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September 13, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

Iraqi armor moves
Two brigades of an Iraqi Republican Guard division are on the move, according to U.S. intelligence officials. The brigades are part of the Republican Guard Medina Division based near Baghdad.

U.S. satellites detected the tank and armored vehicle brigades leaving their bases near Taji, north of Baghdad, late last week. The officials said the units appeared to be moving out to locations that are less vulnerable to U.S. attack.

Taji is one of at least three locations that U.S. intelligence agencies have identified as the locations of new Iraqi military activity related to weapons of mass destruction.

Last month, a convoy of some 60 trucks was spotted at a suspected biological weapons site in Taji.

U.S. intelligence agencies have stepped up reconnaissance of Iraqi military sites in recent months in anticipation of U.S. military action.

Other recent signs of Iraqi troop movements have included the dispersal of ammunition, and the movement of surface-to-air missile batteries.

Chinese harass ship
Chinese military patrol aircraft and ships have been harassing the USS Bowditch, a Navy ocean survey ship that is currently conducting research work off the coast of northern China in the Yellow Sea.

Since the ship arrived in the area around Sept. 7, Chinese aircraft and ships have conducted intercept operations six times. The Chinese planes, including Y-8 and Y-12 patrol aircraft, have flown within 500 feet of the Bowditch.

Additionally, the Bowditch has been shadowed by Chinese navy intelligence-gathering ships that have sailed within 200 yards, but have not tried to cut off the Bowditch.

Communications have included some threats by Chinese military for the unarmed ship to leave the area.

The Chinese government also lodged a diplomatic protest note with the State Department recently claiming that the Navy ship was violating China's 200-mile economic exclusion zone.

A defense official said the Chinese protest note was "laughable" since the Bowditch is unarmed and is operating in international waters some 60 miles off the coast.

"An unarmed ship conducting hydrographic surveys is hardly a threat," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The unstated mission for the Bowditch: Assert the Navy's right to freedom of navigation in international waters. Neither the United States nor international law recognizes China's 200-mile exclusion zone. The ship is engaged in ocean research that included a variety of experiments related to physical, chemical and biological oceanography, environmental monitoring and ocean acoustics.

True ally
Administration officials say there is no better ally among Arab countries than Jordan in fighting the war on terrorism. Jordan has opened a hospital in Afghanistan, provided vital intelligence on al Qaeda operatives and sent interrogators to Cuba to help question detained terrorists.

Officials say King Abdullah II also has helped in ways they can never discuss publicly.

Some policy hard-liners inside the Pentagon, when talking about moderate states in the Arab world, will joke: "What moderate states? Jordan and who else?"

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld met last week with the "big four" the chairmen and ranking minority members of the Senate and House armed services committees.

Congressional sources said members all but assured him he will get two new positions in the Pentagon an intelligence czar and a new homeland security assistant secretary when a House-Senate conference finalizes the fiscal 2003 defense authorization bill.

The problem is: When? The pressing desire to leave town in October for the fall elections may leave the bill dormant until lawmakers return in January.

Cave warfare
One reason an increasing number of military and intelligence analysts believe Osama bin Laden is dead is the tactics used in the late December attack on his last known hiding place, Tora Bora, Afghanistan.

The Air Force used two, and sometimes three, 2,000-pound earth-penetrating bombs to hit each cave entrance. The tactic ensured widespread damage to the network of tunnels and rooms within each cave complex.

If bin Laden, and his co-henchman, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were inside, there is no way they survived, one Air Force source told us.

The United States has not detected bin Laden's voice or had a confirmed intelligence report on his whereabouts since the mid-December battle. Sources say that when the air war began Oct. 7, bin Laden was in the Kandahar area.

He worked his way north, to Tora Bora in northeast Afghanistan, as bombs fell on all his known hide-outs. Some analysts believe he was wounded, based in part on a November homemade video in which the al Qaeda leader appears stressed and does not move his left arm.

NIMA eyes homeland
The National Imagery and Mapping Agency, known as NIMA, took satellite intelligence photographs of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the crash site in Shanksville, Pa., immediately after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The high-resolution photographs were used to support civil agencies in the aftermath of the attacks, according to a U.S. intelligence report sent to Congress last week.

"Within hours of the attacks, an imagery-derived damage assessment delineating ash and debris fallout from the collapse of structures at the [World Trade Center] complex was provided to FEMA," the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the report said. "NIMA sent analysts to FEMA's deployed field office in New York City to provide remote sensing expertise. FEMA officials stated that NIMA greatly assisted search and rescue efforts at the WTC complex."

Until September 11, NIMA's primary role was producing and analyzing spy satellite photos overseas. The agency is now focusing its electro-optical lenses on the United States as well.

NIMA has created several city "photomaps" that are a new product being used by the U.S. Joint Forces Command as part of its homeland defense mission.

  • 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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