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October 5, 2007
Notes from the Pentagon

Joint Chiefs and 3Com
U.S. defense and intelligence officials said both the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were not informed by intelligence officials about the impending merger deal involving 3Com and the Chinese company Huawei Technology that was announced last week.

Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, who became the top military officer on Monday, and his predecessor Marine Gen. Peter Pace, along with Vice Chairman Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright were not provided with intelligence on the deal before its announcement on Friday, an official said.

"There was an effort made to exclude the chairman and vice chairman by saying this is not a military matter," said one official. "They were not told about this deal."

One intelligence official said: "Maybe they didn't have a need to know" the universal security reason that is used to limit distribution of intelligence.

Bain Capital Partners, an investment firm, is leading the $2.2. billion merger of 3Com and Huawei, which will have a minority interest. Bain announced Wednesday it will submit the deal to a national security review by the Treasury Department's Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

3Com makes computer-intrusion-detection equipment used by the Pentagon, the U.S. Army and U.S. intelligence agencies, raising concerns that the deal could lead to a compromise of technology, or the disclosure of U.S. government computer network vulnerabilities.

Chinese military hackers were detected breaking into Pentagon computers in July in what U.S. officials said was a significant electronic penetration.

The CFIUS review will at least allow senior military leaders, including Gen. Cartwright, to be kept informed of the national security risks posed by the deal. Adm. Mullen has given Gen. Cartwright responsibility for overseeing a major effort within the Pentagon and military services to improve the security of computer networks, which are under constant daily attack from foreign hackers, including numerous detected intrusions that U.S. intelligence officials say are coming from China's military.

A Joint Staff spokesman declined to comment when asked whether the chairman and vice chairman were notified about the 3Com-Huawei deal.

A 2005 Rand Corp. report on China's defense industry identified Huawei as having "deep ties with the Chinese military." The Chinese military "serves a multifaceted role as an important customer, as well as Huawei's political patron and research and development partner," the report said.

Lasers in Iraq?
Comments by a military spokesman in Iraq suggest the Army is using a new high-technology laser system to shoot down enemy rockets, artillery and mortars.

Asked about a report that the Army is using the Tactical High Energy Laser, or THEL, in Iraq, Army Maj. Win Danielson said "as part of a larger combined arms effort to defeat enemy indirect fire, we use both passive and active systems to help attack enemy indirect fire crews and to identify, react to, and defeat rocket, mortar and missile, or RAM, threats to soldiers, facilities, and high-value assets in Iraq."

Among the methods used are "systems to intercept and eliminate the threat," as well as intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and attack means, along with barriers and shelters, he said in an e-mail.

On the specific use of THEL, or more likely the Mobile THEL system, Maj. Danielson said "I cannot discuss specific systems because they vary from location to location and because some publicly available information about these systems creates a risk that such information could be used by extremists to harm our service members and civilian employees."

THEL was developed jointly with the Israeli military and designed for use against Katyusha rockets fired into Israel by terrorists.

A report on an Iraqi insurgent Web site in August stated that terrorists were using a "secret" Russian weapon system to counter the Army's use of THEL, also called the Skyguard system, against Russian-made SA-2 surface-to-air missiles that were modified into surface-to-surface missiles called Fahds.

The Web site states the THEL was knocking out the Iraqi missiles until the insurgents obtained 16 of the new Russian weapon systems, described as portable "thermal proton anti-aircraft missile systems."

Maj. Danielson said he did not know what Russian weapon it was to which the Web site referred. But he noted that "extremists in Iraq use a variety of weapons from a variety of sources, including Russian-made equipment."

"Iran supplies rockets, mortars and other equipment, and provides training to extremists in an effort to undermine security, reconciliation and progress in Iraq," he said. "Coalition surge forces frequently receive tips from concerned Iraqi civilians about weapons caches and many of the rockets found in caches are from Iran."

Maj. Danielson said insurgents adapt to U.S. defense measures and U.S. and allied forces adapt as well. "Extremists try various means of attack to see what is effective and adjust their techniques accordingly," he said. "We study their attacks, too, and modify our offensive and defensive operations to defeat them as required."

Efforts to counter rockets, artillery and mortar, called C-RAM, were rapidly developed by the Army and Defense Department by adapting "a variety of existing systems from across the different services, integrating them in new ways to develop a comprehensive counter-RAM capability to protect coalition personnel," Maj. Danielson said.

"We continue to learn and adapt, modifying tactics, techniques, procedures and capabilities to stay ahead of a thinking, adaptive enemy."

Target China
U.S. intelligence agencies' language-learning priorities reveal that after Middle East terrorism the next main target of U.S. spies is China.

Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell said in recent congressional testimony that in addition to countering Islamist terrorism, a secret priority for U.S. intelligence agencies is dealing with the potential threat posed by China.

The retired Navy vice admiral revealed in a written statement to the Senate Homeland Security Committee last month that his office and the Pentagon's National Security Agency are funding a foreign language initiative called STARTALK, a summer language education program.

Classes in 20 states and the District educate students and language teachers. "The classes focus on Arabic or Chinese and range from weeklong tutorials to nine-week immersions."

The focus on Arabic is aimed at improving efforts against Islamist terrorism, much of it emanating from Arabic-speaking extremists. For example, only 33 FBI agents out of 12,000 currently speak Arabic, although the bureau relies on nearly 300 non-agent translators.

Training Chinese speakers, however, is part of a lesser-known mandate to improve U.S. intelligence weaknesses in analyzing the growing threat from China.

Increased numbers of Chinese language speakers also are needed under the Pentagon's "hedge" strategy that says China's future is uncertain and as a result more must be done to prepare for a future threat from China.

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

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