- - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, commandant of the Marine Corps, has emerged as a leading candidate to replace Army Gen. Martin Dempsey as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to defense officials familiar with internal discussions of the matter.

Gen. Dempsey is slated to retire in September, and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is said to be favoring Gen. Dunford, a recent commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan until he took over as commandant last summer.

Other candidates include the current vice chairman, Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr.; Adm. Samuel Locklear, Pacific Command commander; Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh; and Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command.

Gen. Dunford’s views on sensitive political issues were outlined in written answers he supplied to the Senate Armed Services Committee last year. He stated that he supports the Obama administration’s controversial effort to place women into combat positions despite problems. More than two dozen female Marines so far all washed out of the Corps’ grueling officer training course.

On Afghanistan, Gen. Dunford wrote last July that he supports keeping troops in the country and gave conditional approval to President Obama’s plan to draw down forces through the end of 2016 — “with an understanding that we should continue to validate the assumptions and assess the conditions on the ground as the drawdown takes place.”

On the new policy of opening direct ground combat positions to women by January 2016 or asking for an exemption from doing so, Gen. Dunford stated that, as commandant, he would be “decisively engaged in the development of gender-free standards for all military occupations to ensure that we continue to field the most capable Marine Corps possible.”

The emergence of Gen. Dunford as a leading candidate for chairman has undermined a lobbying campaign for Adm. Locklear, the Pacific Command chief.

The admiral has been quietly seeking support for the nomination for the chairman’s job over the past several months. The Hawaii-based commander was said to have set up a team of advisers to help him with the behind-the-scenes process.

Mr. Carter recently met with Adm. Locklear on the way to Asia, and officials said the meeting included an evaluation of Adm. Locklear’s fitness for the chairman post.

The admiral has developed a reputation as among the Navy’s most politically correct admirals, voicing broad support for the Obama administration’s liberal agenda. In 2013 he told the Boston Globe that climate change and rising sea levels were the country’s most serious long-term security threats — not a nuclear missile-armed North Korea or an increasingly aggressive China.

The Pacific Command leader also has also been among the most accommodating toward China. He has taken positions that put him further to the left on the topic than Mr. Carter, a centrist Democrat.

One example came during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week, when Adm. Locklear strictly adhered to administration talking points that avoid mentioning Beijing’s threatening behavior. He then went much further, saying it was “imperative that we understand the rise of China and that we, to some degree, accommodate the rise of China to where we can attempt to shape the rise of China.”

The comments put him at odds with many U.S. allies in Asia, including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who would like to see a stronger U.S. posture against Beijing’s military behavior and maritime encroachment.

Officials said Adm. Locklear’s most difficult hurdle to overcome was a possible taint as the result of an ongoing corruption probe that has ensnared at least eight Navy officers in criminal wrongdoing and implicated scores more.

In February, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus issued letters of censure to three admirals for their role in the bribery scandal involving a contractor of Pacific naval forces. The scandal involved kickbacks and improper gifts from the contractor Glenn Defense Marine Asia, whose chief executive, Leonard Glenn Francis, has given the case its name — the “Fat Leonard” scandal.

Adm. Locklear was a commander of the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet in San Diego at the time, but officials said investigators have formally cleared Adm. Locklear.

Defense One reported in March that the admiral was asked to delay his retirement so he could be considered for the chairman’s post. The delay has left his Senate-confirmed replacement, Adm. Harry Harris, the current Pacific Fleet commander, on hold for the Pacific Command post.

Lt. Col. John O. Caldwell, a spokesman for Gen. Dunford, declined to comment on the Joint Chiefs’ speculation.

Capt. Chris Sims, a spokesman for Adm. Locklear, said the commander serves at the pleasure of the secretary of defense and president. He had no comment on Adm. Locklear’s chances to be chairman because “no final decision has been made about his future.”

CIA-CHINA INTEL ROLE REVEALED

A recently published book by former Pentagon official Michael Pillsbury has shed light on one of the U.S. government’s darkest secrets: cooperation between the CIA and communist Chinese intelligence services.

The book “The Hundred Year Marathon” was cleared for publication by the FBI, CIA and Pentagon, thus giving many of its eye-opening disclosures an official cast.

China has not responded to the book’s disclosures nor denied past cooperation, although one intelligence-linked Chinese commentator stated that the book’s author, now a consultant, does not represent “mainstream” U.S. views on China.

Covert CIA-China cooperation was part of successive administrations’ programs to undermine the Soviet Union, which China turned on after realizing Moscow’s Marxist-Leninist economic model was doomed. China instead began courting the United States for economic benefit while creating a revised communist economic system.

The disclosures of clandestine U.S.-China intelligence cooperation dating to the 1970s are likely to embarrass Beijing. China frequently attacks the CIA for allegedly fomenting democratic revolution in China and for supporting the exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, whom China designated as a major enemy. Beijing also accused the CIA of organizing the recent large-scale pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. The U.S. government has denied any role in the public outcry over creeping Chinese control over the former British colony.

The book mentions many previously disclosed covert and clandestine cooperations between the CIA and Chinese intelligence, along with many surprising new details. Mr. Pillsbury was in charge of the covert operations and was aware of the intelligence cooperation when he was assistant undersecretary of defense for policy planning during the Reagan administration.

The joint operations included the major electronic spying program in China, code-named Chestnut, that targeted the Soviet Union and now Russia, as well as covert shipments of Chinese arms to Afghan rebels battling Soviet forces and anti-Cuban rebels in Angola.

The disclosures that are said to have upset Beijing the most, however, were related to a CIA-led operation to arm 50,000 anti-Vietnam rebels in Cambodia beginning in 1982. Initially, $2 million a year was spent, and then the amount was increased to $12 million and jointly conducted with Chinese assistance with Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

“The Chinese not only sold the weapons to us to give to the rebels, but also advised us on how to conduct these covert operations,” Mr. Pillsbury wrote, adding that the cooperation revealed China’s strategy for weakening a strong “hegemon,” a strategy that is likely being used today against the United States.

The strategy calls for attacking the hegemon’s vulnerabilities, convincing others to do the fighting and attacking the allies of the declining hegemon.

China, according to the book, supported Afghan rebel attacks inside the Soviet Union until CIA lawyers ended the strikes as overly provocative.

Asked about the declassified secrets in the book, Mr. Pillsbury told Inside the Ring, “I was delighted that many matters were approved for release that had been considered classified 10 years ago.”

A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy did not return an email seeking comment.

An interesting historical note is that part of the estimated $2 billion China earned from U.S. weapons purchases indirectly involved current President Xi Jinping, who visited the Pentagon in 1980 — wearing a People’s Liberation Army uniform — and was a note-taker during meetings with the secretary of defense.

The Reagan administration also assisted China’s development of technology with large infusions of know-how under a secret directive that was designed to make China strong. Military aid was cut off after the June 1989 Tiananmen Square attacks, but other aid continued. The book did not say whether the clandestine cooperation is continuing.

No Chinese official or leader has said anything publicly about the programs, perhaps over concerns that the disclosures would undermine their legitimacy as good communists opposing the U.S. hegemon.

• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.

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