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August 23, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

Al Qaeda South
U.S. intelligence agencies have identified a group of Middle Eastern men in South America who are suspected of having ties to Islamic terrorists associated with Osama bin Laden.

The group is said to be part of the network of al Qaeda terrorists believed to be operating in about 60 nations around the world.

One U.S. intelligence official said there are indications that al Qaeda is working in Latin America in preparation for a future terrorist attack. Little is known about al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist activities in the region.

One of the men under suspicion in Brazil is Egyptian national Mohammed Ali Soliman, who was arrested in April. The Egyptian government believes Mr. Soliman is an al Qaeda member and has asked for his extradition to Egypt.

A second terror suspect is El Said Hassan Ali Mohammed Mokhles, who was arrested in Paraguay.

U.S. intelligence officials said both men are linked to Egyptian members of al Qaeda and were involved in the 1997 terrorist attack on tourists in Luxor, Egypt.

The men are also suspected of having links to terrorist attacks in Argentina against the Israeli Embassy in 1992 and a Jewish center in Buenos Aires in 1994.

U.S. intelligence agencies have identified at least 22 Islamic terrorists who are believed to be operating in the so-called tri-border area of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

Information about the activities of al Qaeda in South America was obtained by U.S. intelligence following operations in Afghanistan.

NATO's next
Gen. James L. Jones, Marine Corps commandant, was as surprised as the next person to learn he was the pick to go to Europe as the new supreme allied commander.

After all, most commandants serve a four-year term and retire. Gen. Jones says he and his wife were already discussing life after the Corps when he met with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. The agenda called for assessing the generals and admirals who might be good candidates for upcoming openings as regional commanders, such as the NATO post.

When the discussion ended, Mr. Rumsfeld asked whether Gen. Jones would be interested in going back to Europe he grew up in France and was stationed at U.S. European Command in the early 1990s. Assured that the defense secretary was serious, the commandant thought it over for a few days, discussed it with his wife, and then said yes.

"That was the only indication I had. No pre-warning. Nothing at all," Gen. Jones told us of his Rumsfeld meeting. "I came back a few days later and said if he really was serious about it that that was probably the one assignment that I feel I have a lot of passion for in terms of the alliance and my own background as a youngster growing up in Europe and having a lot of affinity for Europe and NATO."

Gen. Jones confirmed he has recommended several generals from which to pick the next commandant. Asked to name them, the general laughed and said, "They're wonderful officers. A group of highly talented people, any one of which would do a great job."

Marine sources say the next commandant likely will be one of five generals:

  • Lt. Gen. Emil R. Bedard, deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations.

  • Lt. Gen. Wallace C. Gregson, commanding general of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, with headquarters in Japan.
  • Lt. Gen. Michael W. Hagee, commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

  • Lt. Gen. Edward Hanlon Jr., commanding general, Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va.

  • Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

    Nearly every career Marine officer dreams of one day becoming commandant, a position second only to God in the Corps' pecking order. But Mr. Rumsfeld may want to keep Gen. Pace in his current post, where he has the special responsibility of overseeing the war on terrorism on a day-to-day basis.

    Naval air power
    As the Navy works on integrating Marine and Navy tactical air squadrons and braces for an explosion in weapons costs in 2007 and beyond, a few decisions already have been made inside the Pentagon.

    Our sources say the Navy plans to accelerate procurement of the F-18 Super Hornet. The service also wants to speed up development of the EA-18 Growler, which will replace the aging and overworked EA-6B Prowler electronic-warfare aircraft.

    On the readiness front, the Navy has achieved its flight-hour training goals for pilots for the first time in 10 years. This is a result of Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations, making improved combat readiness his chief goal.

    Legal readiness
    Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness, believes one reason she is being sued for libel by a former Navy combat pilot is to put her group out of business.

    Last week, Mrs. Donnelly won a major victory in the 6-year-old suit. A federal judge dismissed the case, ruling the former pilot, Carey Dunai Lohrenz, was a public figure and, as such, was not libeled by Mrs. Donnelly's claim that she received special treatment in F-14 fighter qualifications.

    Still, Mrs. Donnelly expects an appeal and more legal bills. To date, the fees have topped $500,000. She says she has paid every bill as it comes, thanks to more than 3,000 supporters, many of them retired or active-duty military people, who have contributed to her defense fund.

    Job switch
    Paul Schneider, a longtime figure in Navy weapons procurement, is leaving the sea service for a post at the National Security Agency, the nation's electronic eavesdropper.

    Mr. Schneider rose from an engineering job at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in 1965 to the No. 2 Navy civilian overseeing procurement, as its principal deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition (RDA).

    Navy headquarters is navigating choppy waters these days. Navy Secretary Gordon England has ordered a streamlining of the bureaucracy, and part of the plan calls for eliminating all deputy positions, such as Mr. Schneider's.

    A Navy document said he was to get a new job. "Paul Schneider will take direct responsibility for the critical budget and strategic planning functions of the RDA as these are two cross functional areas where his experience and talents can be brought to maximum use," the planning document says.

    But a Navy official said Mr. Schneider chose not to take this new job. In October, he will become the senior acquisition executive at NSA.

    In an e-mail to colleagues, Mr. Schneider said, "The recent SecNav-directed reorganization has resulted in a situation whereby I would be better professionally doing something else outside the Department of Navy I want to express my sincere thanks for all of your support throughout the years and especially the last four years that I have been in this position. You have made this truly a wonderful experience."

  • 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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