Return to

June 8, 2007
Notes from the Pentagon

Spy damage
China's acquisition of defense technology was highlighted in the plea deal reached this week in the case of a family spy ring of five Chinese agents in California.

Tai Mak, his wife, Fuk Li, and their son, Billy Mak, all pleaded guilty this week to charges related to the illegal export of defense technology to China. Court documents show the spy ring compromised sensitive data for Navy warships, submarines and aircraft carriers, the extent of which is still being investigated.

On Wednesday, the last member of the spy ring, Rebecca Chiu, pleaded guilty to being a Chinese agent. She is the wife of Chi Mak, a Chinese-born U.S. defense contractor and the central figure in the ring, who was convicted last month of conspiring to supply sensitive but unclassified defense technology to a Chinese intelligence agent identified as Pu Pei-liang.

A court document made public this week revealed that information involved in the case was extremely sensitive. It included data on the Navy's advance propulsion system called the Quiet Electric Drive to be used on both warships and submarines. One intelligence official said the system can make the huge engines sound "like a Lexus at idle."

The document stated that if the information reached China it would allow Beijing's military to track U.S. submarines and surface ships. The submarine data were described as "extremely sensitive information."

"By virtue of his employment as an electrical engineer with Power Paragon and its work for the United States Navy, coconspirator Chi had access to plans and other classified and sensitive technical information concerning U.S. Navy warships and submarines, some of which constituted defense articles," the document stated. "The People's Republic of China sought to obtain technical information about United States Navy warships and submarines to assist the PRC in its own efforts to develop a so-called blue water navy."

Other compromised data included information on the Navy's DDX next-generation destroyer and U.S. aircraft carrier programs, something China is interested in building.

Joel Brenner, a senior U.S. counterintelligence coordinator, said in a recent speech that Chi Mak had admitted he had passed information to the Chinese since 1983, and that the technologies compromised included the power distribution technology for the Aegis cruiser's radar system.

"This compromise is not small potatoes," Mr. Brenner said. "It shortens by years the technological advantage of the U.S. Navy. It degrades the Navy's deterrent capability in the Taiwan Strait. And it puts the lives of our sons and daughters in the Navy at risk. From a purely fiscal point of view, it also means the Chinese are leveraging the American R&D budget -- your tax dollars and mine -- in support of their own war-fighting capability."

Brain warfare
The Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community are studying ways to better understand the how and why of human behavior to help war fighters deal with insurgencies such as those in Iraq, likely future conflicts and other global problems, said national security specialist John Stanton.

Mr. Stanton has written a paper to be presented at a conference in Portugal next week on the new research area called "evolutionary cognitive neuroscience," (ECN) a subject that captured his interest after he read Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus' revised Army counterinsurgency manual. The manual identifies the fact that the U.S. military needs to learn more about brain behavior relationships in networked, social environments.

Studies in the area "may produce tools that advance humanity's ability to understand and manage itself," he stated.

On the downside, Mr. Stanton warned that the ECN research could lead to the creation of "neuroweapons" that "seek to turn the speed of thought into a weapon, or programs that blur the line between human and machine."

Among the potential weapons are "non-traceable neuroweapons with viral genetic payloads" that could "be used to disrupt the brain and central nervous system."

The field could help social scientists get information from prisoners of war during interrogation and could find ways to minimize violence and ethnic conflict, and prevent or manage warfare, pandemics and poverty.

Gates visit
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates made a stopover in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan and said the two nations are expanding military and nonmilitary cooperation.

That is bad news for Moscow and Beijing, which have been quietly working behind the scenes to have the U.S. military expelled not just from Kyrgyzstan but from other locations in Central Asia. China views the U.S. military presence as threatening strikes on China during any future conflict; Russia opposes the U.S. presence because it views Central Asia's former Soviet republics as its sphere of influence.

The U.S. operates an air base at Manas in Kyrgyzstan, which has come under criticism after an Air Force security officer fatally shot a civilian driving a fuel truck at an entry control point after he thought the truck was a vehicle bomb.

Asked about tensions over the base, Mr. Gates said: "I think what is important for the people of Kyrgyzstan to understand is that our use of Manas is in support of a larger war on terror in which Kyrgyzstan is an ally of virtually every other nation on Earth. We are all working to try and prevent a resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and our use of Manas is one way in which Kyrgyzstan can play a very important and constructive role in cooperation with many other nations, just not the United States."

Chinese military and security forces were in Kyrgyzstan last week as part of a counterterrorism exercise held as part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the grouping of Central Asian states, Russia and China that Beijing is using to expel U.S. forces from the region.

Senate hold
Pentagon officials say Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has derailed the promotion and the career of Col. Marc Warren, one of the Army's most capable lawyers, over false accusations related to the abuse of inmates at Abu Ghraib prison.

"It's a real tragedy, and an abuse of the Senate old boy unwritten system," a Pentagon official said. "An officer with highest integrity who commanded great respect in line and legal communities suffered for something with which he had no dealings."

Col. Warren worked with the special operations forces in highly sensitive positions, and word of his retirement spread quickly among the commando community. Investigators cleared Col. Warren of all claims he was involved in professional impropriety related to the Iraqi prison.

Still, Mr. Levin held up his nomination to promotion to brigadier general since 2005, and Col. Warren this week decided to retire. His last position was in the office of the Judge Advocate General for the Army. He was the staff judge advocate for Combined Joint Task Force 7 in Iraq and was involved in overseeing detention and interrogation policies.

A Levin spokesman could not be reached for comment.

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