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North Korea is continuing to make preparations for the first test of
its newest long-range missile, the Taepo Dong II. That’s the word
according to Pentagon intelligence sources who reported last month that
activities were photographed at a launch site at a place called
Namgungni in North Korea.

The Nov. 19 report by the National Imagery and Mapping Agency appears
to contradict promises made by Pyongyang during missile talks in Berlin
several weeks ago that North Korea would suspend the test.

An earlier test of a Taepo Dong I missile, which carried a satellite,
shocked Japan and the United States defense establishments, prompting
Tokyo to move forward with developing missile defenses. Another missile
test would scuttle all diplomatic progress made by the United States
with the reclusive communist regime. The United States committed to a
huge aid package under the 1994 Agreed Framework and agreed to lift some
economic sanctions.

Asked about the consequences of another missile test, one analyst
said, “Another missile test and all bets are off.”

Don’t tell
Some social conservative activists are
questioning the Army’s motive in not disclosing the case of an
HIV-positive sergeant accused of breaking into a male colleague’s
barracks room and committing sodomy while the victim slept.

To be sure, the Army did not sweep the Sept. 5 incident under the
rug. Sgt. Cornelius Abner was court-martialed this week at Fort Jackson,
S.C., home to one of two Army mixed-sex recruit-training bases.

But conservatives wonder why it took prodding from the press for the
Army to disclose the case. When a male drill sergeant is accused of
sexual offenses against female trainees, they argue, the Army is quick
to release information.

The Army provided us with a list of press questions and official
answers.

“In previous cases of sexual misconduct, the fort has been more
forthcoming. Why the change in policy?” read one question.

Said the Army, “The previous cases to which you are referring
involved soldiers-in-training (trainees) and drill sergeants. Due to the
high degree of publicity and, more importantly, concern on the part of
families, the decision was made to release information on sexual
misconduct cases involving trainees and drill sergeants so that the
Army’s and Fort Jackson’s policies on such potential misbehavior would
be clear and unmistakable. This case is entirely different in nature in
that it does not involve trainees or drill sergeants.”

Sgt. Abner, 34, was charged with forcible sodomy, aggravated assault
with a means likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm, burglary,
dereliction of duty for failure to use a condom, and failure to obey the
order of a superior officer to use a condom.

He was convicted yesterday on all charges except aggravated assault.

Sgt. Abner was assigned to the base’s Training Support Battalion and
was not a recruit supervisor.

Cuban explosives

Pentagon intelligence agencies earlier this year detected stockpiles
of Russian-made fuel-air explosives in Cuba. The discovery was
photographed by U.S. spy satellites and had some defense analysts
wondering what the weapons are doing on the island.

Fuel-air explosives are bombs made up of high-explosive fuel that
create an enormous blast when detonated. The bombs can be used against
massed troops. They also are used to clear landing pads for helicopters
by knocking down trees. (The U.S. military used similar bombs against
Iraqi troops in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.)

The fuel-air explosives were photographed several months ago being
transported by Cuban troops from Holguin to Santa Clara. One defense
official said it was not unusual for the Cubans to have the bombs, but
noted that it was the first time the munitions were spotted in Cuba.

New digs

The military’s 125-year-old maximum-security prison at Fort
Leavenworth, Kan., is disgorging a large portion of its population. The
rundown complex on the base’s northern edge will close in 2001, and the
new prison will hold just half its capacity.

Leavenworth has held over 1,100 inmates, a mix of officers and
enlisted people, thieves and murderers. The new $63 million prison will
house about 500. So Army officials have been transferring inmates to
federal prisons in preparation for the 2001 grand opening.

No death-row prisoners, of which there are six, are leaving. To
qualify, transferees need to have at least one year remaining on their
sentence.

As women take on more military roles, their population has increased
slightly at the United States Disciplinary Barracks. In 1998, there were
13. Today, there are 17 among a prison population of 634.

“The population of women is never very high,” said a spokesman.

Leavenworth is run by 237 Army correctional officers.

Travel noise

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen is not a happy traveler. The
secretary has logged tens of thousands of miles traveling this year to
Asia, Europe and the Middle East, among other places.

In the past, he would fly aboard an Air Force E-4 airborne command
post aircraft. The jets can fly nonstop to anywhere in the world with
midair refueling capabilities.

But Mr. Cohen was not happy with the layout of the militarized Boeing
747 and this year began traveling aboard a brand new Air Force C-32, a
military version of the Boeing 757. That new plane cannot refuel in the
air. But it has a special compartment with a desk and sleeping quarters
for the secretary, as well as first-class seats for his staff and the
reporters who travel with him.

There’s only one problem: the C-32′s engines are loud. Mr. Cohen, we
are told, complained to Boeing’s top officials that the aircraft’s twin
engines were too noisy on the often long trips.

Boeing officials shrugged and blamed the Air Force for the problem.
Apparently, to cut costs the manufacturer was told not to include the
latest soundproofing technology in the cabin. The engines also were not
outfitted with sound-dampening used on their commercial counterparts.

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