Inside the Ring

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Cooperation report?

The Pentagon is nearly two months late in releasing its 2010 report on China’s military buildup, and defense officials say the White House is holding up the release.

According to the officials, National Security Council aides are opposed to publishing new details on China’s decade-long buildup of new strategic and conventional missiles, aircraft, warships and other high-tech weapons that the White House deems “provocative.”

Instead, NSC aides are insisting on inserting language into the annual “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China” report to highlight U.S.-China military “cooperation.”

Making U.S.-China military cooperation look good in the report is a tough sell, the officials said. China severed military ties with the United States twice in the past two years, first in October 2008 and again earlier this year, to protest U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

The officials told Inside the Ring that the report is being revised based on a little-noticed change in last year’s Defense Authorization Act that modified what the Pentagon must include in the report.

China’s government for years issued diplomatic protests on the annual reports to Congress, complaining they unfairly portray the Chinese military buildup as a threat to U.S. and allied interests.

In response, the Obama administration is working to remove significant details from the report, such as declassified intelligence on China’s testing of the DF-21 aircraft carrier-killing, anti-ship ballistic missile.

Instead, those new developments will be included in the classified version. The public version, when it is finally released, is expected to be a watered-down, more diplomatic version of past reports, the defense officials said.

The report’s revisions are part of the administration’s new softer-line approach to China and bolster a sophisticated propaganda program by Beijing and its military over the past several years to try to kill the report, or at least force changes to it.

The new language in the Defense Authorization Act requires future reports to include data on “United States-China engagement and cooperation on security matters.” The language also softened the report by eliminating all references to China’s “grand strategy” and its plans for “preemptive strikes” in an effort to play down Beijing’s capabilities.

Those changes coincided with lobbying efforts since 2008 by a U.S.-China group called the Sanya Initiative, led by China’s former military intelligence chief, retired Lt. Gen. Xiong Guangkai, and involving a small group of retired U.S. military officers.

The group stated in its 2008 report that after meeting in the Chinese resort island town of Sanya that “American generals” had agreed to ask the Pentagon to delay release of the military power report that year and to avoid “exaggerated” reports on China’s military buildup.

Gen. Xiong currently heads a government-run think tank in China. The U.S. side is led by retired Adm. Bill Owens, a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who has extensive business ties in China.

Richard Fisher, a military analyst with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said weakening the annual report would undermine the Pentagon’s credibility in seeking greater military “transparency” from China.

“The annual report demonstrates U.S. resolve to hold China to a higher standard of military transparency, as per our constant rhetoric,” he said. “Democracies need a surplus of facts in order to survive, especially about our adversaries. … If this report disappoints Congress, it should demand a rewrite.”

A Pentagon spokeswoman said the report is currently “in coordination.” A White House spokesman had no comment.

SEALs courts-martial

Three Navy SEALs are on their way to Iraq to face their accuser, a terrorism suspect who claims one of them struck him after he was captured.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Keefe and Petty Officer 1st Class Julio Hertas will be in Baghdad for separate courts-martial April 19 and April 22, respectively, on charges of dereliction of duty.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew McCabe, who is charged with striking Ahmed Hashim Abed last September, will be in Baghdad for Mr. Abed’s deposition.

Petty Officer McCabe has opted to face trial in Norfolk, rather than Iraq, next month. He denies striking Mr. Abed. Prosecutors and defense lawyers will question Mr. Abed on videotape, which will be shown to Petty Officer McCabe’s military jury.

A source close to the case tells special correspondent Rowan Scarborough that the three SEALs were told they may not carry weapons in Iraq, where they once hunted most-wanted terrorists in Anbar province. Military personnel in Iraq typically carry a firearm.

The joke being told in SEAL circles is that the three are returning as “tourists” to the land where they executed a perfect snatch operation of a terrorist, only to find themselves facing military criminal charges.

The military believes Mr. Abed planned the killings of four Blackwater security guards in Fallujah in 2004. Two of the mutilated bodies of the guards were hung on a bridge over the Euphrates River.

A U.S. spokesman in Baghdad said Mr. Abed was being held under a judge’s order but would provide no details on his case.

Mr. Abed claims he was punched by Petty Officer McCabe while in custody before he was turned over to authorities in Baghdad.

CIA-Justice probe update

A second senior House Republican is calling on the Obama administration to provide Congress with information on the ongoing investigation being conducted by the Justice Department and CIA into whether defense lawyers for terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, endangered the lives of CIA interrogators.

Rep. Darrell Issa, ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, stated in a letter sent on Wednesday to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. that he would like information on the probe into the activities of a group known as the John Adams Project, an American Civil Liberties Union-backed program.

The Project covertly took photographs of people believed to be CIA interrogators and gave them to defense lawyers in Cuba to show to al Qaeda inmates there. The goal was to identify the CIA officers to the terrorists for use in a possible military or civilian trial.

“I understand the CIA is greatly alarmed by the prospect of this brazen act,” said Mr. Issa, California Republican. “So am I.”

“If the terrorists at Guantanamo have learned the secret identity of agency operatives, the safety of the operatives and their families could be at risk,” he said.

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, also a California Republican and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, has asked the Pentagon to brief the full committee on the probe. A Pentagon spokesman said a formal request for the briefing was received this week.

Mr. Issa said the Justice Department role in the probe suggests investigators are considering “whether defense attorneys and sympathetic photographers colluded in a prohibited act of providing material support to terrorists, in the revelation of the identity of covert intelligence operatives in violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, or in contravention of other laws.”

Spokesmen for the ACLU and John Adams Project have said their interaction with defense lawyers was proper and within guidelines established by U.S. military commissions.

Mr. Issa also said he would like to know if the Justice Department element of the investigation, headed by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, “is insulated from the influence of Department of Justice political appointees who may have had some connection with the issues before assuming their current roles.”

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, Mr. Holder was asked about concerns that department lawyers may have conflicts of interests related to Guantanamo inmates and whether a system is needed at Justice to deal with the problem in ways used by private law firms.

“Well, I think that’s actually a legitimate concern that you raise, and that is something that I think is worthy of consideration,” Mr. Holder said. “And that, I think, is something that we can consider at the department.”

About the Author

Bill Gertz INSIDE THE RING

Bill Gertz is geopolitics editor and a national security and investigative reporter for The Washington Times. He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

Mr. Gertz also writes a weekly column ...

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