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December 8, 2011
Notes from the Pentagon

The nomination of U.S. Ambassador-designate to Russia Michael McFaul is in trouble, based on recent responses to senators’ questions about a possible plan to give sensitive data to Russia on the SM-3 anti-missile interceptor.

Several senators continue to hold up his nomination, and, as reported earlier in this space, Sen. Mark Kirk recently asked Mr. McFaul to provide answers about whether the Obama administration plans to provide extremely sensitive missile technical data to Russia as part of efforts to convince Moscow that U.S. missile defenses are not targeted against Russian ICBMs.

Mr. McFaul was asked directly if the administration is considering giving Russia so-called “velocity burnout” data, known as VBO, on SM-3 anti-missile interceptors.

In a detailed response, Mr. McFaul acknowledged that sharing the classified SM-3 velocity data is a possibility.

“The United States is currently assessing what information it would be in our interests to share with the Russian Federation and others regarding the capabilities of U.S. missile defense systems,” Mr. McFaul stated.

Mr. McFaul then sought to play down security concerns by stating that Russia probably learned details of the SM-3 speed from technical intelligence from monitoring tests.

He said the administration does not intend to give the Russians telemetry data - signals sent to ground stations during test flights - about missile-defense interceptors or target vehicles.

Security officials are concerned that if Moscow learns the technical parameters of the SM-3, one of the most advanced interceptors in the U.S. arsenal, Russia will be able to develop countermeasures for the missile or compromise the effectiveness of the weapon by providing the data to nations such as China, Iran or North Korea.

Also, knowledge of the SM-3 technical parameters could be used in arms-control talks as part of Moscow’s push for a legal limits on U.S. defenses.

Such details of a missile’s burnout speed also could be used to develop ballistic missiles that travel faster than the interceptors, U.S. officials said.

Mr. McFaul said a special security committee that can waive rules against providing classified U.S. data to foreign governments has not been asked to make an exception for SM-3 velocity burnout data.

However, he said the National Disclosure Policy Committee (NDPC) has approved an exception for Russia to watch an SM-3 missile-defense flight test. Earlier, it approved waivers for Russian viewing of flight tests for a ground-based interceptor (GBI) and Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile in 2007 and 2010. Viewing flight tests normally is restricted to prevent foreign intelligence services from learning classified capabilities from U.S. weapons.

Mr. McFaul further explained in written responses to Mr. Kirk that a decision to provide velocity burnout data would not violate assurances provided to the Senate last year that no U.S. missile telemetry data would be given to Russia under the New START arms treaty. Telemetry data, he said, originates onboard a missile and is encrypted.

“Velocity burn out (VBO) is a performance specification that is readily observed and confirmed by land-based, sea-based, and/or space-based sensors,” Mr. McFaul said.

“Accurate approximations of VBO can be calculated from the unclassified dimensions of the interceptor and an informed estimate of the mass of the kill vehicle. Taking into account Russian capabilities, and numerous opportunities to observe missile defense flight tests from international waters over the past ten years, it is likely that Russia has already been able to make reasonable estimates of the VBO of current variants of the SM-3 interceptor missile.”

The possible sharing of SM-3 velocity data was suggested in talks with the Russians by Army Lt. Gen. Patrick J. O'Reilly, head of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, prompting opposition from U.S. national security officials concerned about compromising the system.

A Senate arms-control official said Mr. McFaul’s answers suggest the administration is prepared to give the data to Russia.

“The answers clearly suggest the administration is considering this, and if that’s the case, Mr. McFaul may not be confirmed,” the official said.

Further questions were raised on the McFaul nomination by a group of eight former national security officials in a letter sent Wednesday to President Obama. They include former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman.

The former officials, who earlier endorsed Mr. McFaul, said they share Mr. Kirk’s concerns about the plan to share SM-3 interceptor data with Russia.

Noting recent Russian threats to take military steps against U.S. missile defenses, the former officials stated: “Under present circumstances, it would seem unwise to share any classified missile defense data with Russia.”

A pro-al Qaeda website on Tuesday issued a new threat to assassinate President Obama.

An Internet posting by a jihadist who identified himself as Abu Bakr al-Qahtani outlined the threat on the Ansar al Mujahidin Network, an outlet U.S. officials say has been linked to inspiring lone-wolf terrorists.

Headlined “Obama: Woe To Me If He Escapes,” the posting denounced Mr. Obama as a “cursed infidel” who “became known for his harsh treatment of the worshippers of God, and mastered the various forms of torture, which he applied specifically to the partisans of God: the mujahidin.”

The posting generated one response, which said: “When you see the enemy of God, and we ask God that you do soon, pounce on him like a lion. Gut him and tear him apart.”

A U.S. Secret Service spokesman had no comment.

The Pentagon’s nominee for assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs is under fire from Sen. John McCain, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mr. McCain wrote to Mark Lippert on Nov. 30 to pose very specific questions about whether Mr. Lippert was behind a series of press leaks that sought to undermine retired Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones when he was President Obama’s national security adviser.

Mr. McCain wrote that a 2010 book by journalist Bob Woodward discussed Mr. Lippert’s relations with Gen. Jones and “offers a disturbing portrayal of your actions that could be described as arrogant and disloyal.”

In the letter, Mr. McCain asked if Mr. Lippert and another National Security Council colleague, Denis McDonough, were known by Gen. Jones as “the Politburo,” “the Mafia” and “the water bugs” because they had become major obstacles to “deciding on coherent national security policy.”

Mr. Lippert also was asked whether he managed to “cut off” Gen. Jones from consulting with the president during a 2009 trip to Europe.

The letter also stated that Gen. Jones had talked to Mr. Obama about firing Mr. Lippert for “rank insubordination” and that the president had agreed to move Mr. Lippert out of the NSC.

Additionally, Mr. McCain asked Mr. Lippert to explain whether he “shut out” a top White House military adviser, Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, from key Iraq policy discussions because he distrusted him.

When asked about his clashes with Gen. Jones at a Nov. 17 committee hearing, Mr. Lippert responded, “I did not leak to the press about General Jones.”

But he would not answer questions from Mr. McCain about whether his departure from the NSC staff was the result of differences with Gen. Jones.

“Gen. Jones and I worked collaboratively on many issues, and I’m proud of what we accomplished, but there was also times we disagreed, but I knew General Jones was the boss,” Mr. Lippert said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a new video on one of U.S. combat troops’ most significant tools: the prepackaged Meals Ready to Eat, or MRE.

The video shows USDA technicians in white lab coats standing around eating various concoctions that come in brown cardboard packages.

The video explains that the meals - including what appears to be spaghetti and meatballs, chicken, chili with macaroni, beans and various other products - are tested for “taste and quality” and have been tested by the agency for 31 years.

“We’re looking for the overall appearance of the product, its flavor, odor, color, mouth feel, texture, visual appearance, consistency,” said USDA official Richard Boy in discussing the less-than-appetizing-looking meals.

Mr. Boy said the military’s beef brisket MRE is “relatively new” to the military’s field menu.

The video also shows an array of brightly colored “Kool Aid-style” drinks available to troops in the field.

And for troops worried about gaining too much weight, the USDA says the Pentagon has required that MREs include standard “Nutritional Facts” on the container outlining the contents of each food pouch.

The video is available on YouTube:

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