- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2000

We're listening

Echelon, the supersensitive snooping network operated worldwide by the United States, with British assistance, is based at Menwith Hall Station, England. It uses major downloading posts at the Joint Analysis Center, Molesworth, England, and Bad Abiling Station, Germany, as well as other sites around the word.

"The military downlinks only have access to military-related information, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro and these places," an intelligence source tells us.

"However, at the [National Security Agency and the White House], they have links into economic intelligence that gives the United States and England incredible power over the global economic status and overall picture of the European financial markets."

The U.S. government does not acknowledge the existence of Echelon, a vacuum for millions of telephone calls, faxes and e-mails. Its satellites and ground-based listening posts home in on communications based on "hearing" key words or certain telephone numbers.

The powerful Echelon has been in the news this year. A former Canadian intelligence agent claims it eavesdrops on average citizens and creates files on the innocent. Paris has begun an investigation to determine if the Americans and British are using Echelon to spy on French companies.

The National Security Agency, this country's electronic eyes and ears, briefly broke out of its shell in March. In a letter, the NSA assured members of Congress that it does not violate U.S. law by intercepting domestic communications.

Still, some in the intelligence field with whom we spoke are not so sure.

Said a second intelligence source: "It is quite an incredible system and it clearly has the capability to monitor line-to-line telephone conversations as well as cellular phones. It can also derive specific information from anything in a microwave transmission to a simple computer message. It is used primarily for national-level strategic intelligence collection. However, I am not unconvinced that economic data is not collected by this system."

Officer shortage

The Army is running short on officers and is cutting corners on promotions to fill the gaps. That's the message sent out last month by Army Lt. Gen. David H. Ohle, the deputy chief of staff for personnel. Gen. Ohle gave a presentation to an infantry conference and made these points:

• The Army is extremely short of captains and to solve the problems the service has decided to promote more second lieutenants to first lieutenant and captain at a faster pace.

"Commanders were asked not to hold their captains from attending the career course," one defense official stated.

• The Army also is running short on majors.

"To fix that problem the next major [promotion] board will have a selection rate of 93 percent," an official told us. Gen. Ohle also said he did not believe the quality of officers would decline as a result of the higher selection rate for promotion.

• The Army is also is running short on lieutenant colonels and colonels. Army officials have been directed to work with light colonels and colonels to find them an assignment that "is to their liking."

"The days of take this assignment or retire are over," the official said.

To deal with the problem of lieutenants leaving the service, all Army leaders have been asked to talk to lieutenants about staying in.

"Many lieutenants are getting out and saying they were never asked or had a discussion to stay in," the official said, noting that Army leaders have been directed to "change" in order to keep younger officers in. "Working 12-to 15-hour days in garrison every day doesn't help," the official said.

Gen. Ohle said the Army chief's goal of filling out all divisions to 100 percent can be met. But doing so will be difficult. To fully staff all the divisions, it will require an additional 12,500 soldiers to meet the authorized amount now permitted by Congress.

Also, beginning Oct. 1, all retiring service members must wait six months after submitting a request before leaving.

"We used to work hard to get you retired in a week or two, if circumstances required it. Not under this regulation anymore," Gen. Ohle said.

Mrs. Cohen in China

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen has been having protocol problems after hastily adding his wife, Janet, to his weeklong trip to China and Australia.

Mrs. Cohen was put on the trip only three days before his arrival July 11, driving the bureaucracy-heavy Chinese military crazy.

First, there was a dispute over not allowing Mrs. Cohen to ride with her husband to the hotel because it would upset the rules laid down by Lt. Gen. Xiong Guangkai, the deputy chief of staff for intelligence in the People's Liberation Army.

Then on Wednesday, Mrs. Cohen was late in leaving the hotel and the defense secretary left her behind to avoid offending his Chinese hosts. Well, the Chinese insisted that Mrs. Cohen be there for the meeting and waited until she arrived before starting the session.

Later, the Chinese insisted that Mrs. Cohen, a former TV newscaster, visit China's government-run television station. Mrs. Cohen was hesitant, but agreed to go as long as her husband went along as her guest. This created huge problems for the Chinese, who had trouble figuring out the protocol for that event.

Intercepts

• Elaine Donnelly, who keeps an eye on military tradition as head of the Center for Military Readiness, is not confining herself to the U.S. armed forces. Her latest newsletter takes readers on a tour of military social issues in seven foreign nations.

Canada funded a soldier's sex-change operation and is designing a "combat bra" at a cost of $2.4 million. An advisory committee wants Canada's relatively small armed forces to include 28 percent women and "fast track" promotions for them.

Britain is setting up trials for women in land combat. At the same time, it is so low on ammo that some recruits fire "imaginary" bullets. British soldiers who don't like their orders can sue commanders under the European Convention on Human rights.

Sweden has opened its small coastal submarines to mixed-sex crews, who shower and bunk together during brief stints at sea. "Love relationships" are not unusual, the Navy Times reports.

• Adm. Dennis Blair, head of U.S. Pacific Command, is defending a decision by U.S. Forces Korea to send a warning message to the troops about possible attacks from South Korean citizens. The command sent the alert in late June after an Army major was fatally stabbed and a military wife assaulted both in broad daylight.

"We've had these pretty big demonstrations down off of Osan," said Adm. Blair, referring to the site of a U.S. base. "And so we have upped the level of concern of U.S. officers and all of our folks around the base. We haven't buttoned up the bases or any of that. We've just told people to watch out for each other, to be more careful because there are more disturbances in the air and prudent measures are being taken… . The Korean officers and officials that I've talked to do not see it as a long-term increase in antipathy toward the United States."

• Bill Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at gertz@twtmail.com. Rowan Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at scarbo@twtmail.com.

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