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June 1, 2007
Notes from the Pentagon

U.S. carrier help?
Pentagon officials are hoping that members of Congress will notice that the senior admiral in charge of the U.S. Pacific Command set the stage for violating congressional limits on military exchanges with China by recently offering to help Beijing build an aircraft carrier.

Adm. Tim Keating, the U.S. Pacific Command leader, told reporters during his visit to China last month that while building and operating a carrier battle group is complex, the United States is willing to help.

"We would, if they choose to develop [an aircraft-carrier program], help them to the degree that they seek and the degree that we're capable, in developing their programs," Adm. Keating said.

The first of the 12 restrictions outlined in a 2000 defense authorization law bars all military exchanges with China that might enhance "force projection operations" of which aircraft carrier battle groups are the most visible. The law was enacted to limit military exchanges with China, which continues to view the U.S. as its main enemy, and to prevent visits that could help China build up its armed forces.

Capt. Jeff Alderson, a Pacific Command spokesman, said Adm. Keating is aware of the congressional restrictions.

"The offer of help was more philosophical, like how hard it is and the ramifications that a carrier would have on neighboring countries in the region," he said.

Officials who are concerned with China's arms buildup were sharply critical of Adm. Keating for the offer of help, calling the remark astounding and noting that China recently stole highly sensitive technology related to an advanced aircraft carrier catapult system through the spy ring headed by convicted Chinese agent Chi Mak, a defense contractor in California.

Critics say the comments are a sign that the U.S.-China military exchange program is spinning out of control under Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chief of naval operations, who recently hosted a visit to the U.S. by Chinese Adm. Wu Shengli. Adm. Wu visited a U.S. aircraft carrier -- a move that defense officials say may have been the starting point for the Chinese interest in U.S. help with developing a carrier.

Richard Fisher, a specialist on the Chinese military with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said the admiral's search for dialogue on carriers with China may be understandable, but that "Admiral Wu's reported expertise is in sinking American carriers, and the People's Liberation Army is deploying layers of anti-ship ballistic missiles, deep sea mines, submarines and cruise missiles for that job."

"So why on earth even suggest we can help China build carriers?" he said.

Gates speech
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrives in Singapore today for a speech tomorrow to the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, hosted by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies. Officials familiar with a draft of the speech say it will have little to say about Asia, much less China and its military buildup.

Instead, the secretary, unless he revised the remarks while flying across the Pacific, will focus on U.S. efforts to wage the global war on terrorism.

Pentagon officials said China was urged by U.S. officials to send a defense ministry-level official to the annual meeting, which will include a number of regional defense chiefs. The Chinese government declined.

During a stopover yesterday in Hawaii, Mr. Gates nevertheless called on Beijing to be more transparent and explain its military buildup.

"One of the central themes of everyone who is talking to the Chinese is more transparency," he told reporters. "Tell us more about where you're headed, what are your intentions. ... That's the real issue."

Submarine secrets
A new book by veteran defense reporter Ed Offley sheds light on one of the secrets of the not-so Cold War: the loss of the nuclear attack submarine USS Scorpion and its 99-man crew in the eastern Atlantic on May 22, 1968.

"The Scorpion sinking is not a mystery," Mr. Offley said in an interview. "It is a Cold War secret that has been buried by both the U.S. and Soviet governments since 1968."

Mr. Offley said the Scorpion was attacked by a torpedo fired by a Soviet submarine during an underwater battle, two months after the loss of the Soviet Golf-II-class submarine K-129 and all hands. Moscow had blamed that loss on overaggressive U.S. anti-submarine warfare efforts.

"What my findings demonstrate is that the Cold War at sea in 1968 erupted into overt hostilities that killed 99 American sailors and another 98 Russians, and could have easily sparked a superpower clash," he said. "I have attempted to provide the surviving relatives of the Scorpion crew that full accounting that they have been denied for the past 39 years."

According to his book, "Scorpion Down: Sunk by the Soviets, Buried by the Pentagon: The Untold Story of the USS Scorpion," the submarine did not blow itself up through an internal mishap or mechanical failure, as the official inquiry stated.

The evidence uncovered in the book revealed that the Scorpion was engaged in surveillance of a Soviet navy formation that included an Echo-II-class attack submarine. The Soviets had been alerted to the Scorpion's spy mission through the case of Navy radioman John A. Walker Jr., who provided Moscow with secret communications codes that let them track the Scorpion.

Another key piece of evidence is underwater sound recordings from sound surveillance system (SOSUS) sensors heard by two sailors that depicted "an underwater dogfight" between the Scorpion and a Soviet submarine "that ended when the Soviet torpedoed the American sub," Mr. Offley said.

"I interviewed both the student and his senior instructor on the record in detail, and both confirmed this incident; the tape had come from a fleet SOSUS unit and had apparently eluded a Navy-wide search and seizure of all Scorpion evidence by the Office of Naval Intelligence within days of the sinking on May 22," he said.

Africa Command
The U.S. military and other civilian government agencies are preparing to invest forces and people in Africa to deal with an array of issues ranging from fighting Islamic terrorism in the north to securing energy resources in the west to promoting stability and health issues throughout the continent, the commander of U.S. forces in Europe said.

Army Gen. John Craddock told reporters at a recent breakfast that the Africa Command will differ from other worldwide U.S. combatant commands in drawing on civilians from other government agencies, not just the U.S. military.

"What we are looking to do here is address the challenges of the African continent first," he said. "If you look at that continent, there are very few challenges, problems, that can be solved by Department of Defense and the military. Sure, there are some that we can help. We can enable. But it's other things. It's Health and Human Services, and it's Commerce, it's probably Justice with the trafficking, [Drug Enforcement Agency] type stuff. It's Energy, it's Agriculture. So there's a lot of equity here across the U.S. government's agencies and departments."

About 25 percent of the new command will be civilians, a number that could increase to as much as 50 percent. The European Command currently has most of Africa as its area of responsibility.

From a terrorism standpoint, al Qaeda poses a main target for the military in Africa, with the terrorist group moving into Chad, Niger and Mali, the four-star general said. The North African Islamist group Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, known as GSPC, recently changed its name to al Qaeda Islamists in Magrab.

"They're now a franchise," Gen. Craddock said, noting that the group has stepped up attacks and kidnappings in North Africa.

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

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