A Digest of the Week’s Exclusives

29 June: The surprise resignation of retired Army General Wayne A. Downing as deputy national security adviser to the president for combating terrorism, on Thursday, June 27, is bad news for the road ahead of America’s war on terror, according to DEBKAfile‘s intelligence sources.

According to DEBKAfile‘s Washington sources, the general left because he strongly disapproved of the way the Bush administration is handling the anti-terror offensive, and more particularly its intelligence side.

In the beginning, he beat the intelligence bureaucracy down over the creation of a new data fusion center capable of keeping a 24-hour watch on terrorist activities and tracking all related interagency intelligence. Downing had begun assigning staff to the new center when word came down that it was to be swallowed up in the proposed Homeland Security Department.

As this veteran general saw it, the center’s function should have been to bring together all the incoming data on terror and make it instantly available for operational uses. For instance, US Special Forces encountering al Qaeda activity out in the field in Afghanistan, Pakistan or the Persian Gulf would be able to access the identities of its leader and participants by hitting a few keys on their mobile computers. By the same process, they would file back to the center any new data garnered by surveillance in the field.

Damascus international airport would have been a perfect example, since it has become the primary transit hub for al Qaeda operatives traveling back and forth through the Middle East and on to the Balkans and watchers at certain Damascus hotels could provide the center with running updates.

At present, raw intelligence comes in as fragments scattered among the 6 – 8 different US intelligence bodies engaged in tracking and fighting terrorism. Downing proposed cutting through this bureaucratic blockage in the intelligence flow with his centralized data pool. He tendered his resignation significantly on the day that CIA director George Tenet and FBI director Robert Mueller 3rd made a rare joint appearance before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

Both directors made an effort to demonstrate that their agencies could work together in the new Homeland Security Department. Yet their cautiously worded statements showed there is still a long way to go for real cooperation in fighting terror.

Without mentioning the World Trade Center attacks in 1993 and 2001, the CIA director obliquely responded to charges against his agency (leveled in a series DEBKAfile ran in May “How Much Do US Presidents Know about Terror?”), when he told the Senate committee that America could not move from threat to threat in the future without putting in place “security procedures that prevent terrorists from returning to the same target years later.”

However, nearly 10 months after the 9/11 trauma, America has still not set up a central data bank with updated rundowns and assessments on terrorist tactics, methods, targets, timelines and threats. In an interview Friday, June 28, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld informed the Washington Times that al Qaeda has obtained fresh supplies, including advanced weapons systems, for fighting the United States in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Clearly, al Qaeda is not only alive and well, but kicking again.The lesson here is that al Qaeda may have lost its territorial base but has acquired instead a light-footed mobility.

DEBBAfile‘s military and intelligence sources names the two governments which have taken charge of the financing, purchase and transfer of fresh weapons supplies to al Qaeda: Saudi Arabia and Iran, with Pakistani acquiescence.

No combat force on earth can fight these flourishing terrorist resources without first-rate, real-time intelligence. America, withal its technological prowess, is weighed down by an unwieldy intelligence bureaucracy, holding it back from meeting the intelligence challenges posed by a spreading terrorist enemy.

Israel has offered a certain amount of data on a regular basis to the as yet unborn Department for Homeland Security. Minister of Internal Security Uzi Landau and Brig-Gen David Tzur were in Washington this week to discuss with US officials the creation of a joint anti-terror office, mainly as a communication hub, for the new department.

29 June: A 33-year old Chinese software engineer, Zhu Rong Gong, has duplicated the secret fire-control software and systems integration for Russia’s Su-27 series of aircraft, giving his country’s drive towards the fully autonomous production of this potent weapon a sharp spurt.

DEBKAfile reports this feat of Beijing’s commercial-military intelligence from its exclusive Chinese sources.

China is currently believed to operate 100 or more of these state of the art fighter aircraft, which parallel the Russian Mig-29 and US F-15C. In February 1996, Russia sold full Su-27 production rights to China for US$2.5 billion, but withheld the production secrets of certain key technologies, such as the software used to control the aircraft’s sophisticated integrated fire control system, which were supplied only in “black box” form. Initially, China completed its first domestic production of SU-27s, which the Chinese air force designates J-11, in late 1998, from imported components. By the end of this year, its output is expected to reach ten aircraft and then rise to 15 annually. The Chinese estimate eventual domestic production going up to 100 per year, although Western estimates put this total at no more than 10 to 20 aircraft per year with substantial Russian assistance.

During August 1999, Beijing and Moscow signed an agreement for the purchase of 40 or more Su-30MKK (i.e. modernizirovannyi kommerchesky dla Kitaya, or ‘modernized commercially for China’) fighter-bombers from the Irktusk Aircraft Production Association in a contract worth up to another US$2.5 billion. A co-production agreement was subsequently made for an additional 250 aircraft, most likely at the Shenyang facility, and the purchase of a second batch of 40 constructed aircraft.

The Su-30MKK is a sophisticated long-range attack version of the Su-27 that can deliver a wide variety of ordnance.

The Russians counted on their “bans and restrictions”, coupled with China’s practical limitations, to hold Beijing back from modernizing and exporting non-licensed versions of the SU-27 and SU-30 variants without their help. They relied on the fact that the AL-31F engines and all the sets of radio-electronic equipment for these planes had to come from Russia.

However, Chinese intelligence has actively pursued the secrets of the aircraft sub-systems Russia is withholding.

30 June: No climb-downs are likely on any side from the position laid down by George W. Bush in his landmark Middle East speech on June 23. Two days later, at the G-8 Summit in Canada, Bush said (if Arafat dug his heels in) he did not rule out military action against him. He did not specify by whom, whether America, Israel or, under a US plan outlined in the past in DEBKAfile, by Egyptian and Jordanian security forces taking charge, respectively, of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

The Palestinian suicide campaign has slowed down in the last eight days – but not at Arafat’s behest, but because Israeli forces are slicing through Palestinian towns and villages on the West Bank to finish the frequently interrupted task of destroying terrorist bases. They are rounding up wanted terrorists and their controllers, destroying manufacturing facilities for bomb belts and explosives, often apprehending would-be human bombs as they leave base. The British-built fortress complex, symbol of the Palestinian Authority’s control of the Hebron area, was blown up early Saturday, June 29, removing an important terrorist stronghold and hideout in the southern West Bank. Still, successive terror alerts keep Israeli security on their toes in one town after another.

As for Bush, every leader in the region, still stunned by his unequivocal bluntness, is watching for the slightest weakening in his demand for Palestinian regime change. First, Iran’s hardline spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his terror chiefs. Then, Saudi crown prince Abdullah, mention of whom Bush omitted from his speech after he was caught out extending financial and logistical assistance to al Qaeda and his peace proposals exposed as a feature of his phony facade of moderation.

Saddam Hussein will have interpreted Bush’s tough stance on Arafat as a signaling that time is getting short for him to decide whether to pre-empt an American offensive by striking at US forces in the Middle East, at Washington’s allies, Israel and Jordan, and trying to save the Palestinian leader – or wait for the American hammer to fall.

Bashar Assad in Damascus and the Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon are keeping a wary eye on the White House, after the Syrian President was told his double game was no longer acceptable.The Hizballah chief responded to the Bush ultimatum with typical manipulative ploys.

This abundance of openness, disclosures and leaks since the Bush speech can be seen as probes by the US, Israel and the Hizballah to test the ground, before moving forward to the next steps. That there is no going back was quickly understood by secretary of state Colin Powell, who turned away publicly from his separate path and fell in solidly behind the president.

1 July: The international war crimes court was born in The Hague Monday, July 1 amid serious challenges to its authority. A few hours earlier, Sunday June 30, the United States announced its withdrawal from the international peacekeeping force in Bosnia without safeguards for the immunity of US troops from prosecution.

Three Security Council permanent members, the United States, Russia and China, as well as Israel, are among the half of the 130 UN members states who have declined to ratify their signatures on the 1998 Rome Statute that established the court. They fear its judgments will be politically tainted. They also question the right of European nations to judge the rest of the world.

The Europeans, led by Britain and France, say they will not let the Bush administration undermine what they view as a historic advance in international justice and human rights.

Israel withdrew its signature because it claimed it had been treated unfairly from the outset by a tribunal whose charter addresses a wide range of war crimes, but not terrorism. On the other hand, the establishment of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza is judged a priori a war crime.

In endorsing the court four years ago, former President Bill Clinton believed the new tribunal would be useful for advancing his administration’s two prime foreign policy objectives:

1. Promoting the national aspirations of ethnic Muslims in the Balkans, especially in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia, at the expense of the Serbs. The Milosevic regime was to be discredited and smashed and Serbia, then considered the sharp edge of Russian and Chinese influence in the Balkans, reduced to a strategic nonentity hemmed in by four strong Muslim states

2. The Balkan precedent was to have provided leverage against the Israeli political camp opposed to a Palestinian state and acted as an inhibitor for Israeli military operations against the Palestinians. Behind this thinking was the assumption that holding the IDF on a tight leash would lend Israeli policy-makers the freedom to make profound and sweeping concessions to the Palestinians.

Eager to meet Clinton’s expectations, the Israeli prime minister of the day, Ehud Barak, signed on to the Rome Covenant in December 2000, two months after the outbreak of the Palestinian armed confrontation. He did not heed attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein’s warnings that he was making Israeli officers and men fighting Palestinian terrorists and Israelis living on lands not included in the 1947 UN partition resolution liable to prosecution. Since the new court is not subject to a statute of limitations, Tel Aviv University (built over a pre-1948 Arab village), no less than the Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem’s French Hill, could be charged as war criminals.

There are enough similar applications in other parts of the world to awaken a whole pack of sleeping dogs.

Sunday, June 30, the Sharon government, sheltering behind America’s broad back, heeded the advice of attorney general Rubinstein this time and recalled Barak’s signature. In any case, the 9/11 terrorist atrocities and subsequent US anti-terror offensives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Philippines and Somalia have made an international war crimes court that fails to recognize terrorism as such outdated and irrelevant.

Last week, America and Europe locked horns at the G-8 summit over whether Yasser Arafat was fit to lead the Palestinian people. The US-EU confrontation over the international war crimes court and the peacekeeping force in Bosnia is the second transatlantic set-to in as many weeks.

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