Friday, September 21, 2001

New POW unit

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) this week set up a new unit to deal with the issue of prisoners of war and those missing in action.

A DIA spokesman said the unit is a “standing group” of intelligence analysts created under pressure from Congress to focus on prisoner of war issues in both peacetime and wartime.

“It was accelerated as a result of events of last week,” the spokesman said.

Initially, the DIA “cell,” made up of intelligence analysts, was to investigate the kinds of issues raised by cases such as U.S. Navy pilot Lt. Cmdr. Michael S. Speicher’s. Cmdr. Speicher was listed as killed in the Gulf war after his F-18 fighter was shot down in 1991. Evidence he may have survived the shoot-down prompted the Pentagon to reclassify Cmdr. Speicher as missing in action.

A second official said one new focus of the intelligence unit is Southwest Asia. Translation: Afghanistan. The unit is expected to rely on Russian intelligence cooperation, based on Moscow’s past experience in dealing with POWs from the Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The special unit has been created outside of another POW unit, the Defense POW Missing Persons Office, known as DPMO. Pentagon officials believed DPMO had become too “politicized” and would not be as effective in conducting intelligence work on military prisoners and missing in action from the coming conflict.

The office will gather and analyze intelligence that could be used to find and rescue any missing military personnel. Potential losses: downed pilots or captured commandos.

Navy message

Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations, was getting briefed the morning of Sept. 11 when hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon. He was unhurt, but the attack killed 42 of his sailors, more than those killed in the bombing of the destroyer USS Cole.

Last week’s attacks destroyed the Navy’s newly opened command center. Adm. Clark, in a message to commanders this week, applauded his service’s ability to recover quickly and set up new command operations.

“Outstanding teamwork quickly brought alternative command and control arrangements on-line,” Adm. Clark said. “Acts of great courage and kindness minimized casualties and provided solace to families.”

The message was meant to guide commanders in explaining the war on terrorism to all sailors. If America strikes, the Navy will play a huge role. Two carrier battle groups, equipped with fighter-bombers and Tomahawk cruise missiles, are in the Persian Gulf region within reach of Afghanistan, home to Osama bin Laden, prime suspect in the attacks. Another, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, is steaming to the Mediterranean Sea and will be available for any air strikes.

“The mobility and agility of naval power will be called upon to hunt transnational terrorists,” the admiral told his commanders, adding that the “full might” of the armed forces will be unleashed.

“Be prepared to act swiftly and accurately,” he said, an order that can be interpreted to mean avoid killing civilians.

“The war against terrorism will not be short or easy,” he said. “Each of us is now on the front lines. Enhanced force protection measures are here to stay.”

Adm. Clark indirectly warned sailors not to take out their anger on Muslims, saying “all Americans will serve together in this struggle, including our shipmates of Arabic descent and Islamic faith.”

The four-star admiral concluded, “The attack unified our nation more thoroughly than any single event since Pearl Harbor.”

Video of attack

The electronic news media have broadcast repeatedly the attack on the World Trade Center. They are perhaps the most dramatic news images since the explosion of the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima.

Now word has reached us that federal investigators may have video footage of the deadly terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

A security camera atop a hotel close to the Pentagon may have captured dramatic footage of the hijacked Boeing 757 airliner as it slammed into the western wall of the Pentagon. Hotel employees sat watching the film in shock and horror several times before the FBI confiscated the video as part of its investigation.

It may be the only available video of the attack. The Pentagon has told broadcast news reporters that its security cameras did not capture the crash.

The attack occurred close to the Pentagon’s heliport, an area that normally would be under 24-hour security surveillance, including video monitoring.

Chinfo blast

One Pentagon office damaged by the terrorist airliner crash was the Navy’s public affairs shop headed by Rear Adm. Stephen Pietropaoli, chief of Navy information, or Chinfo.

Special shatter-resistant glass probably reduced casualties among the Chinfo staff. The windows rattled but did not break when the plane struck the building, causing a loud concussion and scattering debris outside the fourth-floor offices in the innermost A Ring.

“Every one of us knew what this was,” said an officer in the offices at the time. “There was concern that the windows would give in. But it was not as bad as it could have been.”

Chinfo staffers felt the air pressure change, and smoke began filling the offices. People then evacuated “in an orderly fashion,” the officer said.

The offices are believed to have suffered significant water and smoke damage but probably were not burned in the fire. Chinfo relocated temporarily to the Navy Annex up the street but is expected to be back in the building soon.

Gen. Kennedy

Retired Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy is out with her memoir, “Generally Speaking: A Memoir by the First Woman Promoted to Three-Star General in the United States Army.”

Gen. Kennedy did, indeed, achieve unparalleled success as a woman officer. But she is perhaps best known outside the Army as the woman who accused another general, Larry G. Smith, of groping her in her Pentagon office, with the door open.

Maj. Gen. Smith, who was reprimanded and forced to retire, steadfastly denied the charge. He told investigators he simply gave her a hug and perhaps a light kiss, as they concluded an Oct. 11, 1996, meeting.

An Army inspector general’s report substantiated Gen. Kennedy’s charge, basically saying she had no motive to lie. But the report did not disclose exactly what the general said Gen. Smith had done.

Those looking for more details in the book will be disappointed.

But Gen. Kennedy, who retired last year while serving as Army deputy chief of staff for intelligence, was more forthcoming in discussing her feelings toward The Washington Times and The Washington Post.

When The Times called the Army for a comment before first disclosing the IG investigation, Gen. Kennedy recalled thinking, “I didn’t respect the Washington Times, which had taken a consistently antagonistic position toward women in the military.”

She writes that the story in the next day’s Times “contained many misstatements While thin on substance, the story was heavy on innuendo, implying that I was a politically motivated and politically correct officer who ruthlessly wielded charges of sexual harassment as a tool to gain individual power.”

Of a Washington Post follow-up story, she said the paper “saw fit to tarnish my reputation by making it appear that my going to the inspector general with an ‘old charge’ had been an act of malice.”

PS: Gen. Kennedy is exploring a run next year against Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, who faces re-election. She met in July with state Democratic Party officials.

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