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The U.S. military sent 10 CH-53 helicopters to India and Pakistan to
support President Clinton’s ongoing road trip. The large helicopters
flew from the Marine Corps base at Kanehoe Bay, Hawaii, to ferry Mr.
Clinton, daughter Chelsea and other friends of Bill.

The helos arrived via giant U.S. Air Force C-5 transport aircraft. In
addition, the Marines dispatched about 100 troops for aircrews and
support.

Pentagon officials could not provide us with the exact cost of the
helicopter support. They said the total would be available after the
president gets back from the weeklong excursion to South Asia.

While the White House defended the trip as needed to cool tensions
between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, the visit has all the
trappings of a junket by a lame duck president. And the Pentagon, amid
reports that thousands of troops are turning to food stamps to feed
their families, is forced to foot the bill.

The helicopters include the white-topped CH-53 known as HMX-1, the
aircraft
used to fly the president. The others ferry the press corps and staff as
well as local “dignitaries” who join the commander in chief.

A White House spokesman said the visit to South Asia is a “complex
trip” and
that the requirements for transportation were sent to the military. The
spokesman said he had no cost figures.

Another reason for 10 choppers, the spokesman said, is that the
president refuses to ride on any of India’s helicopters, mainly the
rickety Soviet-made Mi-8 Hip and other Russian helicopters that make up
the main rotary-wing aircraft of the Indian military.

Slow response

The State Department and White House National Security Council have
settled a squabble over what type of jet to buy for an anti-terrorism,
crisis-response team.

The State side won, convincing the administration to buy a new Boeing
757 instead of the NSC-coveted wide-body transport.

For the interagency anti-terrorism experts who make up the team,
that’s the good news.

The bad news is the $73 million needed to buy the customized 757 is
tucked inside an $8.5 billion supplemental spending bill approved by the
House Appropriations Committee. That bill is now languishing, as Senate
Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and other conservatives say the
bill is pork-laden and should be scrapped.

Whether conservatives think the new 757 is a vital national security
asset or a piece of pork is not clear. But what is obvious to the
plane’s backers is they face another delay in replacing a 37-year-old
707 aircraft prone to maintenance problems.

“Our concern now is if this Kosovo supplemental goes away then this
money goes away,” said an administration official.

The rapid-response team is primarily made up of State, Pentagon and
NSC officials. They fly off to international trouble spots, such as the
African embassy bombings, and help local authorities collect evidence
and manage the crisis.

On one occasion, as the 707 descended into Frankfurt, Germany, the
control panel went blank. On another trip, it was grounded for 15 hours
while the team waited for spare parts to arrive.

The anti-terrorism experts conducted an exercise this month in an
undisclosed foreign country.

“It made it,” the official said. “But it’s an old, broken down
airplane.”

Riveles redux

Stanley Riveles, the Clinton administration’s top representative to
the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty talks, is in Geneva for the next round
of negotiations with Russia. His only objective outlined in official
U.S. government instructions for the round: fulfill the ABM treaty
requirement to meet twice a year.

The lack of an agenda at the Standing Consultative Commission meeting
is a clear sign for some U.S. officials that the Clinton administration
is not serious about seeking treaty changes to permit deployment of a
limited U.S. national defense system.

Another reason the SCC agenda is so light, we are told, is Mr.
Riveles’ past role as the lead negotiator. Russian diplomats got the
best of him during talks in the early 1990s that nearly ended up
crippling U.S. missile defense efforts. The talks were part of a covert
White House plan to expand the ABM treaty to missile defenses against
short-range missiles under the legally questionable rubric of
“clarifying” the treaty.

The effort failed after Pentagon officials fought to prevent limits
on U.S. systems. Mr. Riveles’ tactics at one point prompted the
secretary of state to send him a secret cable with a simple message: No
more concessions to Moscow.

Apparently Mr. Riveles has had enough. He recently sent his resume
around Washington. The resume states he has been nominated to be
ambassador to the SCC. But it carefully excludes the fact that his
nomination has been “on hold” by Senate critics for seven years. It
also contains another curious credential: “U.S. citizen.”

Runaway soldiers

The Army, faced with rising desertion rates, wants commands to do a
better job of tracking the number of runaways.

Army Personnel Command has sent a message to commanders outlining
steps to
insure each desertion gets reported to headquarters at the Pentagon.

“Army desertion rates have risen from .3 percent in (fiscal year) ’95
to .8 percent in (fiscal year) ’99,” the message states. “Information
available to this headquarters identifies problems with both strength
accounting and submitting deserter packets to the U.S. Army deserter
information point. Timely submission … is crucial to processing
complete deserter packets and management of the Army’s strength
accounting. Timely submission of deserter packets … is required to
facilitate the return of deserters to military control.”

The Washington Times reported in October that the Army was so
concerned about the desertion increase it named a panel of officers, and
the Army research institute, to study the troubling trend.

Statistics show that the Army recorded 1,821 deserters in 1996 and
2,438 in 1998. The latest figure is about double the number of deserters
recorded five years ago. Most defecting soldiers are in their first
three years of service.

With the Army struggling to reach recruiting goals, every lost
soldier puts a drain on operating units.

Short takes

  • Navy Capt. Steve Pietropaoli, mouthpiece for Gen. Henry H.
    Shelton, the
    chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will be promoted to rear admiral
    and
    become chief of Navy information, or Chinfo.

  • Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., is sponsoring legislation to
    sanction Russia if it goes ahead with plans to transfer SSN-22 anti-ship
    cruise missiles to China. The missiles are expected to be deployed later
    this year on China’s new Sovremenny-class destroyer delivered by Russia
    earlier this month.

  • Retired Lt. Gen. James Clapper, former director of the Defense
    Intelligence Agency, is the leading choice to be next deputy CIA
    director. Gen. Clapper is viewed as very liberal by his critics and was
    chosen by CIA Director George J. Tenet over two active duty officers he
    regarded as “too hard-line,” we are told.

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