- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pentagon intelligence official Michael Vickers and National Security Council counterterrorism adviser John Brennan are being looked at by President Obama as top candidates to head the CIA.

Both officials have their detractors. Mr. Vickers, currently undersecretary of defense for intelligence, was brought in to the Pentagon by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and opposed the troop surge in Iraq.

Mr. Vickers angered conservatives after an article in 2007 in The Washington Post praised him as the “principal strategist” for the CIA covert operation to arm Afghan rebels in the 1970s, and he was inaccurately portrayed in a 2003 book and 2007 movie, “Charlie Wilson’s War,” as a leading figure in what was portrayed as CIA success in the Afghan program.

Former Reagan administration officials said the CIA vehemently opposed the covert program to send Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to the Afghans and was overruled. The missiles helped defeat the Soviets and began the unraveling of the entire Soviet empire.

The now-deceased Fred Ikle, a key Pentagon policymaker in the Reagan administration, criticized the movie and said the CIA initially fought against sending Stingers, while Mr. Wilson, a former Democratic congressman from Texas who died in 2010, was lukewarm.

“Senior people in the Reagan administration, the president, [CIA Director] Bill Casey, [Defense Secretary Caspar] Weinberger and their aides deserve credit for the successful Afghan covert-action program, not just Charlie Wilson,” Mr. Ikle said in 2007.

Mr. Vickers also has no fans among many special-operations commandos and policy officials for his handling of covert operations while assistant defense secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict, his previous Pentagon position. He was criticized by military special operators for favoring intelligence methods over aggressive commando activities that might have found Osama bin Laden years earlier.

Mr. Brennan, a career CIA analyst, has been major target of some national-security specialists who say he is the mastermind behind the Obama administration policy of playing down the Islamist nature of terrorism.

It was Mr. Brennan, these critics say, who has tried to banish the term “Islamist terror” from being used by the administration. Instead, Mr. Brennan has directed that Islamic jihad, or holy war, be referred to as the more politically correct term “violent extremism.” That in turn has led to the administration’s embarrassment of calling the Fort Hood terrorist attack “workplace violence.”

The failure to identify the Islamic nature of the war on terrorism has led to confusion over the nature of the enemy, and limited strategic communication and other strategic efforts to attack ideologies behind groups such as al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.

One official said that as CIA director, Mr. Brennan would be under Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and would lose his current walking-distance access to the president.

Mr. Brennan also remains one of the few administration officials who has been silent on the disaster in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, when a poorly armed CIA and State Department outpost was attacked by al Qaeda-linked terrorists killing four Americans, including U.S. ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens.

Mr. Brennan is a focus of congressional investigators trying to find out who altered the original CIA talking points on the Benghazi attack by removing references to al Qaeda and terrorism and instead referring to “extremists” who were part of the attack.

Critics have said the changes to the CIA guidance amounted to the politicization of intelligence that sought to play down the terrorist nature of the attack — days after Mr. Obama said in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention that al Qaeda was on the path to defeat.

The talking points were used by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan E. Rice on five Sunday television talks shows when she asserted erroneously that the Benghazi attack was the result of a spontaneous demonstration.

Neither Mr. Vickers nor Mr. Brennan could be reached for comment. Both failed to return emails asking about their candidacies for the CIA post.

China military analyst sought

The Defense Intelligence Agency is looking for a senior analyst to move to Hawaii’s U.S. Pacific Command headquarters to focus on the issue of China’s rapidly expanding military.

The new DIA analyst would advise the agency’s more than 12,000 military and civilian employees worldwide and will hold one of two senior positions as “principal China intelligence adviser and senior expert on China military operations and capabilities” for the Pacific Command’s director of intelligence, known as J-2, and the Joint Intelligence Operations Center. A second analyst focuses mainly on “China strategic issues.”

“These two [analysts] collaborate to provide integrated, authoritative advice to military commanders, senior Department of Defense (DoD) officials, and other US government agencies and US allies and partners on wide-ranging issues related to China and Taiwan,” states the Defense Department’s unusually candid announcement advertising for the position.

The new official will develop intelligence analysis on Chinese military operations and capabilities “including complex assessments that may be predictive in nature.”

The analyst also will prepare and present briefings to senior decision-makers and intelligence leaders on issues and programs “that may be considered controversial due to their precedent-setting nature.”

That wording, according to U.S. officials, is an oblique reference to the ongoing debate inside U.S. intelligence agencies on Chinese military developments and specifically Beijing’s strategic intentions.

Most China hands currently in the intelligence community are known to share the “benign China” outlook that argues that China poses little or no threat, is only nominally a nuclear-armed communist state, and must be shielded from anti-communist conservatives who want to turn it into a Cold War enemy.

However, more “realist” intelligence officials are gaining influence in government, having long ago abandoned the “benign China” view. They see China as the most serious national security challenge and one that the U.S. military urgently needs to take steps now to deter and defeat in a future conflict.

Other missions for the new DIA China analyst will include developing and leading collaboration on Chinese military operations and capabilities among the Pacific Command, other intelligence agencies and U.S. military commands and allies.

The new analyst also will collaborate with the Pentagon, other government agencies and foreign and other U.S. partners “to fill intelligence gaps and resolve analytic differences on critical issues.”

“Intelligence gaps” is code for what U.S. officials say are the numerous shortcomings in finding out about the Chinese military’s weapons programs, and strategy and tactics.

Several intelligence officials are vying for the slot that comes with the added perk of living in Hawaii.

The Pacific Command is known to be a major target of Chinese intelligence operations.

In 2006, Hawaii-based Pacific Command official Ronald N. Montaperto, a former DIA China analyst, pleaded guilty to the illegal possession of classified documents and admitted in a plea agreement that he passed “top secret” information to Chinese intelligence officials.

Israel-Hamas cyberwar

One new element of the kinetic war raging between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in Gaza is the back and forth electronic and Internet warfare taking place.

Since the conflict began seven days ago with Israel killing a top Hamas military commander, some 40 Hamas leaders have been killed in the campaign, some of them by precision bombings of cars on the streets. The conflict began after months of Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel.

In addition to the rocket and bombing strikes, both sides are waging cyberwarfare.

The Hamas news portal Safa was attacked around Nov. 17, presumably by Israeli hackers, and shut down for several days.

The anarchist hacker group Anonymous sided with Hamas, a designated U.S. terrorist group that runs the government in Gaza. Anonymous has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks against Israeli websites and announced that it had declare cyberwar on Israel by posting the personal data online of about 5,000 Israeli officials.

The cyberwar also has raged on Twitter and Facebook, with the social media used as launching points for information and attacks.

Israel’s military and intelligence services are known to be developing sophisticated cyberwarfare capabilities. Iran, which has supplied arms and missiles to Hamas, also is developing cyberwarfare weapons, and recently was blamed for cyberattacks on U.S. financial institutions.

China military drills

Amid heightened tensions between China and its Asian neighbors, China’s military is holding naval exercises in the Bohai Sea — not far from Japan.

The exercises are being closely watched, as China announced a sea-closure area near the nuclear submarine base at Huludao, where China builds its Type 094 ballistic-missile submarines, called the Jin class by the Pentagon.

The exercises began last week and will continue through Friday.

Based on the announced closure area, U.S. officials said one possible activity could be a second JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic-missile test.

China last conducted a JL-2 test in the same area Aug. 21.

The Chinese military exercises are being conducted not far from joint U.S.-Japan military exercises that ended last week and involved some 47,000 personnel near the Senkaku Islands, which are claimed by China near Okinawa. China calls the islands the Diayoutao.

China this week pressured leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, not to hold international discussions on South China Sea disputes with China.

Beijing is opposing ASEAN’s efforts to reach a binding agreement on a code of conduct in the South China Sea, where China recently claimed up to 70 percent of the international waters as its maritime territory.

Ben Rhodes, deputy White House national security adviser, said the sea dispute should be settled peacefully. The issue was to be raised in a meeting between President Obama and outgoing Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, Mr. Rhodes said.

He said the disputes such as those regarding the South China Sea “need to be discussed in a multilateral context so that we can reaffirm the principles of maritime security that can guide the resolution to something like the South China Sea.”

“The U.S. believes that any solution has to be consistent with international law, has to preserve the free flow of commerce that is important not just to the countries in this region, but to the world,” Mr. Rhodes told reporters.

“The U.S. is not a claimant in the South China Sea, but we have significant interest there, given its role in the global economy.”