- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

Chinese intercepts

China's military has been increasing aerial intercepts of U.S. reconnaissance aircraft flying in international airspace along China's coast, according to defense officials.

In one recent encounter, a Chinese interceptor jet flew alongside a U.S. Air Force RC-135 monitoring aircraft and came within 1,000 feet of the jet as it flew along the coast.

The Chinese jet, which was not identified by its type, flew at the same altitude as the RC-135, an electronic intelligence-gathering aircraft. The incident occurred Nov. 7.

An earlier intercept involved a U.S. Air Force EP-3 surveillance aircraft being shadowed by a Chinese jet that came within 500 feet over the East China Sea.

Until these recent encounters, Chinese interceptor jets had been staying at distances of several miles from U.S. aircraft, which monitor Chinese military and government communications and activities.

The incidents highlight China's continuing harassment of U.S. surveillance aircraft. They follow a period of relative calm in the cat-and-mouse aerial surveillance operations.

A Chinese F-8 jet collided with an EP-3 on April 1, causing the Chinese jet to crash and forcing the EP-3 to make an emergency landing at a military airfield on China's Hainan island.

The incident led to a standoff between the U.S. and Chinese governments.

Reports of the latest intercepts were disclosed as the head of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Dennis Blair, has begun a quiet effort to restart U.S.-China military exchanges.

The effort runs counter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's cautious approach to renewing exchanges with the Chinese military since the Hainan island crisis.

Critics of military exchanges with the Chinese point out that they have been used in the past by Beijing to increase its war-fighting knowledge something proponents of greater exchanges have sought to dismiss as insignificant.

Chinese nuclear 'event'

U.S. intelligence agencies have detected new efforts by China on strategic nuclear weapons. The latest evidence comes in intelligence reports that China conducted a nuclear weapons-related experiment at the remote Lop Nur test facility in western Xinjiang province.

The latest nuclear weapons test was an "event" last month that produced no detectable nuclear yield or blast, officials said. It followed several similar tests that were reported in classified intelligence reports in July.

The Chinese conducted three nuclear weapons-related tests at Lop Nur in June and July. Preparations were spotted by U.S. intelligence imagery.

The tests are part of China's aggressive strategic nuclear weapons buildup that includes two new road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles, the DF-31 and the DF-41, and a new class of ballistic missile submarines outfitted with JL-2 missiles a naval version of the DF-31.

Terrorist movements

U.S. intelligence officials tell us terrorists associated with Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization were recently detected in Yemen, where the group carried out the deadly October 2000 suicide bombing against the destroyer USS Cole.

Yemen is known as a terrorist haven, although the government says it has taken steps to root them out. Al Qaeda members fleeing Afghanistan may end up operating out of Yemen.

Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Salih told London's Arabic newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat that al Qaeda terrorists have been identified in Yemen by U.S. officials. "There are some suspects two or three of them and their names are revealed," Mr. Salih said in the interview, published Sunday. "They are currently under the surveillance of Yemeni security departments, and they will be arrested."

Vieques moves

The Bush administration, trying to get a deal with Congress on the future of the Vieques, Puerto Rico, bombing ranging, is promising lawmakers that it will, if necessary, extend its deadline for ending Navy and Marine Corps training by May 2003.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, responding for President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, wrote a letter recently to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, reiterating the commitment.

We obtained a copy of the note that, while restating policy, does emphasize the position that if no suitable replacement is found, then the Navy and Marine Corps can continue training on Vieques past the president's May 2003 deadline.

Mr. Wolfowitz says a decision to extend training, which is now restricted to dummy ordnance only, will be left up to Navy Secretary Gordon England and Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations.

"Until a suitable alternative is established, Vieques remains an important element in the training of our forces deploying to fight the war," he said.

The Navy is now searching for alternative East Coast sites for Atlantic Fleet carrier battle groups.

In a letter first disclosed by The Washington Times, Adm. Clark and Gen. James Jones, the Marine commandant, have asked Mr. England to allow the next deployed battle group to practice with real ammo in January on Vieques. They cite the open-ended global war on terrorism.

Navy warnings

The Navy Criminal Investigative Service has sent a memo to commanders with advice on how to recognize anthrax-tainted letters and other dangerous mail.

Among the warning signs: "protruding wires, aluminum foil, oil stains or a peculiar odor unprofessional wrapping with several combinations of tape special endorsements such as 'fragile-handle with care' or 'rush-do not delay' fictitious or non-existent return addresses."

The NCIS recommends that mail handlers wear rubber gloves and keep plastic bags nearby to collect suspicious mail.

Military terms

The military phrase in vogue in recent weeks has been "special reconnaissance," a mission carried out by special operations forces in northern, eastern and southern Afghanistan.

Here is the official Defense Department definition: "Reconnaissance and surveillance actions conducted by special operations forces to obtain or verify, by visual observation or other collection methods, information concerning the capabilities, intentions and activities of an actual or potential enemy or to secure data concerning the meteorological, hydrographic or geographic characteristics of a particular area. It includes target acquisition, area assessment and post-strike reconnaissance."

Catching chickens

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld festoons his war briefings with vivid similes. Looking for Osama bin Laden, for example, is like trying to catch a chicken in a barnyard.

Yesterday, he served up new imagery for reporters as he described what it would be like for U.S. and opposition forces to weed out the Taliban leaders in Kandahar from the run-of-the-mill fighter. The scenario took Mr. Rumsfeld back to his boyhood when he used to play carnival games.

He said, "This is an unusual situation It's the old glass box at the gas station, where you're using those little things trying to pick up the prize, and you can't find it. And it's all these arms are going down in there, and so you keep dropping it and picking it up again and moving it, but some of you are probably too young to remember those glass boxes but they used to have them at all the gas stations when I was a kid."

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

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