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Chinese military agents secretly tried to buy one of the U.S. Army’s
most effective weapons: the Hellfire anti-tank guided missile.

According to Pentagon intelligence officials, Chinese agents recently
approached the government of Egypt and offered to buy one of 900
Hellfires purchased by Cairo in recent years from the United States.

The Hellfire is a laser-guided missile carried by the Army’s AH-64
Apache attack helicopters and OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopters. The Marines
also use Hellfires on their AH-1 Super Cobra helicopters.

The missile is guided to its targets by a laser designator operated
by a ground spotter, weapons officer in another aircraft, or from the
firing helicopter. The laser guidance makes it extremely accurate
against the most heavily armored tanks and vehicles.

China is believed to want the missile for reverse-engineering.
China’s defense industries are notorious for acquiring one or two
weapons systems, taking them apart and building their own version.

The weapons are then used with People’s Liberation Army forces and
sold abroad to Beijing’s many customers, nations often regarded by the
United States as rogue states or supporters of international terrorism,
like Iran and North Korea.

A State Department official said the Egyptian government agreed not
to resell the missiles as part of the purchase arrangement. Cairo has
not been warned against the sale, the official said.

Obtaining Hellfires would augment a Chinese army increasingly viewed
as a potential U.S. enemy.

Adm. Dennis Blair, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, told the
House Armed Services Committee hearing this week that Chinese leaders
believe resolving the Taiwan dispute “may come to fighting.”

As for the so-called policy of “ambiguity” about a U.S. defense of
Taiwan in the event of a mainland attack, Adm. Blair made it clear the
U.S. military is ready. “As far as the military situation, I hope I made
it clear the ambiguity is the political decision, not the military
capabilities. The PRC cannot take and hold Taiwan, and we can defend
Taiwan if ordered. And that’s what will happen.”

Dogfight

The Air Force has gone to the dogs in its perennial battle to keep
birds away from flight paths. The game is deadly serious: Air Force
fighters, bombers and cargo planes suffer 3,000 bird strikes annually.
The collisions have cost the service 15 aircraft and the lives of 33
crew members over the past 16 years.

Air base commanders have tried pyrotechnics, rifle shots, remotely
controlled boats and other scare tactics to scatter geese, ducks, hawks
and other birds large enough to bring down multimillion-dollar aircraft.

Today, the Air Force is turning to man’s best friend. At least three
bases have contracted with dog handlers who release the canines to chase
away flocks of fowl. For example, the marsh-surrounded base at Dover,
Del., home to giant, four-engine C-5 cargo jets, uses border collies.

“The idea started with golf courses,” said Maj. Peter Windler, chief
of the Bird-Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) office at Kirtland
Air Force Base, N.M. “They’re really good at running them off the
fairways and into the water.

“They work pretty good,” he added. “They are very controllable. They
come back to you. They are very responsive to handlers. That’s very good
in an airfield where you have planes flying all over the place. If we
make it uncomfortable for birds, they will go someplace else.”

A fighter canopy can withstand the splatter of a four-pound bird at
575 mph. That same bird, however, can disable an open-mouth jet engine.

Leak vs. leak

Assistant Defense Secretary Kenneth Bacon is at it again. The
Pentagon’s public affairs chief is secretly cooperating with a
Washington Post reporter. This time it’s not one of his employees who is
the target, but one of us.

Mr. Bacon is helping the Post’s David Ignatius to dish the dirt about
leaks of classified information and their security impact. The spokesman
has tasked a certain Pentagon intelligence agency to work with Mr.
Ignatius in highlighting some recent disclosures of classified
information, including many in The Washington Times.

The collaboration infuriates some defense officials who see it as an
abuse of intelligence for political purposes. Look for the House and
Senate Intelligence committees to jump on this story.

Mr. Bacon got into hot water in 1998. That’s when he disclosed
confidential personal information on his subordinate, Linda Tripp, a
public affairs official and Monica Lewinsky confidant whose secretly
taped conversations led to the impeachment of the president.

The Tripp data was given to New Yorker magazine writer Jane Mayer.
Aside from violating the federal Privacy Act, the leak about Mrs.
Tripp’s past criminal record also turned out to be bogus.

A Pentagon inspector general report about the matter has been quietly
parked in the office of Defense Secretary William S. Cohen for nearly
two years.

Mr. Ignatius, a Post associate business editor and columnist who has
written two novels, including one about a news reporter, declined to
comment for the record.

Mr. Bacon, who is traveling in Asia, could not be reached for
comment. His deputy, Navy Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, had no comment.

Short takes

  • The Kosovo cash register keeps ringing for U.S. taxpayers.
    According to congressional estimates, the air war cost $3.1 billion. The
    Clinton White House is asking Congress to approve $2 billion to fund
    peacekeeping this year and another $2 billion in 2001. The total: $6
    billion … and the meter is running.

  • 1st Lt. Ryan Berry, the Air Force missileer who made headlines by
    objecting to serving alone with a woman in an underground launch
    station, has won promotion to captain.

    The married officer, who based his objection on devout Catholic
    beliefs, had feared a poor performance evaluation based on the dispute
    would sink his career.

    Pressed by 57 House members, the Air Force allowed Lt. Berry to
    change career paths. No longer monitoring Minuteman III ICBMs, he now
    works in acquisition management at Hanscom Air Force Base, near Boston.
    He pins on his captain’s bars June 1.

    His lawyer, Charles Gittins, has asked the Air Force to expunge his
    performance evaluation.

  • Gen. James Jones, the Marine Corps commandant, has traded in the
    commandant’s official car, a green Lincoln, for a leased 2000 red
    Cadillac. The license plate remains the same, however: 1775, the year
    the Corps was born.

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