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September 22, 2011
Notes from the Pentagon

The Obama administration has been secretly working on a review of U.S. nuclear weapons in what officials say is part of the White House effort to make deeper cuts on strategic nuclear forces.

“The administration has made up its mind that they want to go lower, and the only way to go lower is to change the military requirements for how many weapons are needed,” said a U.S. official familiar with the review.

The review has been dubbed a “mini-NPR,” after the Nuclear Posture Review conducted last year that coincided with lame-duck Senate approval in December of the New START treaty, which calls for cutting nuclear arms to 5,000 warheads.

Pentagon and U.S. Strategic Command spokesmen had no immediate comment.

The mini-NPR is now looking for even lower levels, raising new concerns among national security officials about whether the United States will be able to deter China’s growing and largely secret nuclear forces or a revanchist Russia that is also bolstering its arsenal.

Administration officials have made references to the nuclear-weapons-cutting effort in recent weeks.

Among them were Rose Gottemoeller, assistant secretary of state for verification. She said at a conference on deterrence in August that “the United States has made it clear that we are committed to continuing a step-by-step process to reduce the overall number of nuclear weapons,” including through a possible agreement with Russia that would cover all types of nuclear arms - strategic, tactical and deployed and non-deployed.

Gary Samore, White House arms control coordinator, said in May that the review of nuclear arms was under way.

“We’ll need to do a strategic review of what our force requirements are, and then, based on that, the president will have options available for additional reductions,” he told Arms Control Today. “That review is ongoing.”

Mr. Samore noted that the review is taking time because “we’ve reached the level in our forces where further reductions will raise questions about whether we retain the triad, or whether we go to a system that only is a dyad.”

The current triad strategic force consists of three types of delivery systems: land-based missiles, bombers and submarine missiles.

It is not known which delivery system would be placed on the chopping block under the mini-NPR.

Mr. Samore noted that if there is no agreement or treaty for the next nuclear cuts, “even unilateral” cuts are being considered.

New details of North Korea’s counterfeiting of U.S. currency were outlined in a recently released State Department cable.

The July 6, 2007, dispatch, labeled “secret,” said the U.S. government was concerned about North Korean efforts to buy equipment and technology used in producing counterfeit U.S. currency.

“North Korea has approached Drent Goebel of Germany to purchase an intaglio press - capable of counterfeiting U.S. currency,” the cable said.

“The U.S. has repeatedly warned both Germany and Drent Goebel that North Korea could use this equipment to produce counterfeit U.S. currency.”

German officials promised to block the currency press sale to Pyongyang.

The Secret Service, according to the cable, has evidence that the North Koreans continue to “produce and distribute counterfeit U.S. currency.”

“Over the past several years, the U.S. Secret Service has implemented an aggressive campaign to stop the counterfeiting of U.S. currency by [North Korea] through disruptions in the supply of materials and equipment used to produce counterfeit U.S. currency,” the cable said.

It noted that the North Koreans were linked to the production and distribution of high-quality counterfeit $100 bills called “supernotes.”

“These counterfeit banknotes are produced in the same manner as U.S. currency, utilizing similar processes and materials as U.S. currency,” the cable said.

Also noted was the fact that the Justice Department had indicted Irish national Sean Garland on charges of collaborating with North Koreans in making supernote forgeries.

The cable said U.S. concerns were based on indications that North Korea tried to buy the currency-production gear from Drent Goebel in late 2006 and that North Korea’s Central Bank tried to buy currency-paper manufacturing equipment from the German company.

“Both sets of equipment are suitable for the production of counterfeit U.S. currency, possibly including supernotes,” the cable said.

Since the cable, U.S. and diplomatic officials in Washington have revealed that North Korean government counterfeiting is directed by Gen. O Kuk-ryol, a confidant of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

North Korean supernotes were discovered in Las Vegas in 2008; in Pusan, South Korea, in 2009; and earlier in the Philippines.

The supernotes are made on a high-quality currency printing press identified at the Pyongsong Trademark Printing Factory in North Korea, run by the operations department of the Korean Workers Party, which is headed by Gen. O.

Washington news reporters are well-versed in the ways of political spin. But rarely has an example surfaced so clearly than in the recent White House handling of its contentious decision not to sell new F-16 C/D model jets to Taiwan.

The insider Nelson Report newsletter, written by former Hill staffer Chris Nelson, reported on Friday that it has “passed on unofficial administration requests not to write about the [F-16] A/B decision as an explicit ‘no’ to C/Ds.”

“Rather we have been repeatedly urged … please make clear that the decision should be seen as about A/B retrofitting only … and not a ‘no’ on C/Ds.”

Mr. Nelson stated further that “we’ve been repeatedly requested, don’t write something which seems to rule out administration consideration of C/D’s at some point, even if not necessarily before the end of this year.”

That spin was reflected in Saturday report in New York Times, often described by critics as a house organ for the administration, that stated the president has not ruled out selling the new F-16s.

An administration official then briefed reporters on Tuesday at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where President Obama was staying for the U.N. General Assembly.

“And we’re obviously prepared to consider further sales in the future,” the official said.

The reality, according to a senior administration official, is that the sale of C/D jets was blocked by the president at the urging of National Security Adviser Thomas E. Donilon, who was advised to do so by NSC staff aides Daniel R. Russel and Evan S. Medeiros amid concerns that new jet sales would upset China.

The administration announced on Wednesday that it will upgrade Taiwan’s 145 F-16 A/Bs.

The command in Kabul did not have a quick-reaction force (QRF) on standby the night a Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan, killing 30 Americans, including 17 Navy SEALs.

A former senior member of the special-operations community told reporter Rowan Scarborough that, because there was no QRF set up, commanders hastily assembled a team and sent the CH-47 Chinook into battle on Aug. 6. The source said an Army Ranger captain called for the reinforcements to intercept retreating Taliban during a firefight.

The Chinook troops were “pulled together very quickly,” said the source.

The transport chopper was piloted by an Army National Guard crew, as opposed to a special-operations unit. The Taliban shot the helicopter down with a rocket-propelled grenade as it descended to a landing zone.

Col. Gary Kolb, a command spokesman in Kabul, said, “The investigating team will look at all aspects of the mission. Not in a position to comment while the investigation is ongoing.”

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