- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

Insider notes from United Press International for Jan. 31


"That letter" is still causing ripples in the European community. Published Thursday in several leading European and U.S. newspapers it was a pious profession of faith in Bush's hard line toward Saddam Hussein, and was signed by five EU leaders, including Tony Blair, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, and Spain's Jose Maria Aznar, and three soon-to-be members. Other EU countries, including France and Germany, were furious about deliberately being left out of the loop, but none more so than Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis. Greece currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU and is therefore supposed to represent the bloc on the world stage, yet not one of the letter's signatories thought of inviting Greece to sign the statement. In fact, Simitis only found out about it late Wednesday when it was mentioned to him by during a routine meeting with Hungarian premier Peter Medgyessy, and Hungary is not even a member of the Union. The letter, said Simitis, "does not contribute to a common stance about the issue."


There are times when the EU displays a peculiar sense of priorities. On Tuesday, the day after chief weapons inspector Hans Blix reported to the United Nations on Saddam Hussein's recalcitrance in dealing with the weapons inspectors the No. 1 issue at the European Commission's daily news conference was … reducing the levels of pink coloring in fish farmed salmon. The Brussels-based international press corps — said to be the world's biggest — failed to ask one question about Iraq, but spent almost half an hour asking detailed questions about how eating dyed salmon effects the eyesight.


EU peculiar priorities #2: When the European Parliament got around to discussing Iraq on Wednesday, not every member (MEP) was focused on the issue at hand. Just as EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana rose to deliver a key statement setting out the 15-member bloc's position, Danish MEP Freddy Blak interrupted proceedings with an urgent question. The Socialist deputy wanted to know if there was a secret dress code in the EU. His staffer, Blak explained, was thrown out of a committee meeting for not wearing a tie. To underline his point, the former trade union agitator said: "Today I'm wearing neither a jacket, tie or shirt. In fact, I'm wearing jeans." An embarrassed looking Parliament President Pat Cox joked: "I'll recommend you the name of a good tailor after the meeting."


Iraqi spies trying to learn Washington's intentions could do worse than hang around Corpus Christi, Texas, harbor area. In the next few weeks between 15 and 20 ships will dock there to load military supplies bound for the Persian Gulf. Three-star Vice Admiral David Brewer, commander of Military Sealift Command which oversees the sea transport of Army equipment, said 28 freighters each the size of two football fields are currently loading, or have loaded equipment for the 4th Infantry Division in Fort Hood, Texas. Officials will not comment further on the military traffic at the port, but the hectic activity provides a clue. Helicopters land in groups of two or more, towed into large machines that encase them in shrink-wrap prior to their loading on ships. Let's hope there are other machines to cope with the unwrapping.


Whether the current crisis ends up in war or not, the U.S. military wants to be prepared. Within the next two weeks, the leaders of CENTCOM will conduct a full-scale operational level run-through of the actual U.S. battle plan for toppling Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, well-placed administration officials told United Press International. The run-through, a huge simulation, will take place inside several buildings in Kuwait and Washington, supervised by the leading U.S. ground commander, Lt. Gen. David McKeirnan of Arcent, the U.S. Army Forces Central Command based at Fort McPherson, Ga. McKiernan is former deputy chief of staff of military planning for the U.S. Army. The run through will consist of three parts: the deployment of U.S. ground and air forces against Iraqi targets, an opposing force acting to defeat them, and an umpire force to monitor the proceedings. The main aim is to ensure that all links between various elements of command and control function perfectly. Any glitches found can then be detected promptly, these sources said.


The Bush administration, which dislikes surprises, is keeping an electronic eye on Israel these days using a bristling panoply of secret methods. "With violence in the territories, there is a real need to know," said a well-placed administration official told United Press International. The catalog of equipment is impressive: First, there is a National Security Agency Cyprus-based Ground Remote Operating Facility, which sends all the data it receives in real time to NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, Md. To collect intelligence, the United States uses Air Force RC 135 Rivet Joint surveillance aircraft equipped with an extensive array of sophisticated intelligence gathering equipment flying from Hellenikon air base in Greece. In times of high tension, such as now, flights are lofted several times a day. U-2 flights known by the code-name Olive Harvest are used as part of a Senior Stretch program run jointly by the Strategic Air Command and NSA. The flights use Ruby Regs equipment, U.S. sources said. The Rivet Joint flights go along the coasts of Arab countries as well as Israel and have on board Arab and Hebrew linguists. They send their information to the British NSA, called GCHQ in Mendenhill, England, where Hebrew linguists translate it and forward it to London. The U.S. Embassy in London is always the first reception point for any U.S. intelligence on the Middle East, except the Cyprus listening station. Spain, houses a fleet of U.S. RC-135s for additional use, and the Sixth Fleet helps out with EB-135 EFS aircraft that fly 48 miles off the coast. In the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, there is a joint NSA-CIA listening post, U.S. officials said. "If we had more, we would use it," said one U.S. official involved in the program.

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