- - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Two B-52 bombers conducted a nonstop, long-range simulated mission to Australia recently that is part of the Pentagon’s effort to bolster allies in Asia against a growing Chinese threat.

The B-52s from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, carried out on July 1 what the Pentagon calls a “bomber assurance and deterrence” mission — BAAD for short in military-speak.

The simulated bombing run came amid heightened tensions in the nearby South China Sea, where China has been constructing islands and military facilities that threaten the strategic waterway used by ships bound for Northeast Asia.

The 44-hour mission was conducted with Royal Australian Air Force ground forces and used inert conventional bombs at the Delamere bombing range in northern Australia.

The bomb run received little public attention as part of the Pentagon’s effort to avoid upsetting China with its shift to Asia.

Still, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, which is in charge of nuclear warfighting and strategic bombers, called the BAAD mission significant.

“These flights are one of the many ways the U.S. demonstrates its commitment to a stable and peaceful Indo-Asia Pacific region,” Navy Adm. Cecil D. Haney said in a statement. “In addition to strengthening air crew skills and enhancing their familiarity with operating worldwide, combined training and theater security cooperation engagements with our regional allies serve to improve our interoperability and capability to respond to any potential threat together.”

Adm. Haney said the assurance and deterrence missions also are intended as strategic messaging, although he declined to identify the target of the message.

A Pentagon official, however, said the message was intended for China for its increasingly threatening activities in the South China Sea.

Air Force Lt. Col. John Varilek, commander of the 2nd Operations Support Squadron, called the bomber exercises an important training mission.

“The purpose of these exercises is to assure our allies and deter our foes, letting them know we’ll be there in a moment’s notice, anytime, anywhere,” Col. Varilek said. “We have long-standing relationships with the Pacific region to make sure we’re there and living up to our end of the bargain.”

A Barksdale spokesman declined to discuss the exercises and would not permit Inside the Ring to interview pilots or crew who took part in them.

Instead, he referred questions to a military report on the exercise that said the B-52s’ “global strike and precision attack capabilities coupled with U.S. Stratcom’s ability to deter strategic attacks against the U.S. and its allies allow the 2nd Bomb Wing to follow through with its commitment to the Pacific region.”

In addition to the simulated bombing at Delamere, the bombers flew a “low approach” to the Royal Australian Air Force base at Tindal, located about 200 miles south of Darwin, where some 1,500 U.S. Marines were deployed as part of the shift to Asia.

Air Force Capt. Jared Patterson, chief of weapons and tactics for Barksdale’s 96th Bomb Squadron, also said the B-52 flight was important for bolstering alliances in Asia.

“As the nation’s focus turns to the Pacific, it’s important to show the B-52’s presence, not only on Andersen Air Force Base, [Guam], but throughout the entire region,” he said.

Guam is the U.S. military’s regional hub, where B-52s, B-2s and long-range Global Hawk drones are deployed periodically. The South Pacific island also is home to three U.S. attack submarines.

“[Americans] put their faith and trust in us, and we’re ready, willing and able to fight anytime, anywhere, and we want them to continue to enjoy the freedom that we cherish,” Capt. Patterson said.

IRAN, NORTH KOREA NUKE PARALLELS

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce in recent weeks has outlined ominous parallels between the disastrous 1994 Agreed Framework on North Korea’s nuclear program and the deal struck with Iran that was announced Tuesday.

Mr. Royce will be a key player in the congressional debate over whether to approve the Iran agreement that critics say will limit Iran’s nuclear program for a decade or less while providing the Islamist regime in Tehran with access to more than $100 billion in frozen funds and a broad lifting international sanctions.

“I heard the same argument: ‘Don’t worry. We will be able to tell, even if we can’t get access to the sites. We will know if North Korea is cheating on this agreement,’” Mr. Royce told CNN.

“Let me explain that it turned out we weren’t able to properly monitor what they were doing in North Korea, and as a consequence North Korea ended up with the ability, three nuclear tests, the development of a number of nuclear bombs. This is not what we want Iran to have the capability to do and play hide-and-seek like North Korea did.”

Signed with great fanfare like the Iran deal, the 1994 Agreed Framework was supposed to have ended North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Pyongyang and Tehran both initially signed up to the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as a condition for getting access to nuclear technology and infrastructure for ostensibly electrical power generation. Both governments insisted they did not want to develop weapons but only wanted to generate electrical power, a questionable assertion in Iran’s case because of its vast oil resources.

Iran was found to be secretly enriching uranium in 2002 in violation of its NPT obligations, and Tehran has stonewalled international efforts regarding its nuclear arms ambitions since.

For the North Koreans, the 1994 accord was a ruse from the beginning. In 2002 Pyongyang declared it had been secretly building weapons all along.

When the Agreed Framework was signed, then-President Bill Clinton declared: “This U.S.-North Korean agreement will help to achieve a long-standing and vital American objective: an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation on the Korean peninsula.”

Fast forward to Tuesday and the White House, where President Obama made an eerily similar comment: “Today, after two years of negotiations, the United States, together with our international partners, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not — a comprehensive, long-term deal with Iran that will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

The battle over the agreement now shifts to Congress that has 60 days to examine the accord. Congress then can issue a resolution of approval or disapproval.

Mr. Obama threatened to veto any legislation that seeks to block the deal.

One way the Republican-led Congress could scuttle nuclear deal is through a little-noticed provision of the accord: Under the heading Sanctions, Point 26 states “Iran has stated that it will treat such a re-introduction or re-imposition of the sanctions or such an imposition of new nuclear-related sanctions, as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] in whole or in part.”

THE CLINTONS AND JOHN DEUTCH

The Department of State disclosure that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s private email server did contain classified information recalls a time when another top government official improperly stored secrets at home.

Former President Bill Clinton’s CIA director, John Deutch, in 1995 and 1996 kept secret information on computers at his homes in Bethesda, Maryland, and Belmont, Massachusetts. The Internet-linked computers were not secure and thus not authorized to hold and send the information.

Mrs. Clinton, while secretary of state, set up a server at her home in Chappaqua, New York, and a private email account through which she conducted Department of State business, to exclusion of a “state.gov” address like every other employee. State subsequently labeled her conduct “not acceptable.”

After she turned over 30,000 emails, State Department officials found that 25 of them, to date, contained classified information and redacted them. Mrs. Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, has said she destroyed all other emails, about 30,000.

Mrs. Clinton turned over the emails to the department under pressure from House Republicans. The Department of State is making them public in tranches under pressure from a district court judge.

In Mr. Deutch’s case, CIA officials discovered after his resignation from the agency that he mishandled classified material. He was subjected to a criminal investigation, as well as a probe by the CIA inspector general.

“Deutch processed a large volume of highly classified information on these unclassified computers, taking no steps to restrict unauthorized access to the information and thereby placing national security information at risk,” said the inspector general report.

Mr. Deutch was stripped of his security clearances. He planned to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge, but was pardoned by Mr. Clinton before his court appearance.

There is no indication the Obama administration plans to investigate Mrs. Clinton’s mishandling of classified information, although there are guidelines for doing so when such information shows up on an unsecured, unauthorized server.

Rowan Scarborough contributed to this column. Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @Bill Gertz.

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