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Inside the Ring
Question of the Day
U.S. backing Libyan council
The Obama administration is beginning to throw its support behind Libya’s recently formed National Transitional Council (NTC), a combination of rebel groups that is viewed as the most likely successor to the regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
The issue of who succeeds Col. Gadhafi came up during a recent White House briefing by senior officials from the State Department, Pentagon and Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
According to officials familiar with the briefing, the main speaker was a senior State Department official and career Foreign Service officer well-versed in Libyan affairs who said the NTC leadership appears pro-democratic, while questions remain about some of its members.
If the council’s military forces lose the current war against Col. Gadhafi’s military, their fate is certain to be dismal, according to the official.
The State Department regards the NTC leadership to be an “honorable group” committed to democratic principles. But the department’s knowledge of the group is limited to its leadership. As for the rank-and-file, “There are probably some wild cards and independent players still to be heard from,” said one official familiar with the briefing.
Some in the Pentagon are wary of the NTC based on assessments showing that the Libya’s opposition forces include many Islamists who are anti-Western and are masking their views to gain Western support.
A White House spokesman had no immediate comment.
Last week, White House press secretary Jay Carneysaid the administration still was assessing the NTC. France’s government has extended diplomatic recognition to it.
A U.S. official familiar with intelligence reports said Wednesday: “This group is a key touchstone for engagement with the Libyan opposition — and not just for the United States, but for other countries, too.”
Outside Libya, expatriates are rallying to support the NTC, and former military officers who recently defected from Col. Gadhafi’s forces are joining the fight against the Tripoli regime by supporting the NTC.
Militarily, rebel forces fighting for the NTC have extensive problems that make the likelihood of their prevailing in the fight uncertain. Problems include poor equipment, lack of organization and a shortage of troops.
Still, the U.S. intelligence assessment is that the fight is not over, and the rebel forces appear to be getting stronger, according to materials presented at the briefing.
Army vice chief hacked
Computer hackers tried to break into the bank account of Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli but were blocked by bank security detectors, according to defense officials familiar with the incident.
The hacking was discussed during a recent Pentagon briefing on threats posed by groups that conduct thousands of attempts each day to get inside Pentagon computer terminals and networks.
During the attempt against Gen. Chiarelli’s bank account, the hackers were prevented from getting into the account, and the bank later alerted the four-star general of the attempt.
No other details were available, and no group has claimed responsibility.
Asked about the incident, Army spokesman Col. Thomas W. Collins said: “We acknowledge that hackers have previously attempted to access the personal information of some senior Army leaders.”
The goal of the bank hackers is not known, but computer security specialists say the attempt may have been focused on stealing his credit information or money, or sabotaging his account. Hackers routinely target bank computers in order to obtain financial data, specifically numbers for credit and debit cards.
Hacking against banks has been traced in the past to crime groups in Russia, Eastern Europe and China.
The Army briefer — Maj. Gen. Mark Bowman, director of architecture, operations, networks and space for the Army’s chief information officer— also told defense officials that cybersecurity specialists recently were alerted to a group called Hackers.org that is behind a cybercampaign to avenge the arrest and detention of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier suspected of providing hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
Russians seek hit-to-kill
Russia’s government plans to exploit the Obama administration’s eagerness to conclude a missile defense deal as a way to obtain valuable technology from advanced U.S. missile defenses, according to U.S. national security officials.
The Russians specifically are seeking a defense technology cooperation deal with the Pentagon that will permit them to gain access to U.S. hit-to-kill missile defense know-how, the key technology for the most current strategic long-range and tactical short-range defenses that were developed at a cost of billions of taxpayer dollars over the past two decades.
The reason, the officials said, is that Moscow knows it can offer very little in the way of cooperative missile defense with the U.S. The current strategic anti-missile interceptors around Moscow are armed with nuclear warheads — tactical weapons that Moscow is not expected to use against an Iranian missile attack.
Additionally, the nuclear-tipped interceptors are supposed to be the subject of follow-on U.S.-Russian tactical nuclear arms reduction talks based on the recently ratified New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
The notion that Moscow will share sensor data also is doubtful. Missile defense experts say Russia’s key radar are designed and deployed to detect U.S. submarine-launched missiles and are not useful in detecting Iranian missile launches, the main goal of the administration’s European-based missile defense plan.
Moscow also has problems getting U.S. technology because current law limits the transfer of technology under U.S. anti-proliferation law, specifically related to Iran, that bars Russia’s government from access to U.S. high-tech exports based on its past and ongoing arms proliferation to Iran.
The Obama administration is loosening export controls as part of a major reform effort, and administration arms-control officials, including Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher, are hoping the reforms will make it easier to reach her long-sought goal of concluding a missile defense or defense technology deal with Moscow.
“It’s the perfect storm: loosened export controls, reset with Russia and arms control fever by the administration,” said one official concerned about the pending Russian technology cooperation.
The Pentagon is said to be lukewarm at best over missile defense cooperation because of concerns the technology will be used to counter U.S. systems or sold covertly to U.S. adversaries.
Ms. Tauscher did not respond to emails seeking comment, and her spokesman, Jonathan E. Kaplan, declined to comment.
Ms. Tauscher, undersecretary of state for international security, told a conference Monday that talks with Russia on missile defense cooperation were progressing but that a final agreement was not assured.
According to the U.S. officials, Russians close to the government stated in recent talks that their main interest in any U.S. deal is getting access to military technology generally and missile-defense know how specifically.
The interest in U.S. technology followed a sharp turnaround in Moscow policy several months ago, when the Russians said they were no longer opposed to U.S. missile defenses. The Russian military hopes its engagement and a missile defense agreement will lead to obtaining strategic hit-to-kill missile technology.
Hit-to-kill involves ultra-high-speed, non-explosive guided warheads that destroy targets [-] such as missile warheads in flight — by slamming into them.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). 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.
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