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October 19, 2007
Notes from the Pentagon

Ready for Clinton?
Defense and national security officials were surprised and upset that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates this week appointed former President Bill Clinton's deputy secretary of defense to head the prestigious Defense Policy Board.

The post is an advisory position but the choice is significant because of who was not chosen, namely a Republican.

"With or without his approval, President Bush's team has apparently begun the transition to the third Clinton administration," said one official, in reference to the possible election of Hillary Rodham Clinton next year. "We can see now that with the possible exception of the president himself, their hearts and minds just never were into governing as Republicans."

John J. Hamre, the president and chief executive officer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, was named chairman of the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee despite his past role as a key leader in Clinton defense policies that led to a hollowing-out of military forces through a combination of huge budget cuts and extended peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.

Mr. Hamre also presided over the restriction of U.S. missile defenses in support of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which Mr. Bush rejected, at a time when both short-range and long-range missile threats were a growing threat to the homeland, U.S. troops and allies abroad.

Mr. Hamre was criticized by conservatives for his pacifist religious views and by critics who questioned whether it was appropriate for him to be placed in such a senior position.

"This begs the question of whether the secretary agrees with the Hamre-Clinton policies, like gays in the military, Draconian defense cuts, women in combat and environmental friendliness," said a defense official.

"In short, what exactly are his credentials for this job, other than the deluded notion that somehow giving a Clintonite a board seat might make Hillary, should she win, more amenable to the department?"

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino defended the selection. "The president gives deference to his Cabinet to select individuals who they believe will be good public servants," she said. "I have no reason to believe this choice is any different."

Mr. Bush criticized Clinton-Gore defense policies during his first presidential campaign when he said Mr. Clinton came into office with "a military ready for dangers and challenges facing our nation."

"The next president will inherit a military in decline. But if the next president is George W. Bush, the days of decline will be over," Mr. Bush said Nov. 4, 2000.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Mr. Gates sought the "best individuals with the right background and experiences to advise him." Board members were picked for "qualifications, not party affiliations," he said.

"The goal was to continue bipartisan tradition on this board," Mr. Whitman said, noting the panel includes both "prominent, nationally recognized Republican and Democrat members."

In the dark
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates apparently was kept in the dark about the national security concerns of others in the administration regarding the proposed merger between 3Com Corp., which makes computer security products used by the Pentagon, and China's Huawei Technologies, which has close ties to the Chinese military.

Asked about legislation introduced by House Republicans calling on the Treasury Department-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to block the deal, Mr. Gates said: "I don't know enough about it. In fact, I don't know anything about it, so it would be inappropriate to comment."

As reported in this space two weeks ago, the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also were out of the loop on the 3Com deal, a lapse blamed on the leadership of the Defense Technology Security Administration, the once-aggressive unit that is supposed to be in charge of protecting defense technology from getting into the wrong hands.

Moving on
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs J. Dorrance Smith resigned and will take a position in the private sector.

Mr. Smith sought to play a more active role in defense strategic communications, rather than just in press relations.

"It's been a great 22 months and the secretary has asked me to stay on in an advisory role," Mr. Smith said in an e-mail.

No replacement is named but the White House is working to find a new assistant secretary.

Marine Corps Iftar
Two Pentagon spokesmen criticized the item in this space last week that quoted critics of a Marine Corps Muslim celebration that was attended by a Muslim leader linked to extremist groups.

They noted the item incorrectly identified a Muslim leader who attended the Sept. 26 Iftar, or fast breaking, at the Navy Yard as Agha Saeed, national chairman of the American Muslim Alliance, a group that has voiced support for Islamist extremists.

The spokesmen said it was not Agha Saeed but Sayyid M. Syeed, the former secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, or ISNA.

The misidentification, however, does not get the Pentagon and the Marines, including Marine Corps Deputy Commandant Gen. Robert Magnus, who hosted the event, off the hook for lending legitimacy to suspect Muslims.

Mr. Syeed's past links to ISNA raise security concerns because the group was recently identified by documents submitted in the terrorism trial in Texas of the Holy Land Foundation as a front group for the extremist Muslim Brotherhood.

A 1991 document produced by the Muslim Brotherhood and introduced into evidence recently stated the group's covert goal is to organize various U.S. fronts as part of a campaign to subvert and destroy American society. A list of 29 groups, including ISNA, was included.

Kevin Wensing, a Pentagon spokesman, said he was unaware that Mr. Syeed has any links to pro-extremist groups. He said critics' comments on the Iftar did a "disservice to dedicated Americans and public servants."

"We have credible, reliable reporting that ISNA is part of the front infrastructure of the Muslim Brotherhood's civilization jihad according to the Holy Land Foundation documents," one defense official said, in response to Mr. Wensing.

By associating with these groups, the U.S. government undermines both U.S. intelligence efforts against Islamist extremists and law-enforcement efforts, the official said.

"They are providing domestic sanctuary and cover to what has been implicated as an arm of a threat organization, namely the Muslim Brotherhood," the official said.

Marine Corps Maj. Eric Dent wrote to say that misidentifying the Muslim leader at the Iftar made "inappropriate and inaccurate linkage between one of the Marine Corps' top leaders and, using your characterization, terrorist-supporting organizations."

Informed of Mr. Syeed's ISNA link and the Muslim Brotherhood document, Maj. Dent then said ISNA was only "targeted" by an extremist organization as a potential avenue of exploitation.

But Joint Staff counterterrorism analyst Stephen Coughlin stated recently that ISNA was identified in the Muslim Brotherhood document as one of several "seeds" that are current "elements" of the Islamist subversion plan. Mr. Coughlin warned that Justice Department outreach to suspect Muslim groups like ISNA could "legitimize threat organizations by providing them domestic sanctuary."

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

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