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July 5, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

Al Qaeda web sites
U.S. intelligence agencies are closely monitoring several Internet sites believed to be used by Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda terrorist network to communicate and spread propaganda, defense officials tell us.

Several Web sites have been shut down by the United States since last year, including the Al Neda, or the Call ( That site was put out of action after U.S. security officials went to the server and ordered it closed.

Al Neda had been a major outlet for al Qaeda. It has run propaganda videotapes of bin Laden and played an audiotape recently by his spokesman, Suliman Abu Ghaith, who late last month promised again more terrorist attacks.

After the plug was pulled on Al Neda, the site immediately popped up at another Internet address, and that site, too, was shut down. Many of the sites are operated by Islamic or pro-Islamic companies in Southeast Asia.

Recently, one al Qaeda Web site presented a criticism of bin Laden spokesman Abu Ghaith for supposedly promising more terrorist attacks but failing to deliver. The site stated in a commentary that Islamic law requires Muslims who make threats to carry them out.

The message has prompted the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and other intelligence services to begin looking closer for signs of an impending attack.

Office shakeup
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, raised the strongest objections privately to a Bush administration request to create a new assistant defense secretary for homeland defense.

Senate sources say Mr. Levin worried that putting the new official in control of the office of Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (SOLIC), as planned, could send the wrong message about the military's involvement in domestic security.

The senator also believed the special-operations community has done well with its own advocate inside the Pentagon an assistant defense secretary. The post would be downgraded and folded into the new homeland Pentagon office, under the White House plan.

One compromise: create the new homeland assistant secretary, while maintaining SOLIC's independence in a separate office, as it is now. But Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is said to be wary of adding to the bureaucracy.

Mr. Levin balked at putting the new position in the Senate's just-completed version of the 2003 defense bill. A deal may be worked out in a House-Senate conference this summer.

The Senate has agreed to a Pentagon request to create an intelligence czar for better coordination of information flow in the war on terrorism.

Continuing education
Vice Adm. John Nathman, who oversees the training and deployment of Navy carrier aviators, has sent a pep-talk message to commanders.

The admiral said he is looking at ways to improve education opportunities for aviators, while making sure they make the right career stops along the way. The program includes access to online courses.

"The intent is straightforward," Adm. Nathman said. "But the path is challenging in providing our aviation leadership with imbedded professional education and joint tours while supporting the right aviation-career experience."

"I will close with my thoughts on something we must value dearly the diversity of our aviation force," he added. "This is much more than just looking like America does demographically. Diversity brings with it the pull of our service to attract the best and brightest. The growth of the men and women with whom we serve and lead is dependent on the heart and spirit of naval aviation. Your leadership is manifestly better if we improve the individuals' sense of self-worth, sense of belonging, sense of responsibility and accountability and their sense of equality."

Speicher update
The Pentagon's Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office is on the hot seat. Critics say the office is dragging its feet in responding to an Iraqi government offer to allow a delegation of U.S. officials to go to Iraq and investigate the case of missing Navy pilot Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher.

Pentagon officials tell us the office, known as DPMO, has been put in charge of handling the Speicher case.

The Iraqi government announced on its official radio in March that it would allow a team of U.S. investigators to visit Iraq to resolve the case of Cmdr. Speicher. He was declared killed in action after his aircraft was shot down over Iraq in 1991. Then last year, Cmdr. Speicher was reclassified as missing in action based on new intelligence.

The White House and Pentagon both have said through spokesmen that they are interested in determining the fate of Cmdr. Speicher. But three months later, the Pentagon, through DPMO, has not given any response to the Iraqis, we are told.

Larry Greer, a DPMO official, said the Iraqi invitation "is still being evaluated" and the office is waiting to hear from senior Pentagon officials about what to do next.

Meanwhile, Congress is growing impatient. The Senate last week passed an amendment to the defense-authorization bill requiring written reports on the Speicher case every three months.

"It's apparent that we, as a nation, haven't done all we can to find out what happened to Scott Speicher," said Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, who sponsored the amendment.

More China wars
Conservatives in government are said to be worried that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is about to undermine the Pentagon's new and more realistic stance toward communist China.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is said to be leading the search for a replacement for the outgoing deputy assistant defense secretary for East Asia, Peter Brookes, who announced last month he is quitting. Mr. Wolfowitz has more than a dozen resumes.

Two of the candidates to replace Mr. Brookes are both viewed as part of the soft-on-China, anti-Taiwan policy community.

The first is said to be Michael Green, an adviser to the Pentagon during the Clinton administration and currently a Japan specialist on the White House National Security Council (NSC) staff. The second is Karen Brooks, a Clinton administration political appointee at the State Department, who is currently a Southeast Asia specialist at the NSC.

Mr. Wolfowitz is said to be consulting closely with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and James Kelly, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia, in selecting a new deputy assistant for East Asia, the top China policy slot at the Pentagon.

"It looks like we're going to get a State Department lackey-type in that job," said one U.S. official. The official added that he hopes Mr. Rumsfeld will pick a conservative China hand who better represents the secretary's approach on Beijing-related issues.

Meanwhile, the White House is holding up release of the Pentagon's annual report to Congress now two years late on the military balance across the Taiwan Strait.

Release of the report, which was completed months ago, was delayed to avoid offending Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao during his visit in May. It was delayed again to avoid upsetting the recent visit to China by Assistant Defense Secretary Peter Rodman, who returned from Beijing last week. An administration official said the Pentagon would release the report in the near future.

Rummy's 70th
We recently asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld how he planned to celebrate his 70th birthday Tuesday.

Mr. Rumsfeld is a serious man and a demanding boss. But he also likes a good laugh. The question prompted him to imitate an elderly man walking gingerly with a cane. "If I can make it home today," the "elderly" Mr. Rumsfeld joked.

The laughter over, he responded to the query about birthday plans: "No, nothing special. I played squash last night, though."

He said he managed a tie against a younger opponent, who happened to be sitting in on the interview.

  • 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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