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Oct. 26, 2017
Notes from the Pentagon

Sessions threatened to quit over Chinese dissident
Attorney General Jeff Sessions went to the mat recently against pro-China officials within the Trump administration to prevent the forcible return of a dissident businessman to China.

According to a person familiar with the issue, Mr. Sessions told administration officials during a meeting this spring that he would resign before agreeing to send back Chinese businessman Guo Wengui, who Beijing says is wanted on corruption charges but who has become a major political thorn in the side of the Chinese Communist Party leadership.

Mr. Sessions made the resignation threat in the face of pressure from officials at the White House and State Department, who themselves have been the targets of an intense influence operation by China seeking the return of Mr. Guo, a real estate mogul who in January began revealing secrets on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook about what he says is widespread corruption among Chinese leaders.

Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle declined to comment when asked about the resignation threat. Department officials, however, said Mr. Sessions confronted a senior Chinese security official, Guo Shengkun, this month during a meeting at the Justice Department on Chinese hacking operations against the dissident.

The resignation threat is part of a bitter internal political battle within the Trump administration over Mr. Guo.

China has been pressuring the Trump White House on the matter since earlier this year, using American business leaders with interests in China to lobby the U.S. government.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Las Vegas casino owner Steve Wynn, who has interests in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macao, presented President Trump with a letter from the Chinese government concerning Mr. Guo. The report said Mr. Trump initially favored deporting Mr. Guo but was dissuaded by other administration officials. Mr. Wynn, through a spokesman, told The Journal that the report about the letter was false.

The State Department, through acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton, who critics say is a pro-China official, blocked the FBI from arresting two Chinese security officials for violating visa rules in meeting with Mr. Guo this year, The Journal reported. That meeting was part of China’s efforts to force Mr. Guo to return to China and included threats and intimidation.

Mr. Guo applied for political asylum in the United States last month. Days after he applied, the law firm handling his asylum request was hacked and documents, including the application, were posted on Twitter.

In China, despite censorship, Mr. Guo has garnered an online following of pro-democracy supporters estimated to number in the millions.

But he has been silenced by American social media companies under apparent pressure from China. His hourlong YouTube videos exposing corruption were shut off recently after he was accused of online harassment. Facebook restricted his Chinese-language page, and Twitter blocked his feed to more than 700,000 followers.

Mr. Guo this week took credit for the retirement of senior Chinese leader Wang Qishan, who stepped down from his position as China’s top anti-corruption official amid allegations from Mr. Guo that Mr. Wang himself was guilty of corruption.

Mr. Wang, through relatives, is said to own up to $2 billion in California real estate, according to Mr. Guo and reaped millions of dollars by placing two relatives at the helm of the major Chinese conglomerate HNA.

A congressional commission on the threat of electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, went out of business on Sept. 30, and another commission is being set up to deal with the increasing danger of high-voltage pulse attacks.

The House Armed Services Committee added language to the defense authorization bill now in a House-Senate conference to re-establish the commission. House aides said the measure is likely to survive the conference and become law.

Unlike the earlier commission, whose members were picked by the Pentagon, the next commission members will be chosen by Congress.

“The chairman and members of the committee believe we must do all we can to protect our nation and our military from the threat of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack,” a committee aide told Inside the Ring.

“That is why the House-passed NDAA re-establishes the federal EMP Commission, which can help analyze the threat and make recommendations to Congress about appropriate precautions to safeguard our critical infrastructure and key resources against such an attack.”

The 12-member panel’s charter will be to assess the likelihood of an EMP attack or solar event in the next 20 years and produce a report by Dec. 1, 2018. Its budget will be $3 million.

The commission was given new urgency after North Korea announced last month that its latest test had paved the way for an EMP strike weapon.

Peter Pry, a member of the old EMP commission, said it is a mistake for Congress to replace the commission because the best experts have been part of it for 17 years.

“A new EMP Commission with new EMP commissioners is sure to please Obama holdovers in the Department of Defense, who did everything in their power to sabotage the original EMP Commission and silence its message about the existential EMP threat,” Mr. Pry said.

Adam Lovinger, the former National Security Council aide who had his security clearance suspended by the Pentagon, is denying any wrongdoing in a response to an Inside the Ring report on his case. Mr. Lovinger, in a detailed rejoinder, also said he was exonerated by the Pentagon of committing security breaches.

“The DoD inquiry report concludes as follows: ‘To the extent the document contains any actual classified information it is extremely limited and very general in nature,’” Mr. Lovinger said in an email, quoting from the report.

The document, he stated, goes on to say that the classification of the top-secret materials “is likely related to sources and purpose, rather than content, and the sourcing information of the original classification is not available or alluded to in this document.”

Mr. Lovinger also asserted that the report states the security infraction was “inadvertent” and that there “was no compromise given the content of the document in question and its close control either on Mr. Lovinger’s person or in his assigned lodging on a military base for a relatively short period of time. For these reasons, no violation is believed to have occurred.”

Mr. Lovinger, who also works for the Pentagon’s office of net assessment, also asserted that the security investigation was not triggered by the memo written by Navy Lt. Cmdr. J. Austin Maxwell, who sat next to Mr. Lovinger on a flight to Honolulu and reported seeing him read a classified document.

Instead, Mr. Lovinger says, the security probe was launched after Jim Baker, his boss and director of Net Assessment, began complaining about a conspiracy to depose him after Donald Trump won the election.

The probe resulted in a letter of reprimand that Mr. Lovinger described as “the lowest possible punishment available, automatically disappearing from my record after two years.”

Mr. Lovinger also denies acknowledging in an email sent Sept. 19 to Net Assessment officials that he mishandled the classified document because he was suffering from jet lag.

“To this day, consistent with the official conclusions, I believe the document contained no actual classified information,” he said.

Even though the document Mr. Lovinger was reading bore classification markings indicating it contained top-secret information, Mr. Lovinger insisted that the official report on his case concluded that none of the information in the document was top-secret or classified.

Inside the Ring reported that the Pentagon is moving ahead with plans to revoke Mr. Lovinger’s clearance after they were suspended May 1.

The Pentagon notified Mr. Lovinger that the suspension was for “personal conduct, misuses of information technology systems, outside activities and your improper handling and safeguarding of protected information.”

Mr. Lovinger denied that his trips to Israel and India were not approved and said they were “fully authorized.”

“After Jim Baker’s two investigations of me turned up nothing, he fabricated the charges that he used to suspend my clearance,” Mr. Lovinger said.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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