Return to

September 8, 2011
Notes from the Pentagon

A Chinese warship fired a high-powered beam of light that disrupted the vision of crew members aboard a U.S. Navy surveillance ship operating in international waters in 2008.

According to a newly released State Department cable, the apparent blinding attack on the USNS Victorious, an ocean survey ship, occurred in the East China Sea.

“On March 8, 2008, [Chinese] Luhu-class DD112 shined a high-intensity, narrow-beam white light at USNS Victorious for approximately 30 minutes,” the cable, labeled “secret,” said.

“The light was of such intensity that it temporarily impaired the visual acumen of USNS Victorious personnel and thereby constituted a hazard to navigation.”

The incident was outlined in a State Department cable made public Aug. 30. It was never disclosed by the Pentagon.

It could not be learned whether the light beam was a laser or high-powered searchlight. Navy and Pentagon spokesman had no immediate comment.

The East China Sea incident appears similar to a laser attack carried out in 1997 by someone aboard a Russian merchant ship. The attack damaged the eyes of Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jack Daly, who was conducting an aerial reconnaissance mission aboard a Canadian military helicopter over the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Washington state’s Puget Sound.

That incident also was kept secret until disclosed by The Washington Times.a The cable stated that during the 2008 blinding, eight B-6 bombers flew near or over the Victorious during a four-hour period that “partially overlapped the intense illumination of the Victorious by the Luhu-class DD112.”

The bomber flights were assessed to be training missions and not a reaction to the ship’s ocean survey. The U.S. Pacific Command’s intelligence center “could not completely rule out that the Chinese military used USNS Victorious as a training opportunity as the B-6 aircraft transited the area,” the cable said.

The cable, disclosed by the anti-secrecy portal WikiLeaks, was sent by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing in outlining a protest note on the incident.

The U.S. government complained that “China’s conduct as described above, … is provocative and inconsistent with China’s legal obligations under the law of the sea,” the cable said.

“China’s activities regarding USNS Victorious constitute serious harassment and elevate the risk of miscalculation.”

The cable said prior to the beam illumination of the ship, it was shadowed by Luhu- or Luda-class warships, Wagor oceanographic and patrol vessels. The Victorious was also buzzed by Chinese Y-12 and B-6 aircraft 75 times in low-altitude passes over the U.S. ship.

China’s harassment of U.S. Navy ships did not surface in public until a year later in 2009 when then-Director of National IntelligenceDennis C. Blair told a Senate hearing that Chinese ships had become aggressive in seeking to assert control over a 200-mile Economic Exclusion Zone that extends into international waters but is not recognized by the Navy in asserting freedom of navigation.

Chinese ships followed and harassed the USNS Impeccable in the South China Sea on March 9, 2009.

More than a dozen classified State Department cables made public Au. 30 reveal extensive and continuous Chinese arms and equipment transfers to Iran, Syria, North Korea and Pakistan, most of them in violation of U.N. sanctions or international arms control agreements.

The documents provide details on scores of Chinese companies that for more than a decade have been providing weapons of mass destruction goods and technology.

A May 5, 2003, cable, for example, discusses China’s supplying of glass-lined chemical processing technology used for Iran’s chemical weapons, and also “jet mill/micronnizers” that are used to make biological weapons.

A March 10, 2006, cable highlights China’s supplying several tons of stainless steel to North Korea’s main weapons trader and a “ring-rolling” machine to Pakistan for use in making missiles.

China also sold goods to Syria that were used to make rockets for Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon. One cable said on July 6, 2007, South Korean officials intercepted a shipment of Chinese-origin steel on the way to Syria that “was to be used in the production of rockets for” Hezbollah.

In 2006, after repeated appeals to China to halt the arms proliferation, the Bush administration imposed sanctions on four Chinese companies. A short time later, the Bush White House issued yet another appeal to the Chinese to take steps to stop the illicit arms trade, mainly with Iran.

Then a June 28, 2006, cable said that, despite a Chinese promise to “take immediate action in response to any new proliferation activities by these firms,” one of the sanctioned companies, China National Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation, shipped additional goods to Iran’s missile maker.

A month later at a meeting on the numerous proliferation cases, Chinese officials insisted they found nothing wrong or were still investigating.

One of the cases involved Chinese national Gao Yiming, who was engaged in supplying Pakistan’s unsafeguarded nuclear program with an aluminum production line for uranium centrifuge parts.

A May 17, 2007, cable disclosed how the Chinese firm, Dalian Chlorate, shipped 400 tons of missile fuel chemical to Iran in violation of U.N. sanctions against the Iranian missile program.

By Aug. 8, 2008, the cables reveal growing U.S. frustration with continued Chinese proliferation, noting in the case of Dalian Sunny Industry that “since February 2006, we have repeatedly discussed with China our concerns regarding the proliferation-related trading activities” of the company for sales of composite materials used for missile frames.

Many of the cables outline talking points for U.S. officials to use in diplomatic exchanges with the Chinese that begin: “In the spirit of our cooperation on nonproliferation issues, we would like to alert you to. …” The numerous cables that outlined ongoing arms proliferation raise questions about that cooperation.

Said former State Department China specialist John Tkacik: “I don’t know how to say Groundhog Day in Chinese, but the Chinese have not done anything to scale back their nuclear, chemical and missile proliferation despite 22 years of State Department demarches.

“Unlike the movie, however, the State Department doesn’t seem to have learned anything from Beijing’s repeated stiff-arming, prevarications, evasions and outright lies. So Beijing just keeps on behaving as it always has,” he said.

A Pentagon official Wednesday confirmed the report in this column last week that it is conducting a probe into whether China will obtain valuable avionics technology for its military from the joint venture of General Electric Co. and the Aviation Industry Corp. of China (AVIC).

“The Defense Technology Security Agency [DTSA] routinely meets with industry to receive information concerning the companies’ potential export of munitions and/or dual use items,” the official said.

The meeting with GE officials last week was “one of many meetings DTSA has with its industrial partners each year.”

A June 22, 2011, email from DTSA said GE had not applied for an export license related to the technology involved in the China venture and as a result the Defense Department “has not formally reviewed any technology associated with the [joint venture].”

The email said that in an earlier meeting with GE, “DTSA expressed reservations about the GE self-determination that the proposed technologies would not require a license,” noting that the Chinese companies involved have “a history of cooperation between civil and military sectors.”

“DTSA opined that there was the potential/possibility for China to exploit civil technologies for use in its own military modernization,” the DTSA email said.

GE spokesmen have said the venture will not involve military technology and that no Chinese military officials will be allowed to work on the project.

Don’t look for Congress this year to debate legislation that would lift the ban on women in land combat units below the level of brigade.

The congressionally created Military Leadership Diversity Commission recommended in January, in a split vote, to lift the ban that has been the law since 1994.

Congress had asked for a comprehensive report from the Pentagon on women in the military and their current roles. Women may now serve on combat aircraft and ships.

The report was supposed to be done last spring. But a House aide tells reporter Rowan Scarborough that the Pentagon requested an extension to October.a “Based on the extensive nature of the requested review and the desire to conduct a thorough and comprehensive review, the department will provide the report in October 2011,” Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez told Inside the Ring.

“The nature of today’s conflicts is evolving,” she said. “There are no front lines in Afghanistan. While women are not assigned to units below brigade level whose primary mission is direct combat on the ground, this doesn’t mean they are not assigned to positions in combat zones that could place them in danger.”

Return to