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Xinhua sale

The Chinese government has completed its retreat from conducting operations in an apartment building overlooking the Pentagon.

The Xinhua News Agency (or New China News Agency) sold the 32-unit apartment to ATA Management for $4.68 million on Sept. 14. Xinhua paid $4.6 million for the building at 1515 South Arlington Ridge Road.

Joseph Chopp Jr., a McLean lawyer who represents ATA, said the company plans to continue renting units.

The Washington Times reported in June that Xinhua bought the seven-story building and was evicting tenants. It planned to use the site as a combined news bureau and dormitory for reporters.

Alerted, the State Department checked and discovered Xinhua had failed to seek administration purchase approval as required by law. State ordered the news service not to occupy the apartments and demanded an explanation of why it ignored U.S. law.

Spy experts say Xinhua is one cog in China’s vast spying machine and could use the direct
line of sight to attempt to monitor Pentagon officials.

The East German embassy staff occupied the same building during the Cold War. Their presence gave rise to legislation that required certain countries, such as communist China, to seek U.S. approval before buying property.

During the State-Xinhua standoff, the Chinese government denied its news collectors spy on host countries.

“The purchase is a purely commercial activity,” said Zhu Bangzao, China foreign ministry spokesman. “The report by The Washington Times is based on ulterior motives. Xinhua News Agency’s foreign branches are legitimate establishments.”

See no evil

China’s People’s Liberation Army has been conducting large-scale war games in southern China opposite Taiwan for the past several weeks.

The exercises are a big spying target for the Defense Intelligence Agency and other agencies that watch closely to evaluate how the Chinese military is progressing with a long-term modernization.

But not this year, we are told.

Heavy cloud cover has obscured much of the PLA maneuvers in Fujian province from
space-based satellites. Worse, DIA agents based in Beijing wanted to travel to the region and
get a firsthand look at the war game, but the requests were denied by senior U.S. officials in Washington and Beijing.

Defense sources said the spies are upset over the orders. The reason, they tell us, is that higher-up are afraid of offending Beijing. China’s government has taken an extremely hard line on U.S. on-scene intelligence collection as part of Beijing’s strategy of denying the United States key information about its military capabilities.

The senior U.S. officials fear sending the agents to the war game will trigger another diplomatic row like the one that erupted in 1996. That year, three U.S. Air Force officers working as diplomatic attaches were expelled from China in two incidents. The agents were accused of espionage, even though their activities — monitoring Chinese military activities — are perfectly legal for attaches.

The no-spying rule is being supported by U.S. Ambassador to Beijing Joseph Prueher, a leading advocate of the Clinton administration soft-line policy toward China, defense officials said.

Under the current so-called engagement policy, there has been a sharp reduction in defense-related spying on China. Instead, more resources are being devoted to making nice with the Chinese military under the Pentagon’s “military diplomacy” efforts.

Cobra good bye

Army headquarters at the Pentagon has sent a message to National Guard units telling them to ground and shelve their AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters by mid-December. The order marks the end of a era. There will be no more Vietnam-era Cobras anywhere in the Army inventory as the service tries to modernize a badly aging aviation fleet.

We obtained a copy of the message from Lt. Gen. Larry R. Ellis, deputy chief of staff for operations. He attempts to soothe Guard units by saying they will eventually receive early-model AH-64A Apache tank-killers. Until then, OH-58 Kiowa Warrior will be sent to Guard units to keep up pilot proficiencies.

But pilots are worried they will lose skills and not be ready to deploy in wartime. “This will obviously have serious implications to the Army National Guard,” said one aviator. “Army aviation needs to be totally revamped or we will crumble under an archaic mentality.”

The Army says it is revamping. The Cobra mass retirements are part of a master plan to modernize the fleet and bring on line the new Comanche scout/attack helicopter.

An Army spokesman said the Guard owns 350 Cobras, but only about 90 remain flyable today. The rest fell victim to chronic engine problems, safety groundings and cannibalization for spare parts.

“It is the intent of (Army headquarters) not to expend any unnecessary resources on these AH-1 aircraft,” Gen. Ellis states. “Therefore, the aircraft will be turned in as is. … The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command will discontinue all training directly associated with the AH-1.”

Target of opportunity

The Pentagon’s multi-million dollar system of anti-terrorist barriers remains broken.

The pop-up barriers designed to stop a terrorist truck bomber from blowing up the military’s headquarters have been locked in the down position for weeks.

The barriers were installed to prevent a repeat of the deadly blast caused by a homemade bomb parked in the yellow Ryder rental truck that destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said the barriers are down as a result of a security review prompted by the visit last month of Germany’s Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping. The minister was hospitalized after one of the barriers launched beneath his limousine near the Pentagon’s River Entrance. An earlier barrier pop-up incident injured Japan’s defense minister.

“Until our review is finished, we have them temporarily down,” said Mr. Flood. “It goes without saying that we have other methods to prevent any type of disruption.”

The barriers can still be manually operated if a situation warrants.

Another security measure being considered is to move the offices of Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Henry Shelton from offices on the outer ring of the Pentagon to a more secure inner ring location. The secretary’s office has one of the best views of Washington.

The inner-ring overlooks the gray concrete courtyard – known as “ground zero” because it is known to be the target of Russian and Chinese strategic nuclear missiles.

Mr. Flood said there’s been no decision to move the secretary’s offices away from the E-Ring to the A-Ring and away from a possible terrorist truck bomb.

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