi guerrillas.

The next step, according to a U.S. official, is to interview people in the town of Hit, a Sunni Muslim and Saddam Hussein stronghold southwest of Baghdad. There are unconfirmed reports that a shot-down allied pilot was taken there during Operation Desert Storm before being transferred to Baghdad. Iraqi gunners shot down Capt. Speicher's jet on the war's first day in January 1991.

Pakistani bomber jackets
The Pentagon has backed off issuing a waiver of "Buy America" provisions of U.S. law that would have allowed the military to purchase Pakistani goatskin for use in bomber jackets.

We reported last week that the Defense Department notified a U.S. leather tanner of its plans to buy Pakistani goatskins by waiving the so-called Berry Amendment that requires purchasing key components from U.S. manufacturers.

The leather is needed for 12,000 to 30,000 brown leather bomber jackets, a trademark for fliers from the Navy, Air Force, Marines, Army and Coast Guard. Several members of Congress pressured the Pentagon not to issue the waiver. They argued that the United States has plenty of suppliers of raw goatskins and tanners that can make the jackets.

Proposed changes to the Berry Amendment in the House version of the pending defense-authorization bill would include bomber-jacket leather in the buy-American law.

Stackpole out
The pro-China president of the U.S. Pacific Command's Center for Asian Security Studies is being replaced. We are told the decision not to renew the contract of retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. H.C. "Hank" Stackpole was made at high levels, possibly by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Gen. Stackpole has been under fire from conservatives in the Pentagon for his pro-China views for the past several years, a viewpoint that put him in good stead with the Clinton administration. That all changed with the Bush administration, which has taken a much more balanced approach to the China-Taiwan debate.

"He was a target from the very beginning" of the administration, one defense official told us.

Gen. Stackpole angered many conservatives by welcoming visitors from communist China while refusing to permit visitors from Taiwan to take part in the Asia center's activities, until he was forced to do so by senior Pentagon officials.

Pentagon officials said the Hawaii-based center's real problem is its pro-China bias and the anti-Bush policy views voiced by many of its resident think-tankers.

According to officials at the center, senior officials have attacked U.S. missile-defense plans, mirroring the position of the Chinese government, in not-for-attribution seminars.

The biased lectures present a false picture of U.S. defense policy, the officials said.

Gen. Stackpole recently criticized President Bush for identifying Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an "axis of evil." Gen. Stackpole contended the president made the remarks only because he is intent on disrupting U.S. relations in Asia.

Gen. Stackpole is not being fired, we are told, but will be eased out by the nonrenewal of his contract as president. The Pentagon is looking for a replacement among several candidates.

A spokeswoman for the center told us Gen. Stackpole has no plans to step down as president and plans to apply for his job again.

In a related development, another pro-China official is returning to the Pacific Command. Army Maj. Gen. Karl Eikenberry will join Pacom as the J-5, the director of strategic plans and policies.

Gen. Eikenberry, a former defense attache in China, was a key architect of the Clinton administration's failed military-exchange policy with China.

Socom responds
After first declining comment, an official from the U.S. Special Operations Command wrote us regarding the recent visit to the command by Stephen Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence.

Col. Sam Taylor, a spokes-man, said Mr. Cambone was greeted "warmly and enthusiastically" during his visit Sept. 3.

"Any report that infers that he was only treated politely out of respect for his position is misleading and inaccurate," Col. Taylor said.

Col. Taylor also said Mr. Cambone had a "working lunch" with some soldiers at the command and "asked if the soldiers had any issues or concerns where he might be able to provide assistance."

Pentagon officials told us that Mr. Cambone told a group of soldiers that the Pentagon needs fixing and that he is going to fix its problems.

Mr. Cambone is angling to become the "undersecretary of defense for operations," which would include both the intelligence and special operations portfolios, we are told.

Roche nomination
Pentagon officials are increasing speculation that the White House may pull the nomination of Air Force Secretary James Roche to be the next Army secretary.

The reason: His Senate confirmation hearing keeps getting delayed while investigations continue into the Air Force Academy sex scandal and a plan to lease refueling jets from Boeing.

Fact finder
Retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis, a prominent talking head on the Fox News Channel, filed this report on his trip to Iraq to check out the situation firsthand:

"Another great day in Iraq is completed. We flew to Mosul and joined the 101st Airborne at their palace. The division is doing great things to turn that region into a potential democracy. They have taken $30 million and invested it into thousands of projects that are quickly transforming that area into a safer and prosperous region. This is a great case study on how to build a new nation.

"We drove to the center of Mosul to meet the mayor and the vice governor of the province. No IEDs [improvised explosive devices] or mortar attacks, just a lot of Iraqis waving and smiling. We flew via Black Hawk to 4th Infantry Division HQs in Tikrit. The Sunni triangle is still dangerous but the division is making great strides.

"Like the 101st in Mosul, the 4ID is executing a plan to perfection and adjusting as appropriate. After a briefing in Saddam's favorite palace, we drove to the local government HQs where we met the governors of the three provinces controlled by the 4ID. I asked the governors what message they would give to America. One asked that we be patient. He promised that Iraq would rapidly improve and only America has the talent and resources to change Iraq into a shining light in the Mideast.

"After dinner with some soldiers who described recent mortar attacks and IED problems, we loaded on Black Hawks and flew to an airfield north of Baghdad and loaded on a C-130 and made a blacked out combat departure. Absolutely great trip. I've had little sleep but have thoroughly enjoyed the experience and no doubt understand the issues much better."

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

  • Inside the Ring Archives
    1999 Columns
    2000 Columns
    2001 Columns

    2002 Columns
    2003 Columns
    Return to