- - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

North Korea has developed an elaborate underground missile complex at its Sohae missile and space launch facility near the northwestern border with China, according to U.S. officials. The underground complex includes both facilities for preparing missiles for launch and storage areas that are connected by rail lines, according to officials familiar with intelligence reports of the complex.

The secret facility took over a decade to build and is an example of Pyongyang’s capability at tunneling and building secret below-ground military facilities.

The complex is creating problems for U.S. intelligence agencies charged with providing warning time for missile launches.

In the past, North Korean missiles and space launchers were transported by open rail cars and constructed and fueled for days, allowing U.S. spy satellites, aircraft and ships to keep close watch.

Now, the underground complex allows the North Koreans to conduct mating of stages without U.S. monitoring.

The Sohae complex was used for two space launches that the Pentagon said were in reality long-range missile tests disguised as rocket launches in 2012.

Intelligence agencies are reporting with high confidence that North Korea is preparing for another launch for Sohae in the coming weeks.

The endpoint for the underground complex was revealed recently in a report by the think tank 38 North, part of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

According to satellite photos, the North Koreans recently constructed a shelter over a rail line used to move missile stages to a launch pad from outside Sohae.

A defense official said the rail shelter is part of large-scale North Korean missile complex concealment efforts.

Equal review for female Rangers?

Army sources tell Inside the Ring the two female Army Ranger candidates slated to become the first to graduate from the grueling Ranger training course were given special treatment by the service, including relaxing some of the grueling physical standards so that is easier for females to pass.

Specifically, the sources said the two women, who had been “recycled” back into the training program twice before finally passing, did not undergo the same military student evaluation as their male counterparts called peer review. Under current rules, if fellow candidates give a student an approval rating below 60 percent, that student can be disqualified.

The peer review process also can be skewed by squad members who agree not to issue negative ratings on each other. Ranger School leaders are said to watch for such cheating.

“The females were not subjected to the peer reviews like the males,” one Army source close to a Ranger instructor said. “A lot of people get dropped from the course because of peer reviews. Bulls***t.”

No details of the peer review for the two women could be learned.

Army spokeswoman Tatjana Christian told Inside the Ring in a statement that to graduate from Ranger school, “all students, male and female, are required to meet all course standards.”

“The course standards for Ranger Class 08-15 are the exact same standards that have been used for all other Ranger classes,” she said.

Pressed on whether the women underwent peer review like their male counterparts, Ms. Christian said: “Yes they did undergo peer review.” She did not provide details.

Another source close to Ranger trainers said the weight of the backpacks carried by the candidates were reduced by about 10 pounds.

The Army announced from Fort Benning, Georgia, on Tuesday that 94 men and the two women will graduate the 62-day Ranger Course on Friday. The two women soldiers are Capt. Kristen Griest and Lt. Shaye Haver, who will become the first women to graduate from the Ranger course. More than 20 women Marines have tried and failed to pass the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course, another extremely difficult training regimen.

The Obama administration ordered the military services to open most ground combat positions to women under its politically correct military policies.

Critics say the integration of women into combat slots appears to be a higher priority for the Obama administration than resolving the current defense budget crisis that has left the military services scrambling to make ends meet.

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, said many military leaders have become “politicians in uniform” in backing the push for putting women in combat.

“These officials and more in this administration are putting gender politics above national security and the best interests of both women and men in the military,” she said.

An analysis by the Center found that injury rates for women were twice the rate for male soldiers.

“In theory, gender integration is supposed to occur without lowering standards or combat effectiveness,” Ms. Donnelly said. “That goal is on a collision course, however, with Defense Department political mandates to achieve ‘gender diversity metrics,’ another name for ‘quotas.’”

President Obama, currently vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard, may attend the Ranger graduation, according to a defense official.

If the president makes the trip to Fort Benning, “it would be a real slap at serving or prior-service Ranger Regiment members, given he has not paid a bit of attention to their achievements in his seven years in office,” a former Army official said.

Seeking answers on secret Iran deals

Two national security-oriented members of Congress are calling on Secretary of State John F. Kerry to make public two secret side deals reached with Iran on its nuclear program.

Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, a member of the Senate Armed Service Committee, stated in a letter to Mr. Kerry the Obama administration has failed to provide Congress with the text of the two side deals. The administration also appears to have reneged on promises to seek a verifiable agreement with Iran, the Republican lawmakers said.

“Congress and the American people were promised robust verification of the prior military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear activity,” the lawmakers stated in the Aug. 19 letter.

The side deals address inspections and investigations into past nuclear arms work at Iran’s Parchin nuclear site, a location Tehran has prohibited inspectors from visiting in the past. The administration has said the deals are bilateral pacts between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency and thus are confidential.

The documents outlining Iran’s past nuclear arms work and Parchin have been kept secret from Congress, despite legislation passed into law earlier this year requiring all secret codicils and side agreements to be shared with Capitol Hill.

Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Cotton said the administration has issued contradictory statements about whether U.S. officials have actually reviewed the side agreements, or merely been briefed on them.

“By our count, there have been seven different answers from members of the administration to this simple question,” they stated. “While we find third- or fourth-hand briefings on a matter of such importance unacceptable, you and your team have consistently said that the administration has extensive knowledge of these side deals.”

After national security advisor Susan Rice said July 28 that the contents of the secret deals are known, the lawmakers demanded answers to questions about the side deals.

Reports of recent activity at Parchin, near Tehran, indicate Iran may be sanitizing the site and Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Cotton are asking whether the secret agreements allow such activity. They also asked whether Iranian officials will be permitted to conduct soil testing on their own at Parchin without IAEA monitoring as part of the deals.

Additionally, the lawmakers want to know if the secret accords require Iran to make nuclear scientists available for interviews on past nuclear work, including Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, who is suspected of being a key player in the arms program.

“The ability of the United States to detect any nefarious nuclear activities is dependent on our ability to understand the complete picture of prior military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program,” the lawmakers wrote. “Without knowing Iran’s past nuclear activities, it would be incredibly difficult to detect future activities or accurately predict breakout times.”

It also is unclear whether the U.S. intelligence agencies that provided a required report to Congress assessing the verification provisions of the Iran agreement saw the secret side deals.

“With the administration’s apparent knowledge of the side deals, we believe these questions should not be difficult to answer,” the congressmen said.

The letter was sent the same day that former CIA Director R. James Woolsey and former CIA analyst Peter Pry disclosed in a Washington Times op-ed article that Iran’s military in the past discussed the use of nuclear weapons in electronics-disrupting attacks with nuclear weapons called electronic magnetic pulse strikes.

Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.

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