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March 23, 2017
Notes from the Pentagon

Trump critic Patrick Cronin to head plum Pentagon think tank
Patrick Cronin, an Asian security expert with the Democrat-leaning Center for New American Security, has been named to the plum post of director of a key Pentagon think tank, the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies.

The appointment was announced March 10 in a notice from the center that said Mr. Cronin was approved by Defense Secretary James Mattis.

While Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said Mr. Mattis “was not involved in this decision” that was made before President Trump took office in January, the selection has set off criticism among conservative China analysts who are concerned about Mr. Cronin’s views and writings on China. However, the key eyebrow-raiser for critics was Mr. Cronin’s signing of an anti- Trump protest letter last year.

The liberal was among 122 Republican national security officials who signed an open letter in March against then-candidate Trump.

“We are united in our opposition to a Donald Trump presidency,” the signatories stated. “Recognizing as we do, the conditions in American politics that have contributed to his popularity, we nonetheless are obligated to state our core objections clearly.”

The letter opposed Mr. Trump for what the signers said were “swings from isolationism to military adventurism” and for aggressively waging trade wars.

“He is fundamentally dishonest,” the letter said, adding that the former officials are committed to “working energetically to prevent the election of someone so utterly unfitted to the office.”

Mr. Trump announced during the campaign that the critics who signed the two letters opposing his presidential candidacy were part of the “failed establishment” and would not be appointed to positions in his administration.

Other Trump critics have failed to make it past White House political vetting that blocked several proposed candidates over their opposition to the president. They include Elliot Abrams, a veteran Republican national security official who was in line to be deputy secretary of state.

Asked about his opposition to Mr. Trump, Mr. Cronin said in an email that he will report to the undersecretary of defense for policy as well as the Asia team in the Pentagon and at Pacific Command.

“The campaign is history and now the hard work of governing beckons for all Americans,” he said.

“After Donald Trump’s triumphant election, I turned to the mission of how I could help the president and his national security team,” Mr. Cronin said.

“Attack me for expressing my personal views about candidates during our democratic election process, but please judge me by my faithful and unstinting commitment to support President Trump, his administration, and above all the United States of America.”

A Pacific Command spokesman said the Honolulu-based center is no longer part of Pacific Command. The center is directly under the Pentagon.

A U.S. intelligence report declassified several years ago outlines the North Korean communist government’s support for terrorists and foreign agents, as well as cooperation with Cuban military instructors at camps around the capital of Pyongyang.

The report, once labeled “secret,” was produced in November 1983 by the CIA’s National Photographic Interpretation Center. It was based on satellite imagery analysis of six camps spread out in an area about 12 to 20 miles from Pyongyang.

According to the report, the camps are similar to two terrorist training camps in Cuba at Guanabo and San Antonio that the report describes as “confirmed terrorist-related training facilities.” Also, intelligence “indicated that Cuban instructors have been sent to North Korea for training, suggesting at least mutual cooperation and may account for the physical similarities in these training facilities,” the report said.

“People from at least 30 countries have received training in North Korea,” the report says. “This schooling has included political indoctrination and surveillance, sabotage and assassination training.”

A total of 10 facilities were identified as being used by the North Koreans to train foreign agents and terrorists.

“North Korea’s nuclear threat rightly gets the most attention,” Mark Sauter, a former Army officer and specialist in North Korea who uncovered the document. “But Pyongyang also poses a very real terrorism threat, and, according to declassified U.S. intelligence documents, has considered using its agents to attack targets in the United States such as nuclear power plants.”

The key training center for foreign terrorists was identified by intelligence analysts at Wonhung Ni. “The Wonhung Ni complex near Pyongyang was specifically mentioned as a training facility for foreign nationals as well as for North Koreans,” the report said, adding that along with an administration building, 13 quarters and a gymnasium were identified.

North Korea was placed on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism in 1988 after the regime was linked to the bombing of a South Korean airliner in 1987.

It was removed from the list in 2008 by President George W. Bush as part of failed diplomatic efforts to negotiate the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program.

North Korea’s role in the Feb. 13 assassination in Malaysia of Kim Jong-nam, estranged half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, has led to discussion of adding Pyongyang back on the official list of state sponsors of terrorism.

South Korea’s intelligence service has concluded that the assassination was directed by the North Korean Ministry of State Security.

Two women have been arrested for the Kim murder, which authorities in Kuala Lumpur said involved the use of the deadly nerve agent VX.

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlined in testimony on Capitol Hill on Wednesday the five major strategic threats facing the United States as Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and Islamic extremism.

Gen. Dunford said Russia over the past several years has been building up a full range of capabilities aimed at preventing the United States from projecting power and meeting alliance commitments.

“These include long-range conventional strike, cyber, space, electronic warfare and undersea capabilities,” he said, adding that Moscow also is modernizing all elements of its nuclear forces.

The four-star general testified before the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee on the Trump administration’s budget request for $639 billion.

Like Russia, China is undergoing an expansion of its strategic and conventional military capabilities.

“They have expanded their nuclear enterprise and made investments in power projection, space, cyber and ballistic missiles,” Gen. Dunford said of the Chinese.

“China is also investing heavily in fifth-generation fighters, air-to-air missiles and air defense systems to limit our ability to project power in the Pacific, operate freely and meet our alliance commitments.”

North Korea is building missiles and nuclear warheads to be able to attack the United States, and over the past year conducted 38 missile tests, an increase of 81 percent from the previous year. The North Koreans also are conducting cyberattacks against governments and the private sector.

Iran remains a support of international terrorist groups and is working to destabilize neighboring countries while using its naval forces to threaten freedom of navigation, the general said.

On the struggle with terrorism, the Islamic State and al Qaeda remain the main threats.

Gen. Dunford said the military needs a balance of forces that can conduct counterterrorism operations around the world while being ready to deter and fight nation-states.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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