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November 15, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

Northcom sees attack imminent
The new U.S. Northern Command issued a warning on Wednesday that a terrorist attack was imminent.

The classified intelligence notice said the warning was put out in response to the latest audiotape purportedly from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The tape warned the United States and its allies that "you will be killed just as you kill, and will be bombed just as you bomb."

Additionally, the Northcom warning was based on electronic intelligence gathered from around the world indicating that some type of terrorist action would take place.

The warning, as in the past, contained no specific intelligence of where or when an attack would take place. U.S. officials said the latest intelligence states that New York, Washington and Los Angeles could be targets.

The threats are said to be related to the Muslim holy period of Ramadan, which began earlier this month and continues through early December. A spokesman for Northern Command headquarters in Colorado had no comment.

Missiles left open
U.S. intelligence agencies continue to closely watch Russian strategic nuclear missiles and recently spotted a rare sight: a trainload of missiles left in the open.

Several new SS-27 strategic nuclear missiles were spotted on a train at a Russian missile field in a remote part of eastern Russia. The missile train was photographed by a U.S. spy satellite. What was unusual was that the train was stopped and the missiles were left in the open, raising fears that they could be stolen or sabotaged, U.S. intelligence officials tell us.

Intelligence analysts believe the reason the new missiles were left vulnerable is that the missile base was not ready to receive them. Construction was under way to expand the size of the missile silos to accommodate the new SS-27s.

A recent Defense Intelligence Agency analysis made public by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence states that Moscow's new ballistic-missile production over the next five years includes SS-26 short-range missiles, SS-27 intercontinental ballistic missiles, and submarine-launched SSN-23 and Bulava-30 long-range missiles.

Osama's khat
U.S. officials tell us the al Qaeda network has found another way to raise money. Osama bin Laden's terror organization is cashing in on khat. Khat is the chewing tobacco-type leaf popular in the Muslim world for its stimulative and euphoric effects.

In Somalia, U.S. troops found themselves up against militia members who constantly chewed on the stuff, enabling them to fight fearlessly around the clock.

The drug is thriving on the world market, and some of it is reaching U.S. shores, mailed by Muslims to relatives in the United States. Intelligence sources say the al Qaeda network has managed to tap into the trade, producing millions of dollars to fund its terror operations.

Some administration officials want law enforcement agencies to crack down by tracing the shipments and questioning the senders. Some intercepted khat packages arrive in America with return addresses.

Khat (pronounced "cot") comes from the Catha edulis plant found in east Africa and southern Arabia. It is particularly popular in Somalia and Yemen, countries where al Qaeda members are known to be based.

Coming in hot
When the first contingent of U.S. and foreign journalists arrive by helicopter at Quantico, Va., for a seven-day course on military training, they will be greeted with what the military calls a "hot LZ," or landing zone. The reporters and photographers will be greeted with smoke grenades and automatic-rifle fire as they exit their transport helicopters.

Other Army and Marine-style ground training will include a five-mile hike with a backpack.

Later, on a warship, the journalists will take part in simulated conflict operations a call to general quarters and how to abandon ship.

The first group of up to 58 reporters were notified last week by deputy Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman that they are "required to report to Pentagon" at 7 a.m. tomorrow (that's 0700, in military time).

A-12 impasse
The U.S. government has failed to resolve the dispute over the canceled A-12 jet fighter-bomber. The U.S. Navy in September sought $3 billion from General Dynamics and Boeing for past bills on the jet deal.

The companies then countered with an offer of about $1 billion to settle the dispute. The Bush administration turned down the proposal, but then said it would take $1.9 billion which the companies rejected. It now appears the matter will stay in the courts for years to come.

Mad as a hornet
The Navy's newest warplane, the F-18E Super Hornet, made its combat debut, U.S. Central Command said this week.

A Super Hornet off the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln dropped satellite-guided bombs on two air-defense targets in Iraq's southern no-fly zone on Nov. 6. The Lincoln recently arrived in the Persian Gulf and will participate in a military invasion to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein if President Bush gives the order.

"In response to hostile acts against coalition aircraft monitoring the southern no-fly zone, Operation Southern Watch aircraft, including the Super Hornets from the Abraham Lincoln, used precision-guided weapons to target two surface-to-air missile systems (SAM), and a command and control communications facility," a command statement said.

The SAM systems sat near al Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad. The command facility was near Tallil, about 160 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has ordered U.S. commanders to more aggressively respond to Iraqi air-defense threats by not only bombing air-defense batteries, but also the command center that directs them.

The rationale is simple: Why not destroy them now rather than wait for a war?

Comanche survives
Army officials are growing increasingly optimistic that their prized Comanche helicopter will survive an ongoing Pentagon budget review. The Army already has lost the Crusader artillery system to Mr. Rumsfeld's military-reform movement. The Comanche, a behind-schedule program to build a new scout/attack chopper, seemed next on the list.

But Army officials are getting signals from Mr. Rumsfeld's staff that it will survive.

"We learned from the Crusader experience to be fully engaged with OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense]," said one official. "We have learned our lesson."

CIA booster
The CIA got beaten up pretty good on Capitol Hill as a special committee looks to assign blame for the September 11 attacks.

So it was a welcome sight at Langley recently when Vice President Richard B. Cheney showed up to congratulate the directorate of the intelligence branch on its 50th birthday.

"The president and I want you to know that your work is not taken for granted and neither are you," Mr. Cheney told the analytical branch. "Your achievements may not be widely known, but some of us do know, and we are in a position to express gratitude, not just for helping us do our jobs, but for doing your own jobs so well and reflecting great credit on the United States."

Before Mr. Cheney's visit, the CIA was privately celebrating the killing of a top al Qaeda leader in Yemen by an agency-operated Predator drone.

  • 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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