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May 31, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

Mock invasion
U.S. intelligence officials have uncovered the war-game scenario for large-scale Chinese military exercises under way: An invasion of Taiwan.

Communist Chinese military forces, specifically the 12th Group Army, have massed along the coast. As many as 100,000 troops, armored vehicles and amphibious ships are in the region. The maneuvers are expected to continue for six months. They will coincide with upcoming elections in Taiwan, a sign Beijing is using the war games to intimidate the breakaway island.

The annual exercises are being watched closely by U.S. intelligence agencies because of recent tensions between China and Taiwan. Chen Shui-bian, president of the Republic of China (Taiwan), used the word "independence" recently in an interview with Newsweek magazine. He said Taiwan is ready for independence. Beijing has said it would use military force against Taiwan if the Taipei government makes such a declaration.

One unusual feature of the war games this year is that there has been no mention of military exercises in the state-controlled press on the mainland. The only mention to date has been from Wen Wei Po, a mainland-controlled newspaper in Hong Kong.

Intelligence officials are concerned that if war breaks out between India and Pakistan, which have massed troops on both sides of the border in disputed Kashmir, the Chinese military might use the war games to attack Taiwan.

Strong allies
The Bush administration has lined up support from most Persian Gulf nations for an invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein from power.

Our administration sources say no pledge of support is stronger than those from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The two oil-rich kingdoms long for the day Saddam is gone and they no longer have to worry about Iraqi invasion.

The UAE has promised continued use of airfields and ports, while Kuwait could be a staging ground. The U.S. Army has increased the tempo of desert exercises in Kuwait as a signal to Baghdad about preparations for an invasion.

High school recruiting
Deputy CIA Director John E. McLaughlin was the guest speaker Wednesday at graduation ceremonies for Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Bowie.

Mr. McLaughlin, a career analyst, told some 600 new graduates at the U.S. Air Arena that the intelligence business was not well-understood by the public. But intelligence officers are dedicated professionals. He suggested the students consider careers of public service.

As for the war on terrorism, Mr. McLaughlin said: "Our fight against terrorism will be long and difficult." He said the war was not against Islam, but against those who had adopted a "perversion of Islam" as the banner under which they conducted terrorist attacks.

Panda hugger
The Bush administration has adopted a much more realistic approach to communist China than the Clintonites.

It is selling advanced arms to Taiwan to address the military imbalance across the Taiwan Strait, while President Bush pledges to do "whatever it takes" to defend Taiwan.

Apparently, word of the tougher policy has not reached the State Department. The department's public diplomacy office (formerly the U.S. Information Agency) has sent former CIA analyst Robert Sutter on a tour of Asia for public "talks" in Japan, Australia, the Philippines and South Korea.

Mr. Sutter, a former Congressional Research Service analyst who stepped down last year as national intelligence officer for East Asia, expressed concern to friends in an e-mail that he had been asked to speak on "the China threat" in his talks in four Japanese cities.

Mr. Sutter, known as a dove in his intelligence analysis on China, promised to report back on how well he dissuaded audiences regarding "this apparent strong preoccupation with China among Japanese business, academic and media circles."

Thor E. Ronay, a China specialist with the Center for Security Studies, said Mr. Sutter is "an infamous panda hugger" who seems intent on "recalibrating our allies" over their concerns about China.

Mr. Ronay said Mr. Sutter once "so infuriated Congress with his cooked [National Intelligence Estimates] that they created the Tilelli Commission to review China analyses after he refused to bring in any dissenting academics."

The commission of outside China specialists, led by retired Army Gen. John Tilelli, sharply criticized CIA analysis on China. It found CIA analysts showed an "institutional predisposition" to dismiss China's threatening military buildup and other activities. The commission's classified report was suppressed by embarrassed CIA officials.

"It's so reassuring to know that our State Department is sending him around to disabuse those crazy Asians about their inordinate fear of communism with Chinese characteristics," Mr. Ronay said.

Almost worthless
We talked to a seasoned military commander about the sort of vague, unspecific intelligence reports he received periodically. How should President Bush react to such briefings, he was asked.

"The current press-generated angst over the fact that the president was reportedly told in August that al Qaeda might be planning hijackings is ludicrous," said the officer, who asked to remain anonymous.

"If you want to get to the bottom of this, do a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] on how many credible threats there have been related to hijacking over the past 20 years. I'd bet we received at least one such threat a month over a 20-year period. The question is what does a decision-maker do with such reports.

"Modern intelligence reporting is a lot like being a psychic. If you provide sufficiently vague reports that cover a sufficient degree of possibilities, then no matter what happens you can never be declared wrong. The tendency is for modern intel analysts to merely cover their [posterior]. Shifts the burden of guilt from the intel guy to the decision-maker.

"As a military commander, I received so many of these worthless, vague reports that I started to simply ignore them. You can't go to ground every time you get a report of a threat; you'd never come up for air.

"The alleged 'hijacking warning' was one such report. What do you do with this information? No time or place was given. Do you ground every airplane, worldwide? The Clinton administration received dozens of reports, but they were similarly without recourse. If you can't do anything with the info, then why the hell is the intel community providing us with this worthless stuff?"

New fleet commander
Navy Adm. Walter F. Doran, the new Pacific Fleet commander, is warning his sailors that they should be ready for the next big battle in the war on terrorism.

While not mentioning Iraq, Adm. Doran said in a fleet message, "Future surges will happen and we must be ready to produce when called. Our deliverable is a trained and equipped force aligned and ready for rapid, flexible action."

Carrier aviation played a major role in the first months of the war in Afghanistan, providing the lion's share of tactical air strikes to a landlocked country.

"The Asia-Pacific region is of vital importance to the Navy and the nation," Adm. Doran said. "The Pacific fleet is a keystone of stability in this vital region."

Done good
A senior officer just back from a tour in Afghanistan was asked what the military did right in executing the war.

He answered: Moving smart munitions to U.S. Central Command just as the carriers were running out of satellite- and laser-guided bomb kits; using the Navy's venerable P-3 patrol plane as a platform for special operations to radio enemy positions to troops below; and flexibility. Conventional forces supported Army Green Berets in the early stages of the war; later, special operation forces returned to their traditional role of backing up infantry in Operation Anaconda.

  • 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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