Return to

Jan. 18, 2018
Notes from the Pentagon

Nuclear review repudiates Obama policy
A leaked draft of the latest Nuclear Posture Review reveals that President Trump is preparing to boost U.S. nuclear weapons by developing new arms and modernizing older weapons and delivery platforms.

The draft review states that President Obama’s policy of cutting nuclear forces and reducing reliance on strategic weapons did not lead to cutbacks by Russia, China or North Korea. Instead, those nations have aggressively built up nuclear forces, potentially tipping the nuclear balance in ways that could upset the U.S. strategy to deter a nuclear war.

Mr. Obama outlined his nuclear policy in a landmark speech in 2009 in Prague, proclaiming he would seek a “world without nuclear weapons.”

The last review, under the Obama administration in 2010, contained the flawed assessment that the threat from Russian nuclear forces had receded so dramatically that the United States could reduce its arsenal to levels even lower than those outlined under the 2010 U.S.-Russia New START accord. The treaty calls for limiting U.S. and Russian nuclear warhead levels to 1,550 deployed warheads by this February.

But instead of cutbacks, Russia under President Vladimir Putin has embarked on a major buildup of nuclear forces, including new missiles, launchers, submarines and bombers. Moscow also has adopted a military doctrine that places a greater emphasis on using nuclear arms in conflict.

The Obama anti-nuclear arms policies have increased the danger of a nuclear conflict instead reducing it. At the same time, U.S. nuclear forces and the infrastructure needed to maintain them have atrophied significantly over the past 20 years.

The forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review says the Obama administration’s calculation of setting the conditions for further cuts in global nuclear arms was a failure.

“These aspirations have not been realized,” the draft review states. “America’s strategic competitors have not followed our example. The world is more dangerous, not less.”

The draft report was published last week by The Huffington Post.

Russia initially cut its nuclear forces under New START but kept large numbers of tactical nuclear weapons. Moscow is now building large numbers of smaller nuclear arms that, when combined with precision-guided missiles, are just as powerful as larger strategic nuclear arms.

China also is expanding its nuclear forces and refuses to engage in strategic arms talks with the United States.

“Like Russia, China pursues entirely new nuclear capabilities tailored to achieve particular national security objectives,” the draft report says. “At the same time, China is modernizing its conventional military, challenging traditional U.S. military superiority in the Western Pacific.”

The same is the case with the regime in North Korea, which is continuing its nuclear provocations.

The draft Nuclear Posture Review indirectly criticizes the Obama administration’s approach to nuclear arms as naive.

“We must look reality in the eye and see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be,” the draft report says. “This NPR realigns our nuclear policy with a realistic assessment of the threats we face today and the uncertainties regarding the future security environment.”

The most significant change for the Trump administration’s nuclear policy will be the report’s recommendation to develop new and smaller nuclear weapons that can be combined with precision-guided missiles and other delivery systems to counter Russia’s small nuclear weapons.

The arrest Monday of former CIA case officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee is the latest in a string of CIA counterintelligence failures involving the loss of its agent networks.

Mr. Lee, also known by his Chinese name, Zhen Cheng Li, was charged Tuesday in federal court in New York City with illegally retaining classified information. If convicted, he faces a 10-year prison term.

U.S. officials, however, say the classified data he is charged with mishandling include some of the most sensitive information on China held by the CIA.

Court papers in the case reveal that more than five years ago, FBI counterspies discovered two small notebooks belonging to Mr. Lee that contained classified information. The books were found during an August 2012 covert search of Mr. Lee’s hotel room in Honolulu and contained the names and identities of recruited CIA agents inside China.

A former senior U.S. counterintelligence official said that if the charges are proved, Mr. Lee may end up being “a Chinese Aldrich Ames.”

Ames was the CIA counterintelligence officer who spied for the Soviet Union and who gave Moscow the names of all the agency’s recruited agents in Russia. He was convicted of spying in 1994 and is serving a life prison term.

Although not part of the current case, CIA officials suspect Mr. Lee gave up as many as 20 CIA sources in China who began disappearing or were imprisoned beginning around 2010.

The question, then, is: Why did it take so long for the CIA and FBI to catch Mr. Lee?

“Counterintelligence is hard,” said the former counterintelligence official. “And during the Obama administration, there was a bias against U.S. national security in favor of advancing politically correct policies.”

Security fundamentals, such is spy-catching, were subordinated to other priorities such as advancing diversity within CIA ranks, the former official said. The result was the intelligence disaster and the loss of a large number of the CIA’s sources in China — one of the most important U.S. intelligence targets in the world.

The loss of all recruited CIA assets in China joins a list of other major spy failures blamed on weak CIA counterintelligence policies.

They include the loss — by execution or imprisonment — of all the CIA’s recruited agents in the Soviet Union and Russia through Ames; the loss of all recruited agents in Eastern Europe; and the compromise of all CIA agents in Cuba.

In some cases, the agents were “doubled” and turned back against the United States, supplying their American contacts false information.

The counterspy failures are part of the culture at the agency that in the past regarded the aggressive policies of the independent counterintelligence staff, led by CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton, as “sickthink” that often required challenging or testing CIA officers’ loyalties.

Under CIA Director Mike Pompeo, the agency has been attempting to bolster its counterintelligence capabilities. Mr. Pompeo, since taking over the agency, placed the CIA Counterintelligence Center, the interagency unit in charge of counterintelligence, under his direct control.

A naturalized U.S. citizen living in Hong Kong, Mr. Lee, 53, on Tuesday waived his right to a detention hearing and was ordered held without bond. He did not contest his extradition to the Eastern District of Virginia, where the case will be prosecuted. An appearance in federal court in Alexandria will take place in the next few weeks, a Justice Department spokesman said.

The aviation giant and key defense contractor Boeing Co. has produced a prototype of an electric-powered cargo drone.

The company announced last week that initial flight tests of the vertical takeoff and landing unmanned cargo aerial vehicle were recently completed.

“Our new CAV prototype presents new possibilities for autonomous cargo delivery, logistics and other transportation applications,” said Steve Nordlund, vice president of Boeing HorizonX, the unit that developed the CAV.

The drone is part of Boeing’s push for futuristic autonomous aerospace vehicles that will have applications for both commercial and military sectors.

The Pentagon’s military forces are moving toward the use of such autonomous aircraft and vehicles.

According to a Boeing officials, the cargo drone was built in three months by a Horizon X team of engineers and technologists. The goal is to eventually build drone aircraft capable of transporting 250 to 500 pounds up to 20 miles. The drone measures 15 by 18 feet and is powered by four contra-rotating propellers.

“The technology opens up new possibilities for delivering time-sensitive and high-value goods, conducting autonomous missions in remote or dangerous environments, and other applications,” Boeing said.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

  • Return to