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November 8, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

Chinese war games
U.S. intelligence agencies are closely watching Chinese military forces near Hainan island in the South China Sea who are massing for expected large-scale military exercises.

So far, 50 Chinese warships and nine submarines have been spotted in the region, including China's two Russian-built Sovremenny-class missile destroyers.

Several thousand Chinese marines also are set to take part in the war games, along with 19 amphibious landing ships.

In an unusual move, several Chinese warships and one Song-class submarine recently sailed east of Taiwan on their way to the exercises. U.S. officials said the transit was a provocative move meant as a political signal to the Taiwanese that Chinese ships regard waters on the other side of the Taiwan Strait as their own.

Political support
A number of politicians are coming to the aid of Majs. Harry Schmidt and William Umback. They are the two Illinois Air National Guard pilots charged with manslaughter in the "friendly fire" deaths of four Canadians in Afghanistan last April.

Illinois Gov. George Ryan held a fund-raiser for the two last month at the governor's mansion in Springfield, home base of the pilots' F-16 squadron. And three prominent officeholders in nearby Missouri have also expressed concern about the Air Force's decision to criminalize a case of mistaken bombing. All three have written to Air Force Secretary James G. Roche.

"In keeping with our nation's principles of due process, I respectfully request that [Maj. Schmidt] be provided proper and fair representation throughout this process," House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt wrote on Oct. 9. "In addition, I would appreciate an update on the status of Maj. Schmidt's case as it moves forward." The major's parents reside in Mr. Gephardt's 3rd Congressional District.

Republican Sen. Christopher S. Bond, in an Oct. 16 letter, asked Mr. Roche about reports that the pilots were not informed that Canadian soldiers would be conducting live-fire training that night.

"The Air Force investigation and review process must be fair and it must consider all mitigating factors if it is to remain so, even if this results in the assignment of responsibility on officials up the chain of command," the Missouri senator wrote.

Missouri Gov. Bob Holden, a Democrat, also weighed in. "I understand from this correspondence that many Missourians and others are deeply concerned about the fact that Maj. Schmidt may be tried for actions taken during recent operations in Afghanistan."

Bagram fixes
Some Marine Corps jokesters are circulating a Top 10 list for Bagram air base in Afghanistan on how to make living conditions better in the combat zone.

The list comes in response to an article in The Washington Times. It told of photographs produced by two Air Force sergeants on the austere base: long chow lines, dusty roads, few recreational facilities and rationed bottled water.

The Air Force declined to comment. A spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which runs the war in Afghanistan, said conditions are improving weekly. Here is the Marines' list:


10: Toilet seats aren't the puffy kind.

9: Vichyssoise made with Idaho potatoes instead of russet.

8: Poor quality carpet padding used in offices.

7: Air conditioners only rated at 600 BTUs.

6: Showtime not HBO.

5: BDUs [battle dress uniforms] make airmen look fat.

4: No wine list at dining facility.

3: How come the Army guys get those nice berets?

2: Must those jets be so loud?

1: Hey, that guy in the turban is trying to kill me!

Free Baghdad
Prominent proponents of attacking Iraq to oust nuclear-bomb-loving Saddam Hussein have formed their own nonprofit group to press the issue in Washington and the world.

The Committee for the Liberation of Iraq is a hawkish, but bipartisan group of retired military officers, lawmakers and senior government policy-makers.

The roster includes former Secretary of State George Schultz; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; Harvard Law School professor Howell Jackson; former Sen. Bob Kerrey, Nebraska Democrat; retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Buster Glosson; and retired Army Gen. Wayne Downing. He recently left the White House National Security Council as its top counterterrorism official.

The mission statement reads:

"The Committee for the Liberation of Iraq was formed to promote regional peace, political freedom and international security by replacing the Saddam Hussein regime with a democratic government that respects the rights of the Iraqi people and ceases to threaten the community of nations."

The committee's president and executive director is Randy Scheuneman, a longtime Republican figure on national security and foreign policy.

Mr. Scheuneman played a major role in drafting the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, which the Bush administration often cites in its argument for taking out Saddam.

He said one role of the new committee is to counter arguments against attacking Iraq from former Clinton administration officials and some retired generals.

"What we are trying to do is be a direct voice in the debate for all those who believe the clear and present danger of the Hussein regime can be addressed by liberating the people of Iraq."

Spies and cops
Intelligence sources tell us the CIA recently had a hard time finding a replacement chief of station for Pakistan. After offering the job to 12 or 13 spooks all of whom turned down the job the agency settled for an operations officer from the Latin America division who had no language skills that would help in Pakistan, currently a key post in the war on terrorism.

And the FBI is trying to curry favor with the Saudi government by sending two American Muslim agents to the kingdom. The agents include a black and an Egyptian American who, we are told, have had liaison meetings with the Saudis in Mecca.

Closed shop
The U.S. intelligence community for several years has been trying to develop a new corps of midlevel managers at the GS-14 to GS-15 level with a broader range of experience than current officers in an effort to improve intelligence analysis.

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) recently showed that its bureaucracy is not about to do that. DIA recently put in place a policy that limits all new hires for midlevel analyst positions to DIA civilians. The policy excludes hiring from a wide pool of experienced specialists, including former military officers, civil service professionals in other agencies, and civilians with security clearances currently employed in the private sector.

Torie and Mindy
Republican Party insiders tell us that if Assistant Secretary of Defense Victoria Clarke ever moves on to another post, Mindy Tucker, the former Justice Department spokeswoman and current "flack" for the Republican National Committee (RNC), wants her job.

Miss Tucker hopes to become assistant defense secretary for public affairs by cashing in the political capital accumulated at the RNC, which scored a big political victory in Tuesday's elections.

Miss Tucker ran afoul of the press last year when she recommended that the Justice Department subpoena the home telephone records of an Associated Press reporter during a leak investigation.

Mrs. Clarke is not popular with all the public-affairs officials in the Pentagon.

"We often find ways of circumventing her office," said a senior Pentagon aide.

Mr. Rumsfeld once told reporters that Mrs. Clarke is perceived as having a "flinty" personality.

  • 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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