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Is Pentagon muzzling
its export watchdogs?

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department next month will move its 120 case officers responsible for reviewing military-related export licenses away from the Pentagon for the first time, WorldNetDaily has learned.

Case officers fear the move will weaken the Pentagon’s role in blocking the transfer of arms technology to China and other countries viewed as threats to U.S. security.

Their group, part of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, or DTRA, will be relocated at an Alexandria, Va., office about five miles south of the Pentagon and nearly outside the Beltway.

Export-control officers say the added distance will in effect freeze them out of export review meetings with the State Department and other agencies that seek technical military advice on exports. The Pentagon trade advisers often recommend vetoes of such sensitive transfers.

One adviser says the move is being rushed by “Clinton holdovers” who he says have been trying to weaken the Pentagon’s role in arms control, particularly as it relates to communist China.

“Clinton holdovers are operating on a crash program to get us away from the Pentagon to take us out of the process,” said Peter M. Leitner, a senior strategic trade adviser at DTRA. “They’ll bury us out there.”

He claims the holdovers — such as Dave Tarbell, who heads DTRA’s security technology office — are hurrying to carry out the move by the end of June before the Bush administration has a chance to block it.

“They’re desperately trying to get this done before Bush appointees are confirmed,” Leitner said.

So far, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, are the only two Bush appointees who have been confirmed at the Pentagon.

“The Clinton holdovers are in a very powerful position right now,” Leitner added.

Leitner was one of the DTRA case officers who in 1994 denied McDonnell Douglas a license to ship special dual-use machine tools to China. Clinton appointees overruled their veto and, as Leitner and others had warned, the tools wound up at one of China’s cruise missile plants.

In 1999, the government charged McDonnell, now owned by Boeing Corp., with trying to dodge export controls.

Asked about the relocation, an official Pentagon spokesman says export-control officers are not being isolated. The purpose of the move, he says, is to consolidate the agency’s operations.

“We want to get everyone under the same roof,” said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Donald Sewell.

He says DTRA’s 120 trade advisers will join DTRA’s space-launch group at the Alexandria office. And by 2005, he says, all of DTRA’s operations will be relocated at Ft. Belvoir, an Army base about 12 miles south of the Pentagon and well outside the Beltway.

“There’s no reason to consolidate,” Leitner argued. “That’s total nonsense.”

He says his group, headquartered next door to the Pentagon for 15 years, is the only one in DTRA that has a regular hand in interagency policy.

“We have to go to meetings at the Pentagon and in the District of Columbia in short notice,” he said. “Now we won’t be able to make those meetings.”

“This move will be the death knell for export controls, and our security will be much, much more reduced,” he predicted. “And the big issue now is how much we’re going to give to the Chinese.”

Last month, Leitner wrote a letter to Congress’ investigative arm, the General Accounting Office, protesting the move. He argued that it violates the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes a provision requiring the Pentagon to notify Congress before carrying out any major relocation of the DTRA trade group.

He also complained that the new building is less secure. Case officers keep heavy safes full of classified files. Those safes can’t be moved to the Alexandria building because it won’t support their weight, Leitner says.

“In order to justify leaving all the classified storage containers behind, they are trying to designate floors within that commercial building [in Alexandria] as cleared for ‘open storage,'” he said.

“So now we’ll have classified files on book cases and desks right across a narrow alley from commercial buildings, where someone with binoculars can read them,” he said.

Viewing the files — some of which are classified Top Secret and Sensitive Compartmented Information — requires the government’s highest security clearances. Many of the files contain defense contractors’ blueprints of cutting-edge conventional weapons technology.

Leitner says he’s asked the Pentagon’s inspector general to investigate the move, but he claims the inspector general’s office is a “biased party, as it seeks to move its personnel into the space” that the export control group has been ordered to vacate.