- The Washington Times - Friday, June 23, 2000

China campaign

China's government is directly inserting itself in the Pentagon's plans for setting up a special center to study the People's Liberation Army. Currently, there is no U.S. government entity devoted to what is becoming the de facto primary future threat for the U.S. military.

The center is the subject of a political tug of war between the National Defense University (NDU), charged with setting up the center, and Congress, which mandated the center.

President Clinton objected to the legislation in a signing statement last October because he disagreed with Congress' assertion in the bill that China will become the United States' next strategic enemy.

According to Pentagon officials, a senior Chinese official "expressed reservations" to the Pentagon about the involvement in the center of the man currently working as "interim director" National Defense University official Ronald Montaperto.

The Chinese, we are told, are opposing Mr. Montaperto's involvement in the center because of his past role as a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst. Beijing also fears that future exchange programs of the center will be used for DIA spying against China.

One Pentagon official told us the Chinese intervention is suspicious. "It looks like a strategic deception," the officials said. Chinese opposition to Mr. Montaperto, who has a reputation for being far more dovish than the Pentagon on China, is a ruse designed to enhance his prospects for keeping an influential position at the new center, which will be set up by next year, this official said.

Mr. Montaperto is considered one of the leading U.S. China analysts who seek to play down the growing military power of the People's Liberation Army. He has told associates that he has been unfairly tagged as a "panda hugger."

An NDU official said he was unaware of the Chinese government opposition to Mr. Montaperto.

Location, location

The nondescript apartment building at 1515 S. Arlington Ridge Road has an interesting list of owners past and present.

The Washington Times put the Pentagon Ridge Apartments in the news this week by reporting that Xinhua News Agency, communist China's state-run news service and suspected intelligence collector, had bought the building, which overlooks the Pentagon. Xinhua has told tenants to vacate the premises so its workers can turn the seven-story building into the agency's living and working headquarters.

Spy experts say the location gives Beijing a choice spot if it wants to try to eavesdrop on the Pentagon.

It turns out another U.S. adversary lived at 1515 S. Arlington: the East Germans during the Cold War. And FBI counterintelligence agents suspected the communists of using the apartments as a spy base, just like some officials today believe Xinhua is in the espionage business.

The Germans bought the building as housing for its embassy diplomats and their families. The German government sold the property after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and German reunification.

A former resident of the River House, a high-rise down the street, said the East Germans were living there when he moved there in 1977 and they were still there when he left in the mid-1980s.

"We used to watch them and they used to watch us," said the former resident, who asked not to be named.

Rick Sincere, a media consultant who lived across the street from Pentagon Ridge for 10 years, remembers the building being empty once the East Germans moved out.

"It was very strange that that building had been abandoned," said Mr. Sincere, now a Charlottesville resident. "It was empty for about two years."

The East German purchase gave rise to the 1985 Foreign Missions Act. It requires all foreign embassies to apply to the State Department for permission to buy land in the United States.

In this case, the Chinese Embassy in Washington failed to tell the State Department that Xinhua planned to buy the building. State, which treats Xinhua as an extension of the foreign embassy, is now talking to Beijing about the matter.

Warrior ambassador

When Israel conducted its daring aerial bombing raid of Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, the initial reaction of the U.S. government was harsh.

Deputy CIA Director Bobby Ray Inman, without checking with the White House, cut off Israel's access to certain satellite photos and secrets on Arab weapons as punishment. Less than a decade later, the U.S. government was privately applauding the bombing raid that set the standard for real nuclear nonproliferation.

The Israeli bombing raid used U.S.-made F-16 warplanes that blew up a nuclear reactor and set back Iraq's covert effort to build nuclear weapons.

The man who orchestrated the raid, known as Operation Opera, is David Ivry, currently Israel's ambassador to the United States.

On the wall of his embassy office suite are two framed documents. One is a drawing of an Israeli F-16 warplane signed by the pilots who took part in the raid under Mr. Ivry's command. It says in Hebrew, "To the conductor of the opera from the orchestra."

Next to the drawing is a U.S. reconnaissance photograph of the Osirak reactor complex that was presented as a gift to Mr. Ivry by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney in 1990. At the bottom, the Bush administration defense chief signed the photograph and congratulated him for a job well done.


• In a little-noticed report, a Defense Science Board task force on military personnel issues made a number of recommendations to reverse downward recruiting and retention numbers.

The Pentagon advisory panel's boldest idea seems dead on arrival. The board proposed merging the National Guard and Reserve into one organization. Congress and part-time warriors jealously guard their local units. In fact, an intense letter-writing campaign persuaded Defense Secretary William S. Cohen to put off planned cuts in Reserve troops.

Asked about the task force's recommendation, Jay Spiegel, executive director of the Reserve Officer Association, told us:

"Nobody in either the Pentagon or Congress takes this proposal seriously. It's a dumb idea that's bad for national security. We killed the idea 35 years ago and we are prepared to kill it again. Unfortunately, no bad idea ever dies. The Defense Science Board usually comes up with appropriate ways to save money, but they really blew it with this one."

• Officers at U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, N.C., are examining whether to make the 528th Support Battalion an all-male unit. That way, our insiders tell us, the elite commando unit can avoid the kind of debate that raged at Fort Bragg this spring.

The command's top physician proposed that women from the 528th, a supply outfit, be allowed to enroll in Special Forces medic training, a grueling course that trains medics to accompany Green Berets on clandestine missions. The proposal sent commandos into an uproar until senior officers killed the idea.

One option for ensuring the issue does not come up again is to make the support battalion all male, just like the Green Berets it serves.

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