- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2000

North Korea deal

A week after the Pentagon issued a report warning that North Korea is building up its military forces and remains a major danger, the Clinton administration is set to make concessions to the communist regime.

Talks between U.S. and North Korean officials kicked off this week in New York. The main topics, we are told, include problems with adherence to the 1994 Agreed Framework that was supposed to halt North Korea's nuclear arms program, and North Korea's continued development of long-range missiles.

The U.S. side also is planning to remove North Korea from the State Department's list of state sponsors of international terrorism, even though Pyongyang continues to harbor terrorists and has been linked to a past terror bombing in Southeast Asia.

Diplomatic sources said they hope to coax the North Koreans into inviting State's new coordinator for North Korean policy, Wendy Sherman, to visit Pyongyang early next month. In exchange, North Korea will be taken off the terrorism list. There's a problem, however. Japanese officials are not on board. Tokyo is demanding Pyongyang resolve cases of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents and taken to the peninsula.

Senate, the Corps

We've obtained a letter from Senate leaders delivering Defense Secretary William S. Cohen a final "no" to proposed changes that would make the Army Corps of Engineers more beholden to Army political appointees.

Army Secretary Louis Caldera first proposed the reordering earlier this year, only to suspend the plan after senators intervened with Mr. Cohen. Mr. Caldera tried to rekindle his ideas in a thick packet of justifications sent to senators on Aug. 31. But they were not swayed.

"We do not find that justification exists to warrant implementation of these proposed reforms at this time," said the Sept. 13 letter from three Republican senators: Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens of Alaska; Armed Services Chairman John W. Warner of Virginia; and Environmental and Public Works Chairman Robert C. Smith of New Hampshire.

The three had assembled a team of staffers to investigate the need for management reforms and whether the corps was the victim of undue political pressure from Army civilians and the White House.

The letter said the probe is complete. The staffers found no compelling reason for Mr. Caldera's shake-up and insufficient evidence to prove Army civilians interfered in the corps' environmental assessments.

As a backdrop, liberal environmental groups have opened an all-out assault on the corps and are pressuring the White House to diminish its power to approve waterway projects.

The corps is beloved, however, by many Democratic and Republican lawmakers. They view the institution as a friend of local communities who need flood-control, navigation and dredging projects.

Internal Army documents obtained by The Washington Times show that Army civilians ordered the corps not to release its recommendation to leave in place four dams on Washington's Snake River. The normal procedure was for the corps to release its findings for public comment. Environmental groups, most of whom back the presidential candidacy of Democrat Al Gore, want the dams removed.

The three senators wrote that retired Lt. Gen. Joe Ballard, the former corps commander, supplied testimony and documents at investigators' request.

"We have concluded," the senators wrote Mr. Cohen, "that while some of the events described in the documents reflect poor judgment by a number of officials at the Corps, in the assistant [Army] secretary's office, and elsewhere in the executive branch, there is not sufficient evidence of inappropriate or illegal conduct to warrant further investigation by the committee at this time. However, based on our evaluation of the documents, we also believe that it is unnecessary to implement any significant management reforms at this time.

"This letter confirms that the committees' inquiry into the basis and need for Secretary Caldera's proposed management reforms is closed. The committee will not need any further information from the secretary of the Army."

China wars (continued)

Retired Rear Adm. Eric McVadon is upset with our characterization of him as a pro-China "panda hugger." We noted earlier that the admiral, according to a Navy source, had "dumbed down" Chinese forces in several secret Navy war games to make sure U.S. forces always win.

He also was mentioned as the kind of analyst Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican, had in mind when the senator recently criticized U.S. intelligence analysis on China as excessively benign.

A CIA source tells us Adm. McVadon, a consultant to the CIA and the Navy, insisted to colleagues at the CIA that quotes attributed to him in this column about China's weapons technology development were made up.

Here are the full quotes from Adm. McVadon from the 1999 Rand Corp. study, "The People's Liberation Army in the Information Age":

• "Chinese research and development is immature, isolated, fragmented and unfocused, all of which have stymied the gathering of needed momentum for the development of advanced military technologies and integrated weapons systems.

• "… [T]he PLA is anywhere from 10 years to two generations behind the modern armed forces in technological acquisition, assimilation, and systems integration.

• "In a broader context, China is not likely to catch up with the U.S. or advanced countries in the region, like Japan and Australia.

• "Put colorfully, the PLA may rely on its dream of leapfrogging through technology exploitation and yet awaken 10 years into the next century to find itself still somewhere between 10 years and two generations behind."

Critics in government who are dismissed as "alarmists" by the panda huggers tell us the admiral's views have stifled debate on Chinese military developments, hindered intelligence collection on China, and minimized the growing threat posed by Beijing.

In reality, China is building up its forces and weapons know-how fast and furious. In January, Beijing launched its first in a series of command-and-control communications satellites that will help integrate its forces. On Sept. 1, it orbited a remote-sensing satellite that will increase its military targeting capabilities.

"You distort everything," Adm. McVadon told us.

Intercepts

• Add mattresses to the list of accouterments the Navy is adding to ships to make life easier for sailors, the service reports.

The Navy is trying out "gender-neutral" commodes in some surface ships to replace male-only urinals. The switch would make each ship's "heads" male-female interchangeable, and, the Navy says, rid vessels of stinky, hard-to-clean urinals.

Now, the Navy is putting new spring mattresses aboard ships to replace worn-out lumpy bedding. Price tag: $36 million. The attack sub USS Norfolk received the sleep aids recently before commencing a long, underwater cruise.

The toilets and mattresses are part of a broader program started by Navy Secretary Richard Danzig to improve the lot of average sailors.

• Rep. Floyd D. Spence, the outgoing chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the Pentagon will need between $60 billion and $100 billion a year more than current funding levels to fix combat-readiness problems.

The South Carolina Republican spoke at the Center for Security Policy dinner Wednesday night where he was honored with the Keeper of the Flame Award. "We have got to do more," he said in an appeal for helping the depleted U.S. military.

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

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