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August 9, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

Home alone
The Pentagon has given up on the idea of folding its policy office for special operations into a new homeland security bureaucracy.

The original plan was to take the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict (SOLIC), downgrade it to deputy assistant secretary and fold the office under a new assistant secretary for homeland security.

Word is Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld wanted the new office but also wanted to contain the bureaucracy's growth.

But in internal deliberations, Congress balked. Some did not like the demotion for SOLIC, especially since covert warriors are playing such a large role in the war on terrorism. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, objected to having a homeland office and commandos under the same bureaucratic roof. Seems it sent the wrong message about keeping the military out of domestic affairs.

The new plan: Leave the SOLIC office as is, but still create a separate homeland security boss. The Pentagon hopes a Senate-House conference on the pending 2003 defense-authorization bill will include the new office in its final product.

On another counterterrorism move, the Senate last month went along with creating a new Pentagon intelligence czar in the form of an undersecretary of defense for intelligence. House conferees are expected to go along.

Small-craft warnings
U.S. intelligence agencies are looking for up to seven small aircraft that have disappeared from a flight school in Louisiana over the past several months and are believed to have been stolen, possibly by terrorists.

Officials said they fear the small aircraft could be used in suicide terrorist operations inside the United States.

The aircraft thefts and the terrorist warning were reported in U.S. intelligence channels last month, we are told.

The FBI in the past year has begun investigating small aircraft based on intelligence reports from several years ago that indicated terrorists might use small aircraft to conduct attacks. They might fill an aircraft full of high explosives or drop a bomb containing radiological, chemical or biological agents.

Several of the hijackers involved in the September 11 attacks were part of a network of Islamic radicals who were learning to fly aircraft for attacks.

The FBI was warned about the threat in the now-famous July 2001 Phoenix memorandum sent by alert FBI Special Agent Kenneth Williams. He warned that a large number of Arab males were learning to fly aircraft and urged an investigation.

Meanwhile, Iran's government last week announced that it will soon be capable of producing multipurpose crop-dusting aircraft. It concluded an agreement with a Polish company to receive the technology and manufacturing equipment for the planes.

Tehran's official Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran network quoted the head of the Iranian aviation industry as saying that the first M-18 Dromader crop-spraying aircraft will be produced before the end of the year.

The Iranians plan to build 50 crop dusters over the next five years. The aircraft will be used in farming, firefighting and "other aviation purposes," the broadcast stated.

U.S. intelligence officials are concerned the Iranians will use the aircraft for chemical or biological weapons attacks, or will possibly transfer the aircraft to terrorist groups for such uses, we are told.

Chinese lobby
Officials of the Chinese Embassy have begun lobbying members of Congress to oppose a provision of the fiscal 2003 defense-authorization bill that calls for closer military ties between the United States and Taiwan.

The lobbying effort, according to U.S. government officials, has put the State Department in the unusual position of having the same policy position on the U.S. legislation as the communist government in Beijing.

We obtained a copy of the talking points drafted by State Department officials opposing the provisions of the defense bill. The department said the legislation is not needed because the United States already supports Taiwan's defense through the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.

One U.S. official said it is highly unusual that the State Department had written up its objections to a defense-related bill even before the Pentagon weighed in on the matter.

The defense-bill language calls for "strengthening the defense of Taiwan" by implementing a plan within three months after the legislation is enacted that would begin "comprehensive" joint operational training and exchanges of senior officers from the U.S. and Taiwanese militaries.

The joint training will involved a wide range of programs, activities and exercises focused on threat analysis, military doctrine, force planning, logistical support, intelligence collection and analysis, operational tactics, techniques and procedures, civil-military relations and other subjects.

The aim is to "improve the defensive capabilities of Taiwan and to enhance interoperability" between U.S. and Taiwanese forces.

The legislation also requires the secretary of defense to submit the plan to Congress in both classified and unclassified forms.

Officials at the State Department, including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Assistant Secretary for Asia-Pacific James Kelly oppose the legislation because it upsets China.

Pentagon officials are said to be debating whether to support or oppose the legislation.

The language is similar to the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act that Congress debated but never passed last year. That legislation was supported by Mr. Rumsfeld before he became secretary of defense.

Morale boost
Word that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld wants to accelerate the special-operations war against al Qaeda is boosting morale at the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan.

Led by an Army colonel, the task force is a mix of foreign and U.S. special-operations warriors. They are now doing the bulk of the fighting in Afghanistan as commandos search for al Qaeda and Taliban one, two and three at a time.

"It's our war now," is how task force members are viewing the Rumsfeld shift, according to our defense sources.

Last month, Mr. Rumsfeld ordered Gen. Charles Holland, who heads U.S. Special Operations Command, to come up with a comprehensive plan for commandos to find, kill or capture terrorists around the world. Gen. Holland briefed the defense secretary last week on the highly classified plan, which is called "the first 30 percent" inside the administration.

Mr. Rumsfeld is impatient with the pace of captures and kills, and wants a new commitment to aggressive missions in the field.

  • 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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