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January 11, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

China intercepts P-3
A Chinese jet flew within 500 feet of a U.S. P-3 patrol aircraft in the closest aerial encounter since the EP-3 incident April 1 near Hainan island. U.S. intelligence officials said the Chinese F-8 interceptor jet conducted the aerial maneuver with the P-3 maritime patrol craft over the East China Sea on Jan. 7.

The encounter is raising new concerns in the Pentagon that Chinese air force intercepts are becoming dangerous again. U.S. officials tell us the Chinese interceptors have been coming closer to U.S. reconnaissance aircraft over the past several months. The recent aggressive maneuvers are in stark contrast to the previous Chinese practice of keeping a distance of many miles when intercepting regular flights along the coast of China.

China's government had demanded an end to all U.S. reconnaissance flights as a price for the return of 23 U.S. military crew members who were taken hostage by the Chinese military following the incident on Hainan island. A Chinese pilot flew his F-8 into the EP-3 and nearly killed the crew. The aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan island. The Chinese pilot ejected and, according to Chinese press accounts, was eaten by sharks in the South China Sea.

Gun camera
The Pentagon is reticent about discussing how many pro-Taliban fighters it has killed since Oct. 7. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld refuses to give a figure for the number of enemy dead.

But military officers tell us that U.S. air strikes, and special-operations teams on the ground, have killed thousands in Afghanistan. A lot of it happened at night. If there is videotape of the killing, it's not likely to be shown at formal Pentagon press briefings.

We obtained one such documentary gun-camera film from an Air Force AC-130U Spectre gunship as it patrolled exit routes the night of Dec. 7 as Kandahar fell to anti-Taliban forces.

As "Spooky" hovers, gunners spot a loose convoy of pro-Taliban soldiers (perhaps a mix of Taliban militia and al Qaeda fighters) trying to get away. At first, the gunship unloads volleys from a 40mm cannon. We counted 20 explosions all around the vehicle. But the gunner can't score a bull's-eye.

The fighters inside realize it's just a matter of time before the aircraft scores a direct hit. Suddenly, the vehicle stops, and from the back, nine of the enemy come running out.

"The initial shooting with the 40mm was not all that good.At least, they got the vehicle to stop," said a military source who viewed the video. "One of the guys looks like he is a definite candidate for the Taliban 2004 Olympic track team."

As the fighters run toward another vehicle a few hundred yards back up the trail, the Spectre switches to its 25mm Gatling gun (1,800 rounds per minute). This time the gunner doesn't miss. The moving bodies disappear in a cloud of dust.

Politically correct Army
The political correctness of the Clinton administration may be coming back to haunt the Pentagon. An official tells us the Army in 1998 produced a "force-protection" video guide that lectured soldiers that terrorism was a relative term.

"It is one of the most politically correct, apologetic, anti-American diatribes I've ever seen," the official told us. "You'd think it was produced by al Qaeda. It begins by stating that the 'Christian Crusaders' were terrorists in their time."

The Army video also puts forth the notion that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, pointing out that French resistance fighters in World War II were terrorists because they blew up bridges during Nazi occupation. The analogy is upsetting because the U.S. Army provided assistance to the French fighters, and bridges are legitimate military targets in military operations.

"The video describes terrorists in the most complimentary terms, calling them 'highly motivated, very disciplined individuals who regard us as legitimate combatants,'" said our informant. "This suggests good faith beliefs by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda legitimizes their actions."

The Army video is not just politically damaging. It is expected to cause legal problems for the Pentagon and Justice Department in their efforts to prosecute terrorists involved in the Pentagon and World Trade Center attacks.

CIA China failure
The CIA released an embarrassing report this week in its in-house journal showing, once again, how CIA analyses of China are not only flawed today but were wrong in several aspects during the Korean War.

We reported recently that a panel of outside experts had found an "institutional predisposition" by CIA hands in China to underestimate Chinese military developments. The CIA rejected the criticism.

Now CIA operations officer P.K. Rose, writing in the current issue of the CIA journal "Studies in Intelligence," has exposed a major CIA failure during the Korean War to predict Chinese intervention in the conflict, which he described as a "blunder" that proved to be deadly for U.S. troops.

Throughout China's military buildup on the North Korean border, the CIA refused to believe intervention would take place. On Oct. 12, 1950, CIA Office of Records and Estimates Paper 58-50 stated: "While full-scale Chinese Communist intervention in Korea must be regarded as a continuing possibility, a consideration of all known factors leads to the conclusion that barring a Soviet decision for global war, such action is not probable in 1950."

In the weeks leading up to the Chinese invasion, "numerous intelligence reports indicated Chinese preparations for military intervention," the author stated.

When Chinese military forces began moving into North Korea on Oct. 13 and 14, 1950, the CIA still refused to believe an invasion was imminent. On Oct. 15, the CIA's Daily Summary stated that "China had no intention of entering the war in any large-scale fashion," and agency analysts also adopted the conclusion that the troops were there "to protect the hydroelectric plants along the Yalu River that provide power to the Manchurian industrial area."

Astonishingly, even after the massive Chinese assault was launched, the CIA refused to believe the 498,000 Chinese regular army troops and an additional 370,000 security troops were part of an invasion.

As U.S. military intelligence from the region reported 12 Chinese divisions in Korea, "On 24 November, however, National Intelligence Estimate 2/1 stated that China had the capability for large-scale offensive operations but that there were no indications such an offensive was in the offing," the article said.

"That same day, the second Chinese offensive started, leaving the 8th Army fighting for its life and most of the 1st Marine Division surrounded and threatened with annihilation," the article said.

Four House members have asked Navy Secretary Gordon England in a letter to explain why the Navy decided not to send the carrier USS John F. Kennedy, and its battle group, to Vieques for live-fire training.

The Kennedy is scheduled to leave its Mayport, Fla., port soon for the Arabian Sea near Afghanistan. The uniform chiefs of the Navy and Marine Corps had asked Mr. England in writing to let the battle group go through live-fire training on the Puerto Rican island, where protesters oppose any further Navy training.

In the end, the Navy decided to have the Kennedy group practice at East Coast ranges, avoiding a political confrontation that the White House does not want.

The congressional letter states, "You denied them the ability to gain this invaluable training on Vieques despite the specific request of the chief of naval operations and the commandant of the Marine Corps without identifying an equal or superior location. We have been informed that your non-support has forced the battle group to use less suitable ranges on the East Coast, where they will not be able to acquire the level of realistic training that may potentially save the lives of our men and women in combat. Why?"

The letter was signed by four Republicans: Reps. Dan Burton of Indiana, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee; Bob Barr of Georgia; Christopher Shays of Connecticut; and Adam H. Putnam of Florida.

A Navy spokesman said the decision not to conduct a final training tune-up on Vieques was made by the Atlantic Fleet, not Mr. England. A former Clinton administration official who fought to keep Vieques open to the Navy told us the decision sends the signal that the Navy doesn't really need Vieques as much as it contended during the past two years of rancorous debate.

  • 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

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