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November 1, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

Hamas threatens U.S.
U.S. intelligence agencies are on the lookout for terrorists from the Palestinian group Hamas to carry out attacks in the United States. The group has been blamed for numerous deadly bombings in Israel.

An intelligence report sent to Bush administration officials recently said the group, also known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, is expanding outside Israel and targeting the United States, according to intelligence officials.

"Hamas is planning operations in the U.S.," one official told us.

Hamas was formed in 1987 as part of the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Islamic group. It is based primarily in the Gaza Strip and some areas of the West Bank.

The group has not carried out attacks outside Israel but does fund raising abroad, including in Europe and the United States. It is backed financially by Iran, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states.

A U.S. official said the intelligence report is "uncorroborated," but noted that the threat "is something to be taken seriously."

Xiong and Feith
The Pentagon is set to resume high-level military contacts next month when Lt. Gen. Xiong Guangkai will lead a Chinese military delegation to a new round of what the Pentagon calls Defense Consultative Talks. Gen. Xiong, head of the Chinese general staff intelligence arm, will meet Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, Dec. 9, defense officials said.

The general is well known as a Chinese communist hard-liner who in 1995 tacitly threatened to incinerate Los Angeles with a nuclear missile if the United States were to defend Taiwan in a conflict between the island and the mainland.

Gen. Xiong also is said to be the leading candidate to replace Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian as part of leadership changes expected to begin after the major Communist Party congress set to being next week.

A defense official said the agenda for the high-level talks the first meeting of its kind since China detained the crew of a downed EP-3 surveillance aircraft last year will be different than in the past.

"It will be more of a big-picture strategic dialogue" on areas of agreement, like countering terrorism and dealing with North Korea's nuclear-arms program. Past meetings were focused on setting agendas for military exchanges and visits, which critics said often helped to boost China's military capabilities while providing little of value to the U.S. military.

Defense bill
The 2003 defense authorization bill remains locked down in a House-Senate conference. Lawmakers cannot agree on a politically touchy issue for military veterans the amount of retirement pay due to someone also collecting disability checks.

But if the bill ever does become law, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld will get two new offices he says he needs to fight the war on terrorism.

Congressional sources say conferees have agreed to create a new undersecretary for intelligence to manage the reams of information funneling through the Pentagon each day. Also approved is a new assistant secretary for homeland security.

Diesel Navy
The nuclear submarine community within the U.S. Navy is continuing to try and fight off any effort by American shipyards to build diesel electric submarines for Taiwan, or for the U.S. Navy.

In response, John J. Young, assistant Navy secretary in charge of acquisition, recently fired off a memorandum mandating that a U.S.-built diesel submarine be included in all options presented to Taiwan's government. The United States has agreed to help Taiwan buy up to eight such submarines. Mr. Young stated that, "lt is highly desirable that Taiwan submarine program options include approaches which provide for both hull and combat system construction in the United States. I endorse fully such an approach, and I very much hope that U.S. yards build part or all of some or all of any submarines that Taiwan buys."

Mr. Young also said the Navy should not view foreign construction of submarine hulls for the Taiwanese as "preferable."

"Navy officials should not actively encourage plans to build solely outside the U.S.," he said. "The program policy is that there is merit to completing some portion of the construction in U.S. yards, especially in recognition of the U.S. effort to support the design, development and procurement."

The memo was partly directed at Adm. Frank L. "Skip" Bowman, director of the naval nuclear-propulsion program and the guardian of the all-nuclear submarine force established by the late Adm. Hyman G. Rickover.

Nuclear submariners want the diesel boats made overseas, for Taiwan only.

The anti-diesel officers fear building diesel submarines, which are about one-fourth as expensive as nuclear-powered boats, could jeopardize their plans to keep the U.S. submarine force all-nuclear. Pentagon officials may become enamored of cheaper diesel ships and order the Navy to start buying them.

Other Navy officials want to end the monopoly on nuclear submarines and move toward a mix of diesel and nuclear submarines.

Two Republican senators agree with Mr. Young. Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, both from Mississippi, wrote to Rear Adm. J. Phillip Davis, the Navy's submarine program officer, urging the Taiwan diesel boats to be built in the United States.

"Fabrication of these submarines within the United States is consistent with Navy policy and would enhance the stability of our shipbuilding industry," the senators wrote Oct. 4.

Mississippi is home to Northrop Grumman's Ingalls shipyard, which would be likely to build any U.S. diesel electric submarines for the Taiwanese. The submarines are needed to bolster "Taiwan's security and defense of its sea lanes of communications," they stated.

Strom's arsenal
The military branches are discussing the idea of naming weapon systems after Sen. Strom Thurmond, the former Senate Armed Services Committee chairman who turns 100 on Dec. 5.

The Air Force is thinking of naming a C-17 airlifter "The Spirit of Strom Thurmond," when it is delivered to his home state 437th Airlift Wing in South Carolina.

Mr. Thurmond, long a friend of men and women in uniform, is retiring from the Senate after eight terms.

CINC out
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld officially has banished the title "commander in chief," or CINC, for his top commanders. From now on, according to an Oct. 24 memo, only the president carries the prestigious constitutional title of commander in chief. Those who head combatant commands such as U.S. Central or U.S. European will simply be called "commander."

Never one to waste a dime, however, Mr. Rumsfeld has grandfathered in any stationery bearing the CINC label.

"Utilization of current material (signs, stationary, etc.) for military officers that indicates the title 'commander in chief' is permitted until supplies are exhausted, or until the next regular maintenance period during which signage may be changed without any undue additional cost to the taxpayers," Mr. Rumsfeld wrote.

This is not the first time the defense chief has changed the Pentagon lexicon to clarify things. In January, he banned the term "national command authorities" when referring to the president, the defense secretary and surrogates.

Instead, Mr. Rumsfeld directed that writers of memos and deployment orders simply say "defense secretary" or "president."

Next generation
The flying Ault family is keeping the streak alive.

Last week, Ensign Jonathan C. Ault received his Navy wings, becoming the fourth generation of U.S. military pilots. His dad is retired Navy Cmdr. Jon F. Ault, who flew the F-14 Tomcat. His father is retired Navy Capt. Frank W. Ault, who commanded the carrier USS Coral Sea. His dad was Ralph F. Ault, a Army Signal Corps pilot in World War I.

  • 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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