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Inside the Ring: Pentagon plumber

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson is leading a major effort to plug news leaks and recently sent a memorandum to all Defense Department employees requesting that they all search their computers for information about contacts with reporters, according to defense officials familiar with the memo.

The memo said officials should look for the names of several reporters for the New York Times, The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. The officials disclosed the name of only one of the reporters: David E. Sanger of the New York Times.

One official who received the memo was surprised by the request because the Pentagon's information-technology security officials already have the capability to search Pentagon computers. Knowing that a major leak investigation is under way is not likely to produce admissions by officials who were in touch with the reporters in question.

A U.S. official said what also was unusual about the Johnson memo was its classification. The request was given the highest security classification level, above the "top secret" label.

The memo is part of the hunt within the Obama administration to find who disclosed information about cyberwarfare operations and counterterrorism activities. The issue surfaced recently as a major point of contention in the presidential election.

Republicans on Capitol Hill accused the White House of deliberately leaking sensitive information about U.S. covert activities in an effort to bolster President Obama's image as the commander in chief. Boosting the president's national security credentials is viewed as a way to avoid discussing his role in the floundering U.S. economy.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta; Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Mr. Johnson testified on the news-leak issue last month before the House Armed Services Committee.

Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, the committee chairman, told reporters after the closed-door hearing that he did not think the Pentagon was the source of leaks to reporters in recent months. He also said the senior defense officials had said they were taking steps to prevent disclosures.

The Justice Department is investigating how information was made public linking the U.S. and Israeli governments to the cyberwarfare attack on Iran involving a computer virus called Stuxnet, something reported by Mr. Sanger. A second probe is said to focus on an Associated Press report that identified a Saudi undercover agent who had helped thwart a second terrorist bomb plot that originated in Yemen.

Pentagon spokesman George Little declined to comment on the Johnson memo.

GOP to hit Obama 'Flexibility'

The Republican Party has produced an advertisement for use in the fall presidential campaign that criticizes President Obama for his open-microphone comments promising concessions in missile-defense talks with the Russians after his presumed re-election.

The advertisement is one of a series of critical ads being readied for the coming political warfare among Republicans and Democrats when the election campaign kicks into high gear after Labor Day.

The advertisement was shown to Republican leaders from around the nation when they met recently in Arizona during a briefing for the Republican National Committee by GOP pollster Frank Luntz.

Mr. Obama was criticized widely for the comments, captured during a meeting with then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev during the summit meeting in Seoul in March.

"This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility," Mr. Obama said. "On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved, but it's important for [incoming President Vladimir Putin] to give me space."

"I understand," Mr. Medvedev said in response. "I will transmit this information to Vladimir."

The discussion was especially embarrassing for the president because the Obama administration has publicly stated for the past three years that it will not conduct any talks with the Russians that will result in limits on U.S. missile defenses.

Moscow, however, has stonewalled the talks and continues to insist that the U.S. government agree to legally binding limits on the U.S. NATO missile defenses in Europe.

submarine Sex worries

Navy submariners tell Inside the Ring that one of the concerns emerging from the Navy's decision to lift the ban on women serving aboard submarines is not from sailors, but their wives.

The Obama administration, as part of its social-engineering efforts in the military, in spring lifted the decades-long ban on women working in the silent service.

The Navy announced in April that it will allow women on submarines.

"There are extremely capable women in the Navy who have the talent and desire to succeed in the submarine force," Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said at the time. "Enabling them to serve in the submarine community is best for the submarine force and our Navy. We literally could not run the Navy without women today."

Veteran submariners have said problems integrating women into the extremely close quarters of submarines has little to do with capabilities and everything to do with sex.

Other than fraternization rules restricting relations between officers and enlisted personnel, there is no prohibition in the Navy -- on either surface ships or submarines -- on dating.

Two Navy submariners told Inside the Ring that the sub service will have no problem following orders on putting women on subs, despite issues related to bathing and toilets.

"There are a lot of wives who are concerned about their husbands, though," one officer said.

Submarine tours can last from three to six months, and in the past, wives had few concerns about their husbands straying while underwater.

Now they must worry about infidelity, officials said.

Future submarines will be built with separate quarters and bathing facilities, but the current submarine force was not designed for mixed-sex crews.

Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness said that during her work on a presidential commission on the subject, she took part in a conference call with a large group of submariners' wives.

"They were overwhelmingly opposed to gender integration on subs, but their primary concern was not male involvement with female sailors," Ms. Donnelly told Inside the Ring.

"It was safety and distractions that would detract from safety. That would include forced evacuations caused by health issues unique to women, including pregnancies discovered in the middle of the ocean -- an issue that was not revealed until a few years later."

The Navy Times reported in July that an affair between a Navy chief and a female Naval Academy midshipman on the USS Nebraska, a ballistic-missile submarine, involved a cover-up of the affair.

Former submariner John Mason said he thinks most submariners, and not just wives, are opposed to the policy change.

"It is my firm opinion, and that of many others with experience in the submarine community, that this policy change was politically motivated with little concern for the many effects, mostly negative, that the change would have on submarine mission effectiveness and operational readiness," Mr. Mason said in a letter to the Navy Times.

"Additionally, the Navy's inability to get a handle on the ongoing issue of fraternization only highlights the short-sightedness the Navy showed in making this policy change."

Navy Cmdr. Monica Rouselow, a spokeswoman for submarine forces said: "We've had women integrated on four of our submarines for 10 months now and have heard of no concerns from spouses, male or female spouses."

China pressures kim

A Western diplomatic source told Inside the Ring that the recent visit to North Korea by Wang Jiarui, head of the Chinese Communist Party's International Department, was the first meeting between a senior foreign official and the new North Korean maximum leader, Kim Jong-un.

Mr. Wang was in North Korea from July 30 to Aug. 2 and, according to the source, is believed to have laid down a clear line for Mr. Kim: no nuclear tests, no long-range missile firings and no military provocations against South Korea until after China finishes its major leadership change this fall.

China's current President Hu Jintao is set to give up power to Vice President Xi Jingping at the major party meeting.

North Korea's post-Kim Jong-il regime is in the process of consolidating power and recently fired a top general.

Mr. Wang is the key communist official in charge of North Korea relations, and his dispatch to Pyongyang followed reported tensions earlier this year over a North Korean missile test and North Korea's detention of Chinese fishermen.

China is North Korea's main foreign patron, providing energy and resources to the impoverished communist state. Chinese news reports recently suggested that China has seen some indicators that Mr. Kim is more likely than his father to take some steps at economic reform that Beijing has been pressing.

Following the Wang visit, Mr. Kim's uncle, Jang Sang-taek, visited China. Mr. Jang is widely believed to be one of the most powerful figures in North Korea. Mr. Jang's visit is believed to have focused on trade and economics with the goal of improving the dire economic conditions in North Korea.

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