- - Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Four members of Congress have asked the State Department inspector general to investigate whether China coerced the Voice of America into canceling a live radio interview with a Chinese dissident.

“We believe that an independent and impartial investigation is needed to determine whether Chinese government intimidation or interference influenced [VOA] management’s decisions to curtail a planned live broadcast with Chinese businessman-turned whistleblower Guo Wengui,” Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Christoperh H. Smith, Edward R. Royce and Robert Pittenger stated in an Aug. 28 letter.

The Republican lawmakers said an April 19 interview with Mr. Guo on VOA was cut short over a dispute between VOA management and employees in the Mandarin-language service of the official radio station. Five VOA employees were placed on administrative leave after the incident.

According to the lawmakers, Mr. Guo sought to expose “extensive evidence of corruption in the Chinese Communist Party, including allegations of collusion between China’s Ministry of National Security and Chinese corporations.”

Mr. Guo is a billionaire businessman who recently broke with the Chinese government and began revealing details of alleged corruption among senior Chinese leaders. In response Beijing has pressed the U.S. government to return Mr. Guo, who applied for political asylum last month.

The dissident’s first public appearance was scheduled for Wednesday at the Hudson Institute, a Washington think tank. But the event was canceled amid pressure from China, according to a Hudson spokesman.

The congressional letter quotes one of the suspended VOA employees, Mandarin service head Sasha Gong, as saying VOA management was informed about the interview and its content well in advance of the curtailed interview.

Ms. Gong also asserted that the Chinese government went to extraordinary lengths to stop the broadcast, including threatening VOA with a cancellation of visas for reporters in China, and multiple demands by the Chinese Embassy to cancel the Guo interview. According to Ms. Gong, the Chinese threats and protests led senior VOA leaders to intervene in the interview.

“It is clear that the Chinese government was committed to stopping this interview from taking place,” the letter states.

The State Department IG was asked to investigate whether the Chinese government threatened to cancel visas of VOA reporters and to look into whether communications took place between VOA management and the Chinese Embassy in Washington. The IG also was asked to look at whether VOA managers sought to alter the Guo interview plan before or after threats were made by the Chinese and whether the Chinese Embassy sought VOA’s cooperation in editing, changing or canceling the interview.

VOA has denied mishandling the interview and said the reporters involved did not follow proper procedures. VOA also has launched an inquiry of the incident by a private investigator.

“We believe there are many elements of this case that merit an independent and thorough review conducted by the office of the inspector general, rather than by any outside groups,” the congressmen said.

Energy Department on EMP attacks

North Korea’s most recent underground nuclear test included disclosures by the Pyongyang government that it plans to use its new hydrogen bombs for electronic magnetic pulse, or EMP, attacks.

The latest underground test blast was assessed as being a very large nuclear weapon, possibly a hydrogen bomb or an EMP weapon.

And the latest threat from Pyongyang has been to conduct an atmospheric test of a nuclear device over the Pacific.

EMP is the very-high-voltage wave created when a nuclear weapon is detonated. Set off at high altitude, it can disrupt or destroy all electronics within an area stretching up to 1,000 miles.

The threat has raised concerns that the U.S. government is ill prepared to respond to such an EMP attack that some analysts say could cause massive casualties in the United States resulting from the shutdown of electronic power. The Energy Department, in coordination with the private Electric Power Research Institute, produced a study on the EMP danger that warns more needs to be done to understand and respond to the threat.

“An EMP can also potentially disrupt control centers for power systems and for oil and gas networks (and other industries as well),” the report, “Joint Electromagnetic Pulse Resilience,” states.

“Given the critical importance of reliable electric power and energy supplies for security and economic well-being, it is essential that the United States improve the nation’s ability to protect, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the potentially devastating effects of an EMP.”

According to the report, several nations are capable of attacking the U.S. and its allies in an EMP attack, and still more are trying to acquire the capability. In addition to North Korea, China and Russia are believed to be working on EMP weapons.

A nuclear EMP detonation “is such that it can occur with little or no warning, severely limiting the ability of operational-based strategies to limit damage as there is insufficient time to put such strategies in place,” the report said.

“Therefore, the response to EMP (particularly [High Altitude] EMP) threats involves measures that harden assets to reduce their vulnerability to damage and improve response and recovery actions to limit the duration of any outage,” the report said.

The report calls for more study on the threat and identifying critical infrastructure that would be impacted by such an attack. Testing and mitigation for EMP attack also is needed, along with preparing responses and recovery capabilities.

Except for certain military facilities, few protection and mitigation measure are currently in place to respond to EMP strikes, the report said.

Protecting stockpiles of electrical equipment is one recommendation.

“EMP has the potential to cause substantial impacts to the nation’s infrastructure, and in particular the electric grid,” the report concludes.

The study, however, stops short of recommending the purchase and stockpiling of critical electronic components, such as transformers and switches, that could be used to more rapidly replace EMP-destroyed equipment.

Dunford on Afghanistan

The military’s most senior general this week indirectly criticized the Obama administration for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan too soon.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that Afghanistan remains a military stalemate against the Taliban terrorist group 16 years after U.S. troops entered the country to oust the al Qaeda terror group after the 9/11 attacks.

“This situation has developed since the NATO mission in Afghanistan transitioned to an advisory effort,” the Marine general stated.

Since 2015, he said, U.S. military forces advised and accompanied Afghan special operations units. But support to conventional forces has been curtailed. Aviation and intelligence backing for the Afghans also were reduced and, as a result, undermined Afghan combat operations.

“My military assessment is that we drew down our advisory effort and combat support for the Afghan forces too far and too fast,” Gen. Dunford said.

“As a result, the Taliban expanded territorial and population control and inflicted significant casualties on the Afghan army and police, while we lost campaign momentum.”

A “failure analysis” was conducted by the Pentagon last spring, and a new strategy developed that seeks to break the stalemate and bolster Afghan forces. The new approach expands advisory efforts to the tactical unit level and increases combat support.

“We believe these adjustments will improve the ability of the Afghans to conduct offensive operations, defend critical terrain and reduce Afghan casualties,” the four-star general said. “The emphasis is on providing effective support to the over 300,000 Afghans we have trained and equipped so they can secure their own country.”

The idea is for the Afghans to “take the fight to the enemy,” Gen. Dunford said, adding that Afghan government corruption poses the greatest roadblock to success.

The new military objectives, Gen. Dunford said, are clear and achievable, focused on defeating Islamic State and al Qaeda and ensuring that terrorists cannot plan and launch attacks against the United States.

Finally, Gen. Dunford said the ultimate objective in Afghanistan is to force an “Afghan-led peace process” to end the conflict.

That is an outcome critics say is unlikely considering the radical Islamist ideology of the Taliban calls for the total Islamicization of the country.

• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.

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