Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bill Gertz

Morning Commentary

It’s “back to reality” week at the White House, where the Obama administration has finally given up on asking Israelis to freeze settlement construction.

And, in a Cheney-esque decision, a D.C. federal judge has dismissed any challenge to the president’s authority to kill an American citizen without due process.

Bill Gertz reports that 25 percent of terrorists released from Gitmo have gone back to the battlefield, according to a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Jonah Goldberg delivers some sharp analysis on the West’s turning a blind eye to North Korea’s human rights situation: “Eventually this dynasty of misery will end and North Koreans, starved, stunted and beaten, will crawl back into the light of civilization. My hunch is that it will not be easy to meet their gaze, nor history’s. No one will be able to claim they didn’t know what was happening, and very few of us will be able to say we did anything at all to help.”

Pundits have likened Julian Assange to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, but the two bear no comparison, says Todd Gitlin at the New Republic: “Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers was a great democratic act that helped clarify for the American public how its leaders had misled it for years, to the immense detriment of the nation’s honor. By contrast, Wikileaks’s huge data dump, including the names of agents and recent diplomatic cables, is indiscriminate. Assange slashes and burns with impunity. He is a minister of chaos fighting for a world of total transparency. We have enough problems without that.”

And speaking of WikiLeaks, who wrote that story circling mainstream liberal blogs that the Swedish woman accusing Assange of rape has connections to the CIA? The author was Counterpunch’s Israel Shamir — a raving Holocaust-denier and conspiracy theorist, reports Reason magazine.

It’s “back to reality” week at the White House, where the Obama administration has finally given up on asking Israelis to freeze settlement construction.

And, in a Cheney-esque decision, a D.C. federal judge has dismissed any challenge to the president’s authority to kill an American citizen without due process.

Bill Gertz reports that 25 percent of terrorists released from Gitmo have gone back to the battlefield, according to a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Jonah Goldberg delivers some sharp analysis on the West’s turning a blind eye to North Korea’s human rights situation: “Eventually this dynasty of misery will end and North Koreans, starved, stunted and beaten, will crawl back into the light of civilization. My hunch is that it will not be easy to meet their gaze, nor history’s. No one will be able to claim they didn’t know what was happening, and very few of us will be able to say we did anything at all to help.”

Pundits have likened Julian Assange to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, but the two bear no comparison, says Todd Gitlin at the New Republic: “Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers was a great democratic act that helped clarify for the American public how its leaders had misled it for years, to the immense detriment of the nation’s honor. By contrast, Wikileaks’s huge data dump, including the names of agents and recent diplomatic cables, is indiscriminate. Assange slashes and burns with impunity. He is a minister of chaos fighting for a world of total transparency. We have enough problems without that.”

And speaking of WikiLeaks, who wrote that story circling mainstream liberal blogs that the Swedish woman accusing Assange of rape has connections to the CIA? The author was Counterpunch’s Israel Shamir — a raving Holocaust-denier and conspiracy theorist, reports Reason magazine.

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Bribing Russia, Letting Iran Off Easy

In case you had a question about the meaning of “reset,” it means “giving the Russians everything they want.” Picking up on Eli Lake and Bill Gertz’s previous report, the Washington Post explains:

The Obama administration on Friday lifted sanctions against four Russian entities involved in illicit weapons trade with Iran and Syria since 1999, and acknowledged exempting a Russian-Iranian missile deal from a U.N. draft resolution banning most missile sales to Iran. The move comes just three days after the U.S., Russia and other key powers reached agreement on a draft resolution sanctioning Iran for violating U.N. demands to halt its uranium enrichment program. The draft includes a loophole that would exempt a 2005 Russian deal, valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, to sell Tehran five S-300 surface-to-air missile systems. … The removal of the four entities, which was recorded in Friday’s Federal Register, suggested that the United States engaged in some last-minute bargaining to ensure Moscow’s support for sanctions.

This is, even for the Obama team, a disgrace. This is Obama’s face-saving act, not a serious effort to thwart the Iranians’ nuclear program. Indeed, this is arguably worse than merely a watered-down sanctions agreement. Why worse? Obama has now made hash out of our policy with two countries. This message of appeasement signals to Russian leaders that they can extract virtually anything from Obama, as long as his personal vanity and the preservation of the patina of competence are at stake.

We’ll see how lawmakers react to this development. As for the Democrats, they will be hard-pressed to defend the president and his hapless secretary of state on this one.

In case you had a question about the meaning of “reset,” it means “giving the Russians everything they want.” Picking up on Eli Lake and Bill Gertz’s previous report, the Washington Post explains:

The Obama administration on Friday lifted sanctions against four Russian entities involved in illicit weapons trade with Iran and Syria since 1999, and acknowledged exempting a Russian-Iranian missile deal from a U.N. draft resolution banning most missile sales to Iran. The move comes just three days after the U.S., Russia and other key powers reached agreement on a draft resolution sanctioning Iran for violating U.N. demands to halt its uranium enrichment program. The draft includes a loophole that would exempt a 2005 Russian deal, valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, to sell Tehran five S-300 surface-to-air missile systems. … The removal of the four entities, which was recorded in Friday’s Federal Register, suggested that the United States engaged in some last-minute bargaining to ensure Moscow’s support for sanctions.

This is, even for the Obama team, a disgrace. This is Obama’s face-saving act, not a serious effort to thwart the Iranians’ nuclear program. Indeed, this is arguably worse than merely a watered-down sanctions agreement. Why worse? Obama has now made hash out of our policy with two countries. This message of appeasement signals to Russian leaders that they can extract virtually anything from Obama, as long as his personal vanity and the preservation of the patina of competence are at stake.

We’ll see how lawmakers react to this development. As for the Democrats, they will be hard-pressed to defend the president and his hapless secretary of state on this one.

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Lost In Translation

Pick a foreign language, any language (except Spanish and Bureaucratese), and I can guarantee that U.S. intelligence has a severe lack of personnel conversant in that tongue. The more critical the language to our intelligence efforts, the worse the shortage.

Take Chinese. The National Security Agency lacks Chinese speakers to translate all the decrypted commuications it picks up. What does it do in response? It hires outside translation services. One of them, unfortunately, was run by Chinese intelligence itself.

Naval intelligence officials familiar with the Chinese spy penetration said the access to both “raw” and analyzed intelligence at Kunia caused significant damage by giving China’s government details on both the targets and the sources of U.S. spying operations. Such information would permit the Chinese to block the eavesdropping or to provide false and misleading “disinformation” to U.S. intelligence.

The redoubtable Bill Gertz has the full story in today’s Washington Times.

Pick a foreign language, any language (except Spanish and Bureaucratese), and I can guarantee that U.S. intelligence has a severe lack of personnel conversant in that tongue. The more critical the language to our intelligence efforts, the worse the shortage.

Take Chinese. The National Security Agency lacks Chinese speakers to translate all the decrypted commuications it picks up. What does it do in response? It hires outside translation services. One of them, unfortunately, was run by Chinese intelligence itself.

Naval intelligence officials familiar with the Chinese spy penetration said the access to both “raw” and analyzed intelligence at Kunia caused significant damage by giving China’s government details on both the targets and the sources of U.S. spying operations. Such information would permit the Chinese to block the eavesdropping or to provide false and misleading “disinformation” to U.S. intelligence.

The redoubtable Bill Gertz has the full story in today’s Washington Times.

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It Was Not A Misunderstanding

Last Wednesday, a White House spokesman said that the Chinese foreign minister had told President Bush it was all a “misunderstanding.” But according to Bill Gertz of the Washington Times, the Chinese are saying that their foreign minister “did not tell President Bush on Wednesday that blocking the Thanksgiving Day port visit to Hong Kong by aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk was the result of a misunderstanding.”

The incident followed Beijing’s refusal, a few days earlier, to permit two American minesweeping ships permission to take refuge in Hong Kong harbor from a storm.

Whether these incident were misunderstandings or not, the most disconcerting aspect of this affair is not Chinese behavior, which is becoming predictable in its unpredictability, but our government’s puzzled response.

“I’m aware of no hiccups at all in our efforts to increase military-to-military cooperation, exchanges with the Chinese,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell. “I think that’s why this incident is so baffling to us, because there was no indication at all prior to the Kitty Hawk being refused entry to the port of Hong Kong that there was any reason or any cause for concern.”

Admiral Timothy Keating, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, says the Kitty Hawk incident “is not, in our view, conduct that is indicative of a country that understands its obligations as a responsible nation.” True enough.

But why did Admiral Keating have to go on to say that the incidents are “perplexing”?

Why did he have to say “We are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to work our way around some of these aggravations”?

Why did he have to say (in remarks summarized in the Thai press) that “he does not want to reduce military cooperation with China, but rather to increase dialogue and joint training in order to avoid misunderstandings”?

Even if these “aggravations” truly are “perplexing,” should the stance of the U.S. government be that of a disappointed supplicant expressing bafflement? Or at the very least should we be saying forcefully that China appears increasingly to be playing by different rules than we are, and it’s time to pay attention?

Last Wednesday, a White House spokesman said that the Chinese foreign minister had told President Bush it was all a “misunderstanding.” But according to Bill Gertz of the Washington Times, the Chinese are saying that their foreign minister “did not tell President Bush on Wednesday that blocking the Thanksgiving Day port visit to Hong Kong by aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk was the result of a misunderstanding.”

The incident followed Beijing’s refusal, a few days earlier, to permit two American minesweeping ships permission to take refuge in Hong Kong harbor from a storm.

Whether these incident were misunderstandings or not, the most disconcerting aspect of this affair is not Chinese behavior, which is becoming predictable in its unpredictability, but our government’s puzzled response.

“I’m aware of no hiccups at all in our efforts to increase military-to-military cooperation, exchanges with the Chinese,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell. “I think that’s why this incident is so baffling to us, because there was no indication at all prior to the Kitty Hawk being refused entry to the port of Hong Kong that there was any reason or any cause for concern.”

Admiral Timothy Keating, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, says the Kitty Hawk incident “is not, in our view, conduct that is indicative of a country that understands its obligations as a responsible nation.” True enough.

But why did Admiral Keating have to go on to say that the incidents are “perplexing”?

Why did he have to say “We are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to work our way around some of these aggravations”?

Why did he have to say (in remarks summarized in the Thai press) that “he does not want to reduce military cooperation with China, but rather to increase dialogue and joint training in order to avoid misunderstandings”?

Even if these “aggravations” truly are “perplexing,” should the stance of the U.S. government be that of a disappointed supplicant expressing bafflement? Or at the very least should we be saying forcefully that China appears increasingly to be playing by different rules than we are, and it’s time to pay attention?

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An American Defense Policy

Everyone in Washington claims to favor bipartisanship. The difficulty occurs when someone actually tries to practice it. This instantly and inevitably triggers sniping from partisans.

For a small but telling example, see this Washington Times article (previously linked to on contentions) about the selection of John Hamre to chair the Defense Policy Board, a prestigious but powerless group of senior statesmen who advise the Secretary of Defense on various issues. The board used to be headed by Richard Perle, who became a lightning rod for the administration’s detractors. Now Robert M. Gates has selected Hamre, a quintessential technocrat who is currently president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and who, during the Clinton administration, served as comptroller of the Pentagon and Deputy Secretary of Defense.

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Everyone in Washington claims to favor bipartisanship. The difficulty occurs when someone actually tries to practice it. This instantly and inevitably triggers sniping from partisans.

For a small but telling example, see this Washington Times article (previously linked to on contentions) about the selection of John Hamre to chair the Defense Policy Board, a prestigious but powerless group of senior statesmen who advise the Secretary of Defense on various issues. The board used to be headed by Richard Perle, who became a lightning rod for the administration’s detractors. Now Robert M. Gates has selected Hamre, a quintessential technocrat who is currently president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and who, during the Clinton administration, served as comptroller of the Pentagon and Deputy Secretary of Defense.

Hamre is a well-respected figure known for his solidly centrist views and not someone, you would think, who would excite much partisan passion—especially when appointed to nothing more than an advisory position. Yet Bill Gertz of the Washington Times manages to dredge up toxic quotations from anonymous detractors:

“With or without his approval, President Bush’s team has apparently begun the transition to the third Clinton administration,” said one official, in reference to the possible election of Hillary Rodham Clinton next year. “We can see now that with the possible exception of the President himself, their hearts and minds just never were into governing as Republicans.”

“This begs the question of whether the Secretary agrees with the Hamre-Clinton policies, like gays in the military, Draconian defense cuts, women in combat, and environmental friendliness,” said a defense official.

The Hamre-Clinton policies? Give me break. What are these dreaded policies anyway? Are conservatives supposed to be opposed to “environmental friendliness”? Women are already in combat, and it hasn’t been an issue. Gays are also becoming more accepted within the military. As for “Draconian defense cuts,” they were instigated by the administration of Bush Senior following the end of the Cold War.

Whatever you make think of these policies, they are not determined by second- or third-level Pentagon officials; they come right from the top. To blame or credit Hamre for these initiatives is akin to blaming or crediting former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith for launching the Iraq War—a canard spread only by crackpots.

Give it a rest, guys.

Hamre is exactly the kind of centrist Democrat to whom the Bush administration should have been reaching out from the start. I realize it’s a myth that “politics stops at the water’s edge”—but it’s a nice myth and one that policymakers on both sides would do well to cultivate. And that means cultivating figures from the other side of the aisle.

We shouldn’t have a Republican or Democratic defense policy. We need an American policy.

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I Got My Job Through COMMENTARY

First there was Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whose COMMENTARY article, “The United States in Opposition,” ended up bringing him to the United Nations. Then there was Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, whose article for this magazine, “Dictatorships & Double Standards,” brought her, also, to the United Nations.

We now take note of Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’s announcement of new appointments to his department’s Defense Policy Board. One of them is Peter Rodman, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense and, before that, an occasional COMMENTARY contributor. He joins, among others already on the board, two other well known writers for the magazine: Aaron Friedberg and James Q. Wilson.

Evidently, the neoconservative crack-up is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Meanwhile, is the Defense Policy Board, under its new chairman, the former Clinton defense adviser John J. Hamre, all that it’s cracked up to be? Bill Gertz in today’s Washington Times takes up that question.

First there was Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whose COMMENTARY article, “The United States in Opposition,” ended up bringing him to the United Nations. Then there was Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, whose article for this magazine, “Dictatorships & Double Standards,” brought her, also, to the United Nations.

We now take note of Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’s announcement of new appointments to his department’s Defense Policy Board. One of them is Peter Rodman, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense and, before that, an occasional COMMENTARY contributor. He joins, among others already on the board, two other well known writers for the magazine: Aaron Friedberg and James Q. Wilson.

Evidently, the neoconservative crack-up is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Meanwhile, is the Defense Policy Board, under its new chairman, the former Clinton defense adviser John J. Hamre, all that it’s cracked up to be? Bill Gertz in today’s Washington Times takes up that question.

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All the News That’s Fit to Print?

Despite warnings that it is damaging national security, despite the prospect that it is inviting an unprecedented prosecution under the espionage statutes barring communication of national-defense information, the New York Times presses ahead in its campaign to place our country’s most highly classified military, counterterrorism, and diplomatic secrets on its front page. The string of extremely sensitive leaked information making it into the paper was extended recently when a memorandum by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, summarizing difficulties the U.S. faces with Iraq’s prime minister, appeared on page one.

But while avidly disclosing U.S. secrets, how does the Times report on intelligence operations directed against the United States by foreign powers?

Back in June, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst by the name of Ronald Montaperto was convicted on espionage charges. According to the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, Montaperto had held 60 meetings with Chinese military intelligence officers over two decades and provided them with information bearing “secret” and “top-secret” designations. Despite the gravity of the offense, Montaperto was sentenced to only three months in jail. This stands in striking contrast to other well-known cases. Jonathan Pollard, who passed information to Israel in the 1980’s, is serving out a life sentence. Last January, Larry Franklin, a Defense Department desk officer, was sentenced to twelve years in prison for mishandling classified documents and passing sensitive national-defense information to employees of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

There are many mysteries here. One of them is why Montaperto got only a slap on the wrist. One answer is that unlike Pollard and Franklin, he was not a nobody or an outsider but a creature of the establishment. In addition to his work for the DIA, he helped to produce a Council on Foreign Relations study on Chinese nuclear weapons and had many friends in the fraternity of China experts, both in and out of government. The federal judge in the case evidently reduced his sentence on the strength of numerous letters he received from Montaperto’s former colleagues. One of those letters came from the current deputy national-intelligence officer for East Asia, Lonnie Henley. Yesterday came word, from Bill Gertz of the Washington Times, that several months ago Henley received a formal reprimand for writing it.

Another even more intriguing mystery is why, even as the New York Times feels free to compromise one classified program after another, it has kept readers in the dark about the Montaperto matter and Henley’s intervention. The story is already beginning to age, Montaperto will be getting out of prison next month, but his name has yet to be even mentioned in our newspaper of record. One explanation for this silence, easy to demonstrate from their own behavior, is that the editors of the Times do not think the loss of governmental secretswith the single revealing exception of the leak of Valery Plame’s CIA affiliationis of any consequence to national security. It is thanks only to the dogged reporting of Bill Gertz, who has himself been known to publish highly sensitive governmental secrets, that the public is aware of these cases at all. 

To find out about A & O (admission and orientation) programs for a federal prisoner like Ronald N. Montaperto, inmate number 71342-083, click here.

Despite warnings that it is damaging national security, despite the prospect that it is inviting an unprecedented prosecution under the espionage statutes barring communication of national-defense information, the New York Times presses ahead in its campaign to place our country’s most highly classified military, counterterrorism, and diplomatic secrets on its front page. The string of extremely sensitive leaked information making it into the paper was extended recently when a memorandum by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, summarizing difficulties the U.S. faces with Iraq’s prime minister, appeared on page one.

But while avidly disclosing U.S. secrets, how does the Times report on intelligence operations directed against the United States by foreign powers?

Back in June, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst by the name of Ronald Montaperto was convicted on espionage charges. According to the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, Montaperto had held 60 meetings with Chinese military intelligence officers over two decades and provided them with information bearing “secret” and “top-secret” designations. Despite the gravity of the offense, Montaperto was sentenced to only three months in jail. This stands in striking contrast to other well-known cases. Jonathan Pollard, who passed information to Israel in the 1980’s, is serving out a life sentence. Last January, Larry Franklin, a Defense Department desk officer, was sentenced to twelve years in prison for mishandling classified documents and passing sensitive national-defense information to employees of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

There are many mysteries here. One of them is why Montaperto got only a slap on the wrist. One answer is that unlike Pollard and Franklin, he was not a nobody or an outsider but a creature of the establishment. In addition to his work for the DIA, he helped to produce a Council on Foreign Relations study on Chinese nuclear weapons and had many friends in the fraternity of China experts, both in and out of government. The federal judge in the case evidently reduced his sentence on the strength of numerous letters he received from Montaperto’s former colleagues. One of those letters came from the current deputy national-intelligence officer for East Asia, Lonnie Henley. Yesterday came word, from Bill Gertz of the Washington Times, that several months ago Henley received a formal reprimand for writing it.

Another even more intriguing mystery is why, even as the New York Times feels free to compromise one classified program after another, it has kept readers in the dark about the Montaperto matter and Henley’s intervention. The story is already beginning to age, Montaperto will be getting out of prison next month, but his name has yet to be even mentioned in our newspaper of record. One explanation for this silence, easy to demonstrate from their own behavior, is that the editors of the Times do not think the loss of governmental secretswith the single revealing exception of the leak of Valery Plame’s CIA affiliationis of any consequence to national security. It is thanks only to the dogged reporting of Bill Gertz, who has himself been known to publish highly sensitive governmental secrets, that the public is aware of these cases at all. 

To find out about A & O (admission and orientation) programs for a federal prisoner like Ronald N. Montaperto, inmate number 71342-083, click here.

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