- The Washington Times - Friday, November 24, 2000

Al Gore's military

If Vice President Al Gore is elected president, the new commander-in-chief will inherit an armed forces angry over his campaign's operation to contest virtually every overseas military ballot on the most technical of technicalities in Florida.

The campaign dispatched scores of trial lawyers to Florida's 67 counties to challenge more than 3,000 mailed ballots that lay unopened since the Nov. 7 election.

The lawyers made canvassing officials compare on-file and ballot signatures. They also challenged the addresses of signature witnesses. Any envelope that lacked a stamped postmark was also challenged, even though federal law says one is not required.

Some military members are hopping mad, saying overseas voting is difficult enough without a team of Democratic trial lawyers scrutinizing each ballot for any possible flaw.

"I can properly describe our attitudes toward the Democrats, specifically Gore, as being of an overtly contemptuous nature and to the point of being furious," said a senior Army enlisted soldier in Germany. "I have contact with hundreds of soldiers each week. I cannot say that even one single soldier displays any level of respect for this man and the actions of the Democratic Party. I have a number of colleagues who have already prepared their resignations and retirement requests who state that they would 'refuse' to serve in a military commanded by Gore."

Some are also incensed at Sen. Bob Kerrey, Nebraska Democrat. The Medal of Honor winner traveled to Florida on Mr. Gore's behalf and chastised military members for not filling out ballots correctly. Service members say they cannot always obtain the required postmark.

"All I can tell you is that Senator Kerrey really burned my britches today," said an officer at the Pentagon. "Like it's a soldier's fault he can't find a U.S. Post Office in Kosovo or a sailor can't find one on a submarine? Our fault the things weren't postmarked? Have they no shame?"

Moreover, other military people are not happy with Defense Secretary William S. Cohen's near-silence on the issue.

"This battle will be won or lost by public opinion," said retired Rear Adm. Riley Mixon, in a faxed letter to Mr. Cohen.

"As of today, I have not heard a peep out of your office. Why? I would have expected you personally to be on the national networks using your 'bully pulpit' to get those votes counted," said Adm. Mixon, former director of naval air warfare. "Your allegiance to the soldiers, sailors and airmen that you oversee should take precedence over politics. I urge you to make yourself visible to the nation in support of your troops."

AWACS to China

Under pressure from the United States, Israel last summer canceled its sale of an early warning radar plane to China. Israel's decision was announced the same day Defense Secretary William S. Cohen was in Beijing to meet with Chinese President Jiang Zemin inside the walled, neo-imperial Zhongnanhai leadership compound where Mao Zedong once held court.

Mr. Cohen was forced to suffer the indignity of listening to a lengthy diatribe from Mr. Jiang on U.S. meddling in China's internal affairs. The Pentagon had opposed the sale of the radar system, known as Phalcon, for years. The aircraft could be used against U.S. warplanes defending Taiwan against an attack from the mainland.

Russia is now moving to fill the gap. Moscow announced it will sell China an airborne radar-warning aircraft. The move is viewed by Pentagon analysts as another step in the growing anti-U.S. axis between Moscow and Beijing.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov announced Oct. 31 in Beijing that Russia and China would sign "very serious, strategic contracts" furthering military-technical cooperation.

At the top of the hardware sales list, according to Mr. Klebanov, is "a modified early-warning aircraft," known as the A-50, which he described as a "purely Russian project." The Phalcon was an Israeli radar outfitted inside a Russian Il-76 transport.

Lippold in limbo

Cmdr. Kirk S. Lippold, commander of the destroyer USS Cole, is back home in Norfolk, awaiting the results of two Navy investigations that will determine whether he will ever captain a warship again.

The Persian Gulf-based 5th Fleet assigned an officer to investigate whether Cmdr. Lippold and his crew followed proper security procedures before suicide bombers put a gash in the Cole's side. Seventeen sailors perished. The Office of the Secretary of the Navy is also doing a review.

To his friends, Cmdr. Lippold is just the kind of detail-oriented officer who would have followed to the letter the force protection plan.

One officer recalled Cmdr. Lippold's days as an administrative assistant to former Navy Secretary John Dalton and then to the current secretary, Richard Danzig. He said Cmdr. Lippold is a typical "black shoe" surface ship officer compared with the more freewheeling "brown shoe" Navy aviator.

"If there was a rule or a procedure, he'd follow it to the letter," said the friend. "He's not a slapdash guy… . He's an outstanding naval officer with an eye for detail. Close enough wasn't good enough for Lippold. It had to be by the book."

One chore for administrative assistants is to ensure that every letter that goes out over the secretary's signature is factually and legally correct.

"A guy is not nominated to be the administrative assistant to the secretary of the Navy unless you're a 'water walker,' " the friend said. "Nobody is on the secretary's personal staff who's not an outstanding naval officer. The system wouldn't cough up someone who wasn't. Lippold is, to a fault, by the book and that's what you want. You don't want the secretary signing the wrong piece of paper."

The Navy historically takes a dim view of a commander whose ship is damaged or sinks, no matter where ultimate blame lies.

"It can't be good for his career," the former officer said.

"You're in the wrong place at the wrong time and people are going to remember and it can't do your career any good. The Navy has a very harsh tradition. If you're in command, baby, you're to blame."

Laser incident cover-up

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jack Daly, the intelligence officer who continues to suffer from injuries experienced as a result of laser exposure during a 1997 encounter with a Russian spy ship, the Kapitan Man, has accused senior Clinton administration officials of treason for covering up the hostile attack.

"I have hesitated making this statement," Cmdr. Daly said in an interview last week with TalkNetDaily radio host Geoff Metcalf. "But I am going to make this statement for the first time: According to the U.S. Constitution, Article III, Section 3, this cover-up was treason. Those five people I named [Deputy Secretary of State] Strobe Talbott, [Deputy Undersecretary of Defense] Jan Lodal, [Deputy National Security Adviser James] Steinberg, [NSC staff aide] Robert Bell, Ambassador James Collins committed treason. The nation does not have to be at war for treason to be committed according to the Constitution."

The senior Clinton administration officials were identified in documents obtained by The Washington Times as participants in decision-making sessions that resulted in letting Moscow off the hook for its role in spying on U.S. ballistic missile submarines and firing a laser at a Canadian reconnaissance helicopter carrying Cmdr. Daly as he photographed the Russian ship in U.S. waters in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, above Washington state's Puget Sound.

The Navy intelligence officer's remarks followed a recent report in The Times revealing a July CIA report as confirming for the first time what had been suspected for decades. Recent intelligence on communications between the Russian ships and a military intelligence in Vladivostok "provides the first solid evidence of long-suspected Russian merchant ship intelligence collection efforts against U.S. nuclear submarine bases," states the report, labeled "secret."

Cmdr. Daly said later that "I realize I've drawn a line in the sand. It's something that needs to be done because our national security is what is at risk here. It's far past the time for someone to be held accountable."

• Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are syndicated columnists. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at [email protected] Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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