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September 28, 2007
Notes from the Pentagon

Beijing and Burma
The ongoing monks' revolution against the military regime in Burma is shaping up as a major setback for China, which regards Burma as its main client state and resource center in Southeast Asia, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

Recent demonstrations by tens of thousands of Buddhist monks and pro-democracy activists against the military junta also come as ties strengthen between Beijing and Burma's generals.

The officials said China for years sought to control and influence Burma through its main agent inside the Burmese junta, ethnic Chinese Khin Nyunt, who was prime minister and intelligence chief until his arrest in 2004 on corruption charges.

Since then, China broadened its backing for the military rulers and maintains close ties to Burma's three most senior generals: Than Shwe, Maung Aye and Thura Shwe Mann. Gen. Than Shwe is chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, as the junta is known, and Gen. Maung Aye is vice chairman. Gen. Thura Shwe Mann is head of the armed forces. Gen. Maung Aye was once viewed as pro-India and anti-China but was co-opted by Chinese military leaders after a meeting in 2006.

China is scrambling to prevent the fall of the junta, viewed by Beijing as a linchpin of its Southeast Asia strategy, which is aimed at increasing Chinese influence in the region and building up Chinese access and ultimately control over vital sea lanes carrying Middle East oil to China.

China's stability-obsessed rulers also fear that the collapse of the junta will send the million Chinese now working in Burma back across the border into China, further destabilizing that country.

Officials are concerned that China will help the junta organize a Tiananmen-style military crackdown, while publicly saying it supports a peaceful resolution of the crisis. Already there have been reports of unarmed protesters being shot by Burmese troops.

The unrest in Burma comes about six months after China's government authorized increased economic and business ties to Burma, where China has oil and gas exploration rights in the western part of Burma. China also regards Burma's junta as part of its strategy of countering growing U.S. influence in neighboring Vietnam and Cambodia.

China gets software
A recently released court document provides new details showing how a Chinese engineer provided U.S. military software obtained through economic espionage to a Chinese navy center that trains fighter pilots.

A plea agreement unsealed in federal court in California revealed that convicted spy Xiaodong Sheldon Meng, the Chinese-born Canadian engineer, sold stolen software that will boost the Chinese air force's ability to conduct nighttime combat operations.

Meng stated in the plea agreement that he traveled to China, through Taiwan, using his Canadian passport in March 2003. He was carrying U.S. military software obtained illegally while working as a consultant with Quantum3D, a San Jose, Calif., firm engaged in defense work.

Meng took a software called viXsen that is "used for training military fighter pilots who were utilizing night visual sensor equipment, including thermal imaging." He also illegally used a software called Mantis 1.5.5.

"I misappropriated these items because I thought I could profit from them after leaving Quantum3D," he stated.

After joining a competitor of Quantum3D, Meng said that he "I put together a demonstration project for the People's Republic of China Navy Research Center in Beijing."

The software he used was presented in a "series" of presentations for Chinese military and government officials based on "cracked or defeated" source code that Meng stole from Quantum3D.

"I intended and knew that the trade secrets would benefit a foreign government ... including but not limited to the People's Republic of China Navy Research Center," he stated.

The plea, which includes deleted sections, did not say whether the software was actually sold, but in it, Meng agreed to "surrender assets I obtained as a result of my crimes."

Meng was caught after he returned to the United States from China in 2004 and his laptop was searched by Customs and Border Protection agents. It was later found to contain the pilfered and modified software, which led to FBI questioning.

Laura's people
Radio talk show host Laura Ingraham warns in a new book that political correctness and misguided policies in both the Clinton and Bush administration are diverting attention from what should be the most important U.S. national security issue: Protecting America and Americans.

The book, "Power to the People," contains a section on the threats and dangers facing the country and the best way to deal with them adopt populist policies that would shift current policies toward greater emphasis on more directly protecting America and its values. (Miss Ingraham also reveals that she once studied Russian and wanted to work for the CIA undercover at the United Nations.)

The Dartmouth and University of Virginia-trained lawyer, a staunch supporter of President Reagan, lists the top three threats to the United States as Islamist terrorists and their supporters, state sponsors of terror and communist China, which she calls "the thousand-pound dragon in the room."

Miss Ingraham criticizes the dominant notion in U.S. policy and intelligence circles that China's fascistlike system will be transformed through global trade as "naive as the liberal hope that al Qaeda would leave us alone if we cut off all foreign aid to Israel."

Terrorist rights?
Further evidence that the FBI as an institution remains stuck in the law-enforcement mode in battling terrorism was revealed in a Senate Judiciary Committee report recently made public.

The report contains a 2004 memorandum from FBI General Counsel Donald Klein to all FBI divisions stating that FBI interrogators who question captured terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere are required to treat all detainees as they would U.S. criminal suspects.

The memo was sent following what Mr. Klein called the "widely publicized abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq," and he bolsters the ban on the use of force, threats, physical abuse, threats of such abuse or severe physical conditions.

"Persons being detained or otherwise held in the custody of the United States are entitled to varying levels of procedural rights depending upon their situation or category of detention (e.g. unlawful combatant, prisoner of war)," the memo states.

"Although procedural rights, such as Miranda rights, do not apply in all situations overseas, certain minimum standards of treatment apply in all cases," he said.

The memo said FBI policy bans all "coercive" interrogation techniques, so if a terrorist does not want to answer a question, FBI agents cannot force one. And if U.S. military or intelligence personnel use coercion to find out terrorist plans and operations, "FBI personnel ... must remove themselves from the situation."

The weak interrogation policy contradicts claims by FBI leaders that the bureau transformed itself since the September 11 attacks from a law-enforcement-dominated agency into a proactive intelligence and terrorist attack prevention service.

  • Bill Gertz covers the Pentagon. He can be reached at 202/636-3274.

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