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Sept. 14, 2017
Notes from the Pentagon

Pacific Fleet chief headed to Pacom
The commander of the Pacific Fleet, Adm. Scott Swift, is in line for the plum military post of commander of the Hawaii-based Pacific Command.

Defense officials said the mustachioed Adm. Swift will follow a long line of Pacific Fleet commanders who moved up the road from Pearl Harbor to Camp H.M. Smith in Hawaii, location of the command’s headquarters. Adm. Swift, a Navy pilot, would replace Adm. Harry Harris, who has held the post since May 2015.

At Pacfleet Adm. Swift earned a reputation as a no-nonsense commander who is both a thinker and a war fighter. According to an associate, Adm. Swift is the first commander to take steps to blur the international dateline running through the Pacific that divided fleet forces to eastern and western Pacific zones.

This allowed naval forces from the 3rd Fleet covering the continental United States to expand into the western Pacific to deal with threats from China, something that had been a policy taboo for decades.

Adm. Harris turned down a second three-year term at Pacom, as the command is called, and instead is expected to be named U.S. ambassador to Australia, according to two officials.

Once Adm. Harris is nominated for the Australia post, Adm. Swift could be fast-tracked to replace him as early as this winter.

Adm. Harris was a former Pacific Fleet commander and is among the first senior military leaders to challenge China’s aggression in the South China Sea in building up and militarizing small islands in the strategic waterway. He famously called Chinese aggression a “great wall of sand” in the sea and restarted a stalled program of naval warship passages close to islands claimed by China.

For his outspokenness, Adm. Harris, who is Japanese-American, came under fire from China, where the official press has criticized him and suggested his ethnicity was behind the tough stance on China.

Last year China’s Communist Party-affiliated, anti-U.S. newspaper Global Times criticized the commander. “Harris has almost become a poster boy, on various occasions and through different ways of China-bashing, pitching the Pentagon’s resolve to defend U.S. hegemony in the West Pacific,” the newspaper said.

Trade battle brewing
The Trump administration’s decision to go ahead with a formal investigation into China’s large-scale theft of American intellectual property was a major step forward for U.S. businesses that have been savaged for years by systematic Chinese cybereconomic espionage.

The U.S. Trade Representative Office launched the formal probe last month, known as a 301 investigation, after President Trump issued a memorandum on the subject Aug. 14.

A USTR notice states that the probe was launched Aug. 18 and will “determine whether acts, policies and practices of the government of China related to technology transfer, intellectual property, and innovation are actionable.”

The probe is a setback for pro-China officials within the Trump administration and outside of it who have sought to prevent any punitive action from being taken against Beijing. China has threatened a trade war over the probe that could result in sanctions being imposed on China.

Administration sources said Mr. Trump ordered the probe after meeting with technology company chiefs, including the heads of Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and other Silicon Valley firms in June.

The unanimous view of the technology giants was that the United States is hemorrhaging trade and technology secrets to the Chinese. More than $4 trillion in intellectual property has been stolen by Beijing, and Silicon Valley urged taking action.

The USTR office will hold a hearing on the investigation Oct. 10.

The White House memo stated that China has imposed laws, policies and practices and acted in ways that may require the transfer of American technology and intellectual property to Chinese companies. The Chinese practices to be investigated include opaque administrative approval processes, joint venture requirements, foreign equity limitations, procurements and other means to limit U.S. companies in China “in order to require or pressure the transfer of technology and intellectual property to Chinese companies.”

Chinese government officials also are using vague rules that are selectively applied to pressure foreign companies to turn over proprietary technologies.

Beijing also is said to be systematically buying U.S. companies and assets for tech transfers.

The probe also will examine “whether the Chinese government is conducting or supporting unauthorized intrusions into U.S. commercial computer networks or cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, trade secrets, or confidential business information, and whether this conduct harms U.S. companies or provides competitive advantages to Chinese companies or commercial sectors.”

This provision suggests China is violating the promise made by President Xi Jinping to then-President Barack Obama to halt government cybereconomic espionage. The agreement was hailed with great fanfare, but U.S. intelligence officials have said China remains the most aggressive state sponsor of cyberspying.

Former presidential strategist Stephen K. Bannon said in Hong Kong this week that the 301 investigation is aimed at halting Chinese theft.

“They’re basically taking — forcing — the heart of American capitalism, which is innovation in Silicon Valley,” Mr. Bannon told the Daily Mail. “This is a big deal for the president. No other administration has ever done it, on intellectual property.”

Clearance of NSC aide to be revoked
The Pentagon is moving ahead with plans to revoke the security clearance of National Security Council aide Adam Lovinger, whose clearance was suspended in May, according to a defense source.

The Pentagon on May 1 notified Mr. Lovinger, a strategy official on the White House National Security Council staff, that his top-secret clearance was suspended for “personal conduct, misuses of information technology systems, outside activities and your improper handling and safeguarding of protected information.”

Mr. Lovinger’s lawyer, Sean M. Bigley, wrote a letter three weeks later to Edward Fish, the head of the Consolidated Adjudications Facility, the Pentagon bureau in charge of security clearances, warning that he planned “to keep Mr. Lovinger’s case in the media until it is resolved.”

The adjudications office has investigated the security issue and is moving toward revoking Mr. Lovinger’s clearance, the source told Inside the Ring.

Mr. Lovinger has claimed the clearance suspension is the result of political retribution against him by government bureaucrats opposed to President Trump. Both the White House and Pentagon privately are disputing that politics played any role in the clearance suspension.

The suspension was triggered after Navy Lt. Cmdr. J. Austin Maxwell, an electronic warfare officer with the Pacific Fleet, spotted Mr. Lovinger during a flight to Honolulu Sept. 15 reading a classified document. Cmdr. Maxwell stated in a memo that the document was marked “Classification Under Review. Top Source Classification is TS/SI/TK/HSC/Gamma/FISA.”

The markings indicate a portion of the document was highly classified and contained some information derived from satellite and communications intelligence, human agent intelligence or Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act secrets.

In an email Sept. 19 to Net Assessment officials, Mr. Lovinger acknowledged mishandling the classified document. “I realize I made a mistake, and take full responsibility for my actions,” he stated, noting he was suffering from jet lag. “I am ashamed of my poor judgment and am sorry to burden you with my blunder.”

Another factor in the security review was Mr. Lovinger’s plan to travel to India in May for a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and two Indian Cabinet officials. The visit apparently was not coordinated with any White House National Security Council officials.

Other allegations center on a visit to Israel by Mr. Lovinger and his failure to properly fill out travel notification forms required of all officials holding high-level clearance. The information technology charges against Mr. Lovinger involve his sending emails from work to home.

Mr. Bigley, Mr. Lovinger’s lawyer, said he has not been notified the Pentagon has revoked the clearance. But he vowed to appeal any revocation ruling.

All the allegations against Mr. Lovinger are false, Mr. Bigley said. “In the 700 security clearance cases I’ve done over the years, I’ve never seen such an egregious case of retaliation and misuse of authority,” he said.

A Pentagon spokeswoman had no immediate comment.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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