China's high-speed rail lines are becoming a major transport force for the People's Liberation Army (PLA), allowing the rapid movement of military forces throughout the country, a recent state-run news report revealed.
Since few nations are likely to invade China, the recent discussion in a Communist Party news outlet about military uses of the new rail network is raising questions about the PLA's future role in quelling domestic unrest.
The China Youth Daily outlined the military benefits of China's six high-speed rail lines in the report.
"While bringing convenience to the lives of the masses, high-speed rail also plays a military role that is growing more prominent by the day," the Jan. 14 article states, noting that a lightly equipped division could be moved on the Wuhan-to-Guangzhou line — about 600 miles — in five hours, a fairly rapid mobilization in military terms.
"And the Second Artillery [missile forces] could use the high-speed rail network to quickly deploy short-range missiles in a certain strategic direction" — presumably from inland locations to coastal regions near Taiwan or Japan, the report said.
Other key rail lines include the Xian-Baoji and Xiamen-Shenzhen connections that are part of the network that has made China a world leader in high-speed rail.
Since 2009, the PLA has been using high-speed trains to move troops in exercises. In July 2011, the military conducted a rapid troop transfer using the Beijing-to-Shanghai high-speed line.
The report said China eventually will set up a high-speed network of eight lines extending in all directions.
A typical military train includes 16 high-speed rail cars that carry 1,100 lightly armed soldiers.
"With the daily improvement in China's high-speed rail network, transferring a 100,000 person army 1,000 li [310 miles] might be possible within half a day in the future," the report said, adding that the military will use high-speed rail to project "mobile combat forces in various strategic directions."
Among the problems in relying on rail instead of air transport for military forces is that trains require stable lines that are difficult to conceal and protect with air defenses.
"It is even harder to conceal important nodal targets such as numerous bridges, tunnels, and stations," the report said. "Even if the enemy did not employ long-range precision strike weapons, but simply sent personnel to damage key numbers of power facilities, it would be enough to paralyze electrified high-speed railways."
For missiles, the report said "the use of high-speed trains as mobile launch platforms for strategic weapons is also a good idea."
China is planning rail-mobile ICBMs on a separate system that is not built for high-speed travel but for heavy transport.
"Train transport affords better stability than road maneuvering," the report said. "The speed with which vehicles change direction is less than in road maneuvering and is suited to testing work during maneuvering to reduce the time required to prepare for firing. In addition, it is possible to maneuver and shift more than a thousand kilometers at once, making it easier to escape enemy tracking."
It concludes that China's high-speed rail network will provide "immense strategic military value."
THREAT No. 1: Snowden leaks
Testifying Tuesday before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, U.S. Intel chiefs revealed that the top security threat is not China's military buildup or cyberattacks, al Qaeda's growth, or Iran's nuclear program.
Instead, they said that leaks of classified information by former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden are the most urgent matter for U.S. intelligence. The disclosure of NSA documents has caused enormous damage — and will cause even more damage, the officials said.
Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper said during the annual threat briefing that the leaks are "potentially the most massive and most damaging theft of intelligence information in our history."
Only about 10 percent of the documents taken and released by Mr. Snowden, now under the protection of the Russian government, involved controversial NSA surveillance, he said.
Mr. Clapper said he did not want to dwell on Mr. Snowden's legal status or motives for stealing the estimated 1.7 million documents, most of them highly classified.
"But what I do want to speak to, as the nation's senior intelligence officer, is the profound damage that his disclosures have caused and will continue to cause," he said. "And as a consequence, in my view, this nation is less safe and its people less secure."
Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testified that secrets disclosed by Mr. Snowden are making it difficult to counter threats posed by terrorists' use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
"I believe that we will face problems with the IED threat because of these leaks, whether it's in Afghanistan or on some future battlefield, yes," Gen. Flynn said.
The Defense Intelligence Agency studied the leaks and concluded all U.S. military services must adjust how they operate and protect personnel.
Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and committee chairman, asked Gen. Flynn: "Do these leaks give our adversaries insights about how we track them and what their military vulnerabilities are and how they might look at what might be some vulnerabilities from the United States military?"
"I mean, yes, they do," the general said.
Mr. Clapper said one of the unknowns in the theft of the documents is how much will be published and whether the stolen material will be used for other purposes, such as industrial espionage, government espionage or disinformation.
The approximately 200 articles written in news outlets based on the stolen material have provided some insight into the material that was taken from NSA computers, he said.
The unanswered question at the open hearing, which was held after Monday's closed hearing, is whether Russian intelligence is controlling Mr. Snowden and has gained access to his stolen secrets. The answer appears to be yes.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Illinois Democrat, bluntly asked Mr. Clapper: "Do you have any concrete intelligence of a relationship between Snowden and the Russian government in regard to the stolen documents?"
"That's best discussed in a closed session, as we discussed last night," Mr. Clapper said.
Progress on Benghazi
FBI Director James B. Comey told Congress Tuesday that FBI agents investigating the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, are making progress. But he would not say when any arrests, captures or targeted killings of the perpetrators would take place.
Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican, asked during a hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence when "somebody will be held responsible for the murders in Benghazi."
Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stephens, were killed in the attacks on the Benghazi compound and a nearby CIA facility.
Mr. Comey said the Benghazi probe is a top FBI priority.
"We've made progress on the matter," he said. "I'm not at liberty to talk about the details of that progress. It's a difficult investigation, but one we've invested a lot of resources in and that we've made headway on."
"And when can we expect some movement? Captured, killed, detained," Mr. Miller said.
"Yeah, I'm not in a position to answer that at this point," Mr. Comey said.
"Are we going to?" the congressman said.
"We will do everything in our power to make that happen," the FBI director said. "We will never give up on this matter until we have the people responsible in our custody."
Al Qaeda in Afghanistan
The director of the National Counterterrorism Center told Congress on Tuesday that he is concerned that al Qaeda's core will regroup and strengthen its terrorism capabilities in Afghanistan.
"From a terrorism perspective in Afghanistan, probably our biggest concern are the number of — and a small number, but a number of — core al Qaeda individuals who are in Afghanistan," said Matthew Olsen.
Al Qaeda "over the longer term, may seek to provide a basis to sort of reconstitute some degree of capability there," he said. "So there are individuals in particularly Nuristan in northeastern Afghanistan who are connected to core al Qaeda."
The main terrorism threat in Afghanistan remains the Taliban Islamic movement, as well as the Haqqanni Network.
Contrary to comments in 2012 by President Obama that al Qaeda is "on the path to defeat," Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper revealed to Congress last week that al Qaeda has 12 operational centers, compared to the one in Afghanistan at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
• Contact Bill Gertz at @BillGertz.
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