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June 2, 2022
Notes from the Pentagon

Northcom: Threats to U.S. homeland surging

By Bill Gertz
The commander of the Pentagon’s Northern Command recently told Congress that the United States faces growing threats of attack from China, Russia and North Korea.

Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck said the combination of missile threats, cyberattacks and information warfare indicates Northcom “is facing the most dynamic and strategically complex set of challenges in the history of the command.”

“Quite bluntly, my ability to conduct the missions assigned to U.S. Northcom and NORAD has eroded and continues to erode,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee May 18. The four-star general is also head of the U.S.-Canada North American Aerospace Defense command.

“Our country is under attack every day in the information space and cyber domain,” he noted. “Competitors are spreading disinformation, actively sowing division and fanning the flames of internal discord with the intent to undermine the foundation of our nation, our democracy, and democracies around the world.”

China, Russia, North Korea and other adversaries are aggressively working to exploit security vulnerabilities and policy gaps, especially in the cyber domain.

Adversaries in the past year accelerated deploying weapons “specifically designed to threaten our homeland,” he said, adding that of equal concern are what the general said were “relentless, coordinated” efforts by adversaries to weaken institutions and alliances at the core of U.S. strength.

According to Gen. VanHerck, China and Russia are aggressively deploying advanced offensive cyber and space warfare weapons, cruise missiles, hypersonic weapons and strike weapons capable of evading detection that can “strike targets in our homeland from multiple vectors of attack and in all domains.”

To counter the threats, Northcom, whose areas of responsibility include the continental U.S., Puerto Rico, Canada and Mexico, needs better sensors and updated weapons along with policies better suited to the dangers.

Gen. VanHerck described Russia as the “primary military threat” to the U.S. homeland and said Moscow’s targeting methods are being copied by others. Moscow deployed a hypersonic missile in December 2019 that glides at extremely high speeds and then maneuvers at low altitude in a bid to frustrate the adversary’s ability to detect and track them.

Moscow’s next major advances will be new long-range missiles deployed in the next few years that Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed can attack the United States with nuclear warheads from both northern and southern trajectories. Those trajectories mean U.S. leaders will not have the ability to respond by protecting government functions and ordering retaliatory strikes, he said.

Russian cyberattacks and direct ascent anti-satellite missiles also are major worries and are backed by new long-range cruise missiles, including the air-launched AS-23 missile, that can attack the United States from Russian airspace.

“This capability challenges my ability to detect an attack and mount an effective defense,” he said.

Submarine threats include the deployment of the first two Severodvinsk-class guided missile submarines, which can attack “within cruise missile range of our coastlines to threaten critical infrastructure during an escalating crisis,” Gen. VanHerck said, adding that the new subs will be equipped with hypersonic missiles in the next few years.

China’s attack threats to the U.S. mainland include new weapons that “hold our homeland at risk in multiple domains in an attempt to complicate our decision making and to disrupt, delay and degrade force flow in crisis and destroy our will in conflict,” he said.

“China has maintained the ability to strike our homeland with strategic nuclear weapons since the early 1980s, but today its nuclear capabilities are growing rapidly in quantity and sophistication,” Gen. VanHerck said.

Of special concerns is China’s space-based fractional orbital bombardment system tested in July 2021. The weapon delivered a hypersonic glide vehicle that demonstrated the ability to survive reentry and perform high-speed and maneuvering glide operations after orbiting around the globe.

The successful test was “a feat Russia never attempted before fielding their own HGV-equipped ICBMs two years ago,” he said.

“When fielded, China’s ICBM-class HGV will be able to evade current ground- and space-based early warning capabilities due to its low-altitude approach and ability to maneuver midcourse, which compounds the detection and warning challenges I already face from Russia’s Avangard HGV and advanced cruise missiles,” Gen. VanHerck said.

New evidence suggests Chinese kill prisoners by organ transplant
Researchers have uncovered new evidence linking Chinese medical doctors to the killing of prisoners by removing their organs for transplant.

Matthew P. Robertson and Jacob Lavee, writing in the American Journal of Transplantation, stated that Chinese doctors appear to be violating a core value of medical ethics — executing prisoners by removing organs while they are still alive. Taking organs from live patients violates what the authors call the “dead donor rule,” which requires patients to be declared dead prior to harvesting their organs for transplant.

The two researchers conducted a forensic analysis of 2,838 medical papers drawn from 124,770 Chinese-language transplant publications.

“We find evidence in 71 of these reports, spread nationwide, that brain death could not have properly been declared,” Mr. Robertson and Dr. Lavee stated.

Dr. Lavee is director of the Heart Transplantation Unit at Tel Aviv’s Sheba Medical Center and a professor of surgery at Tel Aviv University. Mr. Robertson is a research fellow with the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and a doctoral candidate in political science at the Australian National University.

“In these cases, the removal of the heart during organ procurement must have been the proximate cause of the donor’s death,” they stated. “Because these organ donors could only have been prisoners, our findings strongly suggest that physicians in the People’s Republic of China have participated in executions by organ removal.”

Other international investigations have found that China has harvested organs from prisoners as part of a large-scale, lucrative trade.

An international tribunal of medical experts found in 2020 that religious minorities including the Buddhist Falun Gong group and Uyghur Muslims were targeted in live-prisoner organ harvesting. The tribunal called the practice a crime against humanity and, potentially, genocide.

The transplant surgeries were conducted from 1980 to 2015, a period in China when there was no voluntary organ donor system and very few voluntary donors.

“The leader of China’s transplant sector wrote in 2007 that effectively 95% of all organ transplants were from prisoners,” they said. “According to official statements, it was only in 2014 that a national organ allocation system could be used by citizens.”

Based on official Chinese government statements, almost all the organ transplants in the medical papers were from Chinese prisoners, either death-row inmates or political prisoners, the authors said.

“The question remains as to how they were executed, and the role of transplant surgeons and other medical workers in that process,” Mr. Robertson and Dr. Lavee wrote in an article titled, “Execution by organ procurement: Breaching the dead donor rule in China.”

The researchers analyzed reports of heart and lung transplants.

“Procuring vital organs from prisoners demands close cooperation between the executioner and the transplant team,” they stated. “The state’s role is to administer death, while the physician’s role is to procure a viable organ. If the execution is carried out without heed to the clinical demands of the transplant, the organs may be spoiled. Yet if the transplant team becomes too involved, they risk becoming the executioners.”

The researchers state that Chinese transplant surgeons failed to establish that prisoners were dead before removing their heart and lungs.

The findings were based on medical reports showing organ donors had breathing tubes inserted before they were pronounced dead.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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