- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2000

Bill's air force

The U.S. military sent 10 CH-53 helicopters to India and Pakistan to support President Clinton's ongoing road trip. The large helicopters flew from the Marine Corps base at Kanehoe Bay, Hawaii, to ferry Mr. Clinton, daughter Chelsea and other friends of Bill.

The helos arrived via giant U.S. Air Force C-5 transport aircraft. In addition, the Marines dispatched about 100 troops for air crews and support.

Pentagon officials could not provide us with the exact cost of the helicopter support. They said the total would be available after the president gets back from the weeklong excursion to South Asia.

While the White House defended the trip as needed to cool tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, the visit has all the trappings of a junket by a lame duck president. And the Pentagon, amid reports that thousands of troops are turning to food stamps to feed their families, is forced to foot the bill.

The helicopters include the white-topped CH-53 known as HMX-1, the aircraft used to fly the president. The others ferry the press corps and staff as well as local "dignitaries" who join the commander in chief.

A White House spokesman said the visit to South Asia is a "complex trip" and that the requirements for transportation were sent to the military. The spokesman said he had no cost figures.

Another reason for 10 choppers, the spokesman said, is that the president refuses to ride on any of India's helicopters, mainly the rickety Soviet-made Mi-8 Hip and other Russian helicopters that make up the main rotary-wing aircraft of the Indian military.

Slow response

The State Department and White House National Security Council have settled a squabble over what type of jet to buy for an anti-terrorism, crisis-response team.

The State side won, convincing the administration to buy a new Boeing 757 instead of the NSC-coveted wide-body transport.

For the interagency anti-terrorism experts who make up the team, that's the good news.

The bad news is the $73 million needed to buy the customized 757 is tucked inside an $8.5 billion supplemental spending bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee. That bill is now languishing, as Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, and other conservatives say the bill is pork-laden and should be scrapped.

Whether conservatives think the new 757 is a vital national security asset or a piece of pork is not clear. But what is obvious to the plane's backers is they face another delay in replacing a 37-year-old 707 aircraft prone to maintenance problems.

"Our concern now is if this Kosovo supplemental goes away then this money goes away," said an administration official.

The rapid-response team is primarily made up of State, Pentagon and NSC officials. They fly off to international trouble spots, such as the African embassy bombings, and help local authorities collect evidence and manage the crisis.

On one occasion, as the 707 descended into Frankfurt, Germany, the control panel went blank. On another trip, it was grounded for 15 hours while the team waited for spare parts to arrive.

The anti-terrorism experts conducted an exercise this month in an undisclosed foreign country.

"It made it," the official said. "But it's an old, broken down airplane."

Riveles redux

Stanley Riveles, the Clinton administration's top representative to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty talks, is in Geneva for the next round of negotiations with Russia. His only objective outlined in official U.S. government instructions for the round: fulfill the ABM treaty requirement to meet twice a year.

The lack of an agenda at the Standing Consultative Commission meeting is a clear sign for some U.S. officials that the Clinton administration is not serious about seeking treaty changes to permit deployment of a limited U.S. national defense system.

Another reason the SCC agenda is so light, we are told, is Mr. Riveles' past role as the lead negotiator. Russian diplomats got the best of him him during talks in the early 1990s that nearly ended up crippling U.S. missile defense efforts. The talks were part of a covert White House plan to expand the ABM treaty to missile defenses against short-range missiles under the legally questionable rubric of "clarifying" the treaty.

The effort failed after Pentagon officials fought to prevent limits on U.S. systems. Mr. Riveles' tactics at one point prompted the secretary of state to send him a secret cable with a simple message: No more concessions to Moscow.

Apparently Mr. Riveles has had enough. He recently sent his resume around Washington. The resume states he has been nominated to be ambassador to the SCC. But it carefully excludes the fact that his nomination has been "on hold" by Senate critics for seven years. It also contains another curious credential: "U.S. citizen."

Runaway soldier

The Army, faced with rising desertion rates, wants commands to do a better job of tracking the number of runaways.

Army Personnel Command has sent a message to commanders outlining steps to insure each desertion gets reported to headquarters at the Pentagon.

"Army desertion rates have risen from .3 percent in [fiscal year] '95 to .8 percent in [fiscal year] '99," the message states. "Information available to this headquarters identifies problems with both strength accounting and submitting deserter packets to the U.S. Army deserter information point. Timely submission … is crucial to processing complete deserter packets and management of the Army's strength accounting. Timely submission of deserter packets … is required to facilitate the return of deserters to military control."

The Washington Times reported in October that the Army was so concerned about the desertion increase it named a panel of officers, and the Army research institute, to study the troubling trend.

Statistics show that the Army recorded 1,821 deserters in 1996 and 2,438 in 1998. The latest figure is about double the number of deserters recorded five years ago. Most defecting soldiers are in their first three years of service.

With the Army struggling to reach recruiting goals, every lost soldier puts a drain on operating units.

Short takes

• Navy Capt. Steve Pietropaoli, mouthpiece for Gen. Henry H. Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will be promoted to rear admiral and become chief of Navy information, or Chinfo.

• Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, is sponsoring legislation to sanction Russia if it goes ahead with plans to transfer SSN-22 anti-ship cruise missiles to China. The missiles are expected to be deployed later this year on China's new Sovremenny-class destroyer delivered by Russia earlier this month.

• Retired Lt. Gen. James Clapper, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, is the leading choice to be next deputy CIA director. Gen. Clapper is viewed as very liberal by his critics and was chosen by CIA Director George J. Tenet over two active duty officers he regarded as "too hard-line," we are told.

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