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May 11, 2007
Notes from the Pentagon

Wartime PC danger
E-mails from U.S. military officers in Iraq and Afghanistan have exposed an alarming, politically correct practice that is endangering the lives of troops serving in those conflict zones.

According to the officers, U.S. troops are being forced to carry unloaded weapons on most U.S. bases because commanders are more worried about a "negligent" discharge than the very real likelihood of a terrorist attack by an insider on the base. The rule is all the more disconcerting because these troops are in areas where they receive combat pay.

Defense officials say the fear of "negligent" weapon discharge is due to lack of training and is different from concerns about accidental discharge, which involves a mechanical malfunction that rarely occurs.

"This selection of political correctness and safety concerns over force protection contrasts markedly with combat experience in World War II, Korea or Vietnam, where soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines were required to be armed -- with loaded weapons -- at all times," one official said. "This is a gross failure of leadership, and in all likelihood has contributed to the U.S. casualty rate," the official said.

The officer in Iraq said the unloaded-gun rule is a symptom of bigger military leadership problems, especially in the Army.

"Unfortunately, many military leaders are little more than managers, and many of those have consciously chosen to reduce themselves to the level of permanent administrator, because it is safer for their careers than risking real decision-making," he said.

The officer warned that the leadership crisis in the Army is producing a "stilted, uninspired Army."

"Such a sterile, hyper-politicized, ponderous, disconnected Army is no match for an inspired, committed, agile, flexible force, even one smaller and less technologically sophisticated," he said of the Islamic terrorist enemy.

A soldier in Afghanistan said the no-loaded-weapons rule is true for bases there as well, adding that soldiers are required to unload weapons after returning from "Indian country."

"The idea that anyone, anywhere, would carry firearms for serious social interaction, yet do so with them in any condition other than ready to fire at a moment's notice, is so stupid no 'discussion' appears necessary, at least among the sane," the soldier said.

Obering collaboration
Defense officials say they are upset by recent comments made to Democratic congressional staffers by Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry A. "Trey" Obering III, director of the Missile Defense Agency.

Gen. Obering was asked during a private meeting with the Democratic staffers on the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee how much of a cut in money for a third missile defense interceptor site in Eastern Europe he could live with.

The three-star general told the staffers that his bottom line was $160 million, a total of $150 million less than President Bush requested for the interceptor site. The site is the focus of U.S.-Russian government wrangling and a target of anti-defense leftists in both Europe and the United States.

A week after the meeting, the subcommittee followed through with Gen. Obering's bottom line and cut the money out of the defense authorization.

"It's always interesting to see how money is cut from defense programs, but administration officials like Gen. Obering typically defend the president's budget request, not the demands of Democrats," said one specialist on missile defense who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"I guess it doesn't take much to satisfy the Iranian mullahs and House Democrats but Trey Obering's figured out how to do it," the official said.

Asked about Gen. Obering's meeting with the Democratic staff members, a Missile Defense Agency spokesman said: "Gen. Obering supports the president's budget request. It is still very early in the budget process, and we will continue to provide information to Congress on the importance of full funding for the radar and interceptor sites in Europe."

Gates backs warhead
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates recently dealt a political blow to anti-nuclear activists by informing Congress that he strongly supports efforts to develop a modernized nuclear warhead known as the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW).

Anti-nuclear activists say the warhead, an upgrading of the existing B-60 nuclear warhead, poses a proliferation risk and is undermining stability.

"Nuclear weapons continue to play a critical role in the defense of the United States, its allies and friends," Mr. Gates said in a letter to Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican. "Their unique capabilities contribute in vital and irreplaceable ways to the ability to deter adversaries and dissuade others from pursuing nuclear capabilities on their own."

Mr. Gates said in a May 4 letter to Mr. Domenici that the military requirement for a replacement warhead is "clearly defined" to support up to 2,200 strategic nuclear warheads and a reserve as a "hedge against future needs."

"I strongly support the RRW effort and believe it to be essential to supporting this requirement in the future with a smaller, safer, more reliable nuclear stockpile," he said.

The RRW will replace old warheads and upgrade them with advanced safety and security features.

Regarding claims that the warhead will undermine the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Mr. Gates said "nonnuclear-weapon states, such as Iran and North Korea, are undermining the nonproliferation regime with nuclear programs that are contrary to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and its safeguards."

He also left open the possibility that the United States might need to resume underground nuclear testing in the future but said the replacement warhead would decrease the need for future test blasts.

Henley passed over
U.S. intelligence analyst Lonnie Henley has been passed over for promotion to the position of national intelligence officer (NIO) for East Asia. The position of top U.S. government Asia and China analyst has gone to former CIA China analyst Paul Heer, who was appointed to the post by Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell.

The influential post is considered a key slot because the official in charge can exercise widespread influence over all analyses and research related to China.

China's rise continues to be a subject of debate among intelligence officials and academics who disagree on whether Beijing poses a current or future threat to the United States.

Mr. Henley and Mr. Heer both are considered to hold benign views of China, according to intelligence officials familiar with their work.

Mr. Henley is familiar to readers of this column for the reprimand charging him with "poor judgment" for supporting former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Ron Montaperto, who was convicted last year of improperly storing classified information and for passing top-secret intelligence to two Chinese military officers.

Mr. Henley wrote a letter to the judge in the Montaperto case urging a lenient sentence and also wrote an e-mail that was critical of the FBI for investigating Montaperto.

He is remaining as deputy NIO for East Asia.

Mr. Henley was favored for the top NIO post by National Intelligence Council Chairman Thomas Fingar, who officials say shares the views of Mr. Henley and Montaperto on China.

  • Bill Gertz covers the Pentagon. He can be reached at 202/636-3274 or at

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