Return to

February 9, 2007
Notes from the Pentagon

Snipers in Iraq
U.S. intelligence agencies have built their own version of the famous Russian-designed AK-47 assault rifle for use by American snipers in Iraq.

The snipers are firing at one form of deadly insurgent and terrorist attack, the so-called "spray and pray" method used by those who try to sow terror by emerging from hiding and firing a machine gun randomly into crowds.

The special U.S. snipers have used .50-caliber long-range rifles for killing terrorists. Now, they are using the modified AK-47s to kill insurgents without a normal shot to the head.

Instead, snipers are killing insurgents with shots to the heart, and creating dissension and doubt in the groups over who is behind the sniping. The 7.62 mm round used by the AK-47 differs from the 7.62 mm sniper round used in normal U.S. sniper ammunition and creates a different wound.

When the history of the war on terrorism is written one day, historians no doubt will credit risk-averse lawyers with making the war longer.

Legal restrictions are hampering soldiers from defending themselves in the streets of Baghdad and are limiting the effectiveness of secret operations by special operations forces and intelligence personnel, defense officials say.

One Special Forces commando stated that the lawyers are risking lives in Iraq because of confusing written rules on when troops can fire weapons in "Escalation of Force" cases, that is, combat against insurgents and al Qaeda terrorists. "Escalation of force is ridiculous over there," the commando said. "If an EOF occurs and a weapon is fired, it is to be reported so 'a 15-6 investigation' can be initiated."

An Army Regulation 15-6 investigation requires a commanding officer to gather evidence, interview witnesses and write a report every time a weapon is fired, a time-consuming and useless bureaucratic exercise in a war zone where numerous firefights take place almost every day.

New style
Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld liked to stand at his desk as he read papers and dictated memos. His successor, Robert M. Gates, who has a more laid-back style, says, "Frankly, I get tired when I stand up too long."

CIA brain drain
Stephen R. Kappes, the deputy CIA director, told a group of former intelligence officials recently that the agency is facing the loss of large numbers of its most experienced intelligence officers, who are leaving the agency.

Mr. Kappes, who resigned in protest in 2004 only to be called back as deputy to the CIA director, Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, said the CIA has made great strides in rapidly building up its work force of clandestine operators, adding hundreds in the past several years to the Directorate of Operations (DO) the espionage branch.

According to sources who heard him speak, Mr. Kappes said the only problem for the CIA is that the new officers are green. Although full of enthusiasm and dedication, they lack the kind of experience needed for recruiting and running agents, which only working undercover overseas for years can bring.

Mr. Kappes told the gathering that he is urging the large numbers of seasoned DO officers who are ready to retire that they must stay on and help train new officers. The agency is trying to reinvigorate its human spying capability, which officials say was gutted after a policy shift in favor of electronic and technical spying during the 1970s and budget cuts during the 1990s.

The new target is to spy on terrorist groups and, senior U.S. intelligence officials say, there is still no one close to the core of al Qaeda and its top leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri.

Mr. Kappes said the loss of the experienced officers could create a gap in the CIA's human spying capability, leaving the agency with many inexperienced officers but few veteran spies.

Under recent intelligence reform legislation, the CIA became the lead U.S. agency for such human-intelligence gathering. But critics say CIA managers, like Mr. Kappes, are stuck in the agency's Cold War mind-set and have yet to fashion and implement more creative ways to steal secrets.

Not fired
Add Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, to the list of those public officials and pundits who wrongly say that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld fired Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff.

Describing the dire Iraq situation at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week, Mr. McCain said, "It took us a long time to get where we are today. And I am do not believe that from the beginning, when General Shinseki's testimony before this committee was repudiated and he was removed from his job because he said we needed the sufficient number of troops that would have done the job throughout, we have paid a very heavy price in American blood and treasure in what the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the new commander of Centcom say is a, quote, 'failed policy.' "

The history: Gen. Shinseki, in response to questions from Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, did say before the war that he thought a larger force was needed to secure Iraq after an invasion. Paul Wolfowitz, who was deputy defense secretary at the time, later rebuked him at a House hearing. Rumsfeld-Shinseki relations were already poor because the two disagreed on Army transformation.

But Gen. Shinseki was not fired. He completed his full four-year term, with a full-honors retirement ceremony in 2003 at Fort Myer. Mr. Rumsfeld did not attend.

The column erred last week in its report on U.S. forces tracking and killing insurgents in the nighttime process of planting improvised explosive devices. It was not an Air Force AC-130 gunship that killed the bombers seen on a video clip. It was an Army Apache attack helicopter using its 30 mm chain gun.

An Army aviator e-mailed to correct the column and point out the complexities of the Apache's all-weather fire-control system.

  • 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
    2004 Columns
    2005 Columns
    2006 Columns
    2007 Columns
    Return to