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April 19, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

No coup
Pentagon officials are furious with what they consider inaccurate media reports that have accused someone in the building of urging opposition generals in Venezuela to stage a coup. Officials tell us their message to the Venezuelan military was exactly the opposite: "No coup."

That forceful statement was delivered on Dec. 18 at the Pentagon, in Spanish, by Roger Pardo Maurer, assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs, to Gen. Lucas Romero Rincon, the chief of Venezuela's armed forces. Gen. Rincon did not take part in last week's short-lived coup.

Officials familiar with the meeting said Mr. Maurer himself brought up the subject of a potential coup because of rumors out of the South American country that the military might move to oust left-wing President Hugo Chavez.

"The [Department of Defense] gave Rincon a very clear statement. No coup," said one official. "Under no condition would we condone a coup against him or anything unconstitutional."

That is not to say the Bush administration wants Mr. Chavez to remain in power. It does not.

But officials assert the coup in fact hurt, rather than helped, that goal. They believe Mr. Chavez was on a self-destructive course. He was arming civilians "Bolivarian Circles" to conduct, literally, class warfare against his opponents. He was also forming alliances with the world's rogue leaders, such as Fidel Castro. His rhetoric was taking his country from democracy to a dictatorship.

The hope was that Mr. Chavez would lose power through constitutional means via the Supreme Court or the parliament. Thus, the Bush policy was to maintain close ties to the democratic opposition and publicly criticize Mr. Chavez's erratic rule.

The military's installed leader, Pedro Carmona, made a fatal mistake by dissolving parliament, creating a public backlash that forced him from power in 24 hours.

"He immediately surrounded himself with people who invoked fear in Venezuela," said another official. "Obviously, this coup was very poorly coordinated. It caught the democratic opposition by surprise. It caught us by surprise."

DIA's mole
The CIA has Aldrich Hazen Ames and the FBI has Robert Philip Hanssen. Now the Defense Intelligence Agency has Ana Belen Montes one of the few communist ideological spies since the Rosenbergs.

Intelligence officials said the DIA is digging out of the extremely damaging case. A damage assessment is under way and the preliminary results are not good.

According to one intelligence official, in one incident, Montes showed up at CIA headquarters for a top-secret meeting of CIA operations officials who were discussing recruited CIA informants in Cuba.

Montes, as an analyst, was not supposed to be in the meeting, but she forced her way in and CIA officials didn't have the presence of mind to kick her out. The violation of the so-called need-to-know principle something Montes did not have compromised CIA operations in Cuba.

At least four recruited agents were betrayed by Montes, U.S. officials said. But the damage is much deeper. She was able to provide the Cuban DGI intelligence service with mountains of useful intelligence and a range of other issues.

Montes was the DIA's top intelligence analyst for Cuba and Latin America, a position that gave her access to some of the Pentagon's most important secrets. And she operated undetected for 16 years.

Montes pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage on March 20. As part of a plea deal, she will get a 25-year jail term if she cooperates in revealing what she knows about Cuban intelligence operations. Sentencing is set for September.

Rummy's boy
Defense and military officials continue to be upset by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's special assistant, Stephen A. Cambone.

Mr. Cambone holds the nondescript title of principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy. But his power, as Mr. Rumsfeld's close adviser, stretches throughout the building.

Mr. Cambone has no defense experience and his only government service has been on a special commission in the late 1990s headed by Mr. Rumsfeld.

Officials say he is given to loud tirades during meetings with underlings, and berates senior military officers. However, whenever he meets with Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Cambone is said to become a mild-mannered bureaucrat.

Next commandant
The selection of Marine Corps Commandant James Jones to become the next supreme allied commander in Europe opens the door for Gen. Peter Pace to succeed Gen. Jones as the top Marine. Among other candidates are Gen. Carlton Fulford, the deputy commander of all U.S. forces in Europe, and Gen. Michael J. Williams, the assistant commandant and a career aviator.

Insiders say Gen. Pace, a lean, hard-bitten Marine who extols the Corps' ability to fight, is a favorite of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Mr. Rumsfeld last year recommended Gen. Pace for his current post as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation's second-highest-ranking officer.

One theory is that Mr. Rumsfeld wants to keep Gen. Pace on the Joint Chiefs and wants to keep Gen. Fulford on active duty. Under this scenario, the job would go to Gen. Fulford.

Gen. Pace is the first Marine to hold a Joint Chiefs leadership post. When confirmed by the Senate, Gen. Jones would become the first Marine to lead NATO in its 50-plus years.

Mr. Rumsfeld's unannounced selection of Gen. Jones comes at the same time he is naming several four-star officers, or commanders in chief, to run the armed forces' regional commands.

He and Army Secretary Thomas White have settled on Gen. John M. Keane, Army deputy chief of staff, to succeed the current chief, Gen. Eric Shinseki.

Gen. Shinseki does not retire for more than a year. Sources offer differing reasons for the early selection. Some said the selection was not meant as a slight toward Gen. Shinseki. Mr. Rumsfeld had several four-star commands to fill and had to decide now whether to assign one to Gen. Keane or keep him in place to succeed Gen. Shinseki.

But others said the defense secretary was not happy with the pace of transforming the Army into a lighter force and was sending that message to the current Army chief.

China and the Cobra
Two Senate Republicans are asking Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to reverse a Pentagon decision to let a "rogue's gallery" of nations, as the lawmakers called them, observe the military's upcoming Cobra Gold, a joint U.S.-Thailand exercise next month.

"There may be a sensible explanation for the Pentagon's decision to allow delegations from China, Vietnam, and Cambodia to observe the upcoming Cobra Gold," wrote Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Robert C. Smith of New Hampshire in a Wednesday letter to the defense secretary. "We say 'may be' but we're having a bit of trouble imagining what it could be."

The two asked whether inviting communist China affords "a militarizing adversary the opportunity to learn how we operate." They also asserted, in the form of a question, that allowing the Chinese top brass to observe alongside friendly nations sends "a clear message that China is a 'normal' country about whose behavior we are not really concerned. Won't this merely encourage a perpetuation of that misbehavior?"

On inviting Vietnam and Cambodia, Mr. Helms and Mr. Smith referred to the countries' hard-line rulers. "By pretending that we have common security interests with the likes of Hun Sen and Viet Minh, we are at once fooling ourselves and betraying those who are struggling for freedom in those two miserable countries," they wrote.

They say they are "puzzled" as to why Mr. Rumsfeld's staff would sign off on the recommendation from Adm. Dennis Blair, who heads U.S. Pacific Command, based in Hawaii. Conservatives view Adm. Blair, who retires in May, as soft on China.

China has accepted an invitation to attend the exercise in Thailand. Cambodia indicates it will send a delegation. Vietnam has not made a decision, according to a Pacific Command spokesman.

  • 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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