Jeffrey LewisDid the Intelligence Community Miss A Chinese Buildup?

Tired of the leaks, spin and misinformation Bill Gertz is pushing?

Bill Gertz of the Washington Times distorts a report into accusing the US intelligence community of having “failed to recognize several key military developments in China in the past decade”:

A highly classified intelligence report produced for the new director of national intelligence concludes that U.S. spy agencies failed to recognize several key military developments in China in the past decade, The Washington Times has learned.

The report was created by several current and former intelligence officials and concludes that U.S. agencies missed more than a dozen Chinese military developments, according to officials familiar with the report.


The report has been sent to Thomas Fingar, a longtime intelligence analyst on China who was recently appointed by John D. Negroponte, the new director of national intelligence, as his office’s top intelligence analyst.

Mr. Negroponte has ordered a series of top-to-bottom reviews of U.S. intelligence capabilities in the aftermath of the critical report by the presidential commission headed by Judge Laurence Silberman and former Sen. Charles Robb, Virginia Democrat.

According to the officials, the study was produced by a team of analysts for the intelligence contractor Centra Technologies.


Its main author is Robert Suettinger, a National Security Council staff member for China during the Clinton administration and the U.S. intelligence community’s top China analyst until 1998.


I don’t believe that is what the report says. Neither, by the way, does Chris Nelson who e-mailed me to point out the suspicious timing of the leak:

I think this is a torpedo aimed at Rummy (and Wilder) trying to force them to release the China Report w/o editing it for political concerns, balance and accuracy … also trying to force them to accept the cockamamie space stuff. It’s also aimed at INR’s Fingar, I presume trying to block Negroponte from hiring him to do China.

Chris will have more tonight, but let me offer two reasons to think Gertz is mischaracterizing the contents of the report for political effect.

First, something everyone should know about this town: A lot of intelligence reports show up in the papers precisely because the leaker didn’t receive satisfaction within the bureaucracy.

Think about it this way: Let’s say you discover—oh, I don’t know—North Korea constructing a large underground bunker or maybe a reviewing stand that you think is for a nuclear test. Every other analyst thinks your bat-shit crazy. What do you do?

That’s right: Leak to David Sanger.

What if even David Sanger isn’t dumb enough to buy your bull-shit story and Bill Safire has taller tales to tell?

Call Bill Gertz.

Regardless of what the CENTRA report really says, and this is my second argument, Bill Gertz is virtually guaranteed to read it as the most damning evidence of treason since David Greenglass rolled on his sister and Julius.

Gertz is so ideologically blinded that he misquotes publicly available documents:

  • Gertz claimed China “is expected to add 10 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) to its arsenal this year and 30 more ICBMs by 2010,” citing Chinese Military Power. The 2004 edition of CMP says the number of Chinese ICBMs “could increase to about 30 by 2005 and may reach up to 60 by 2010 [emphasis mine].” It does not say the intelligence community expects such changes, but merely allows for their possibility. In fact, CMP used exactly the same phrase in 2002 and 2003. That isn’t expectation, its covering your ass.
  • Gertz mischaracterized CMP in another instance, claiming “A Pentagon report on Chinese military power made public in May stated that the new Chinese missile submarine would not be deployed until around 2010.” CMP actually says:

    China also is developing two follow-on extended-range versions of the DF-31: a solid-propellant, mobile ICBM and a solid-propellant submarine- launched ballistic missile, the JL-2, which will be deployed on a new ballistic missile submarine by decade’s end. [Emphasis mine]

    The missile (not the submarine) will be be deployed by (as in “not after”) 2010. CMP doesnt have an estimate for the submarine, although DIA Director Thomas Wilson said in 2002 the SSBN and JL-2 would “likely will be developed and tested later this decade.”

  • Gertz and Rowan Scarborough reported on the release of Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat without mentioning that the document contradicts much of their reporting over the past few years, including allegations that the DF-31 is deployed, that the DF-31 will carry multiple warheads, and that China’s Xia SSBN is operational. Each of those reports by Gertz is false, according to the full text of the report—which Gertz and Scarborough wisely did not make available.

I suspect the CENTRA report is more balanced and thoughtful than Gertz implies. For one thing, Gertz seems to have an ax to grind with Suettinger, allowing an anonymous source to accuse the poor man of “covering up the failure of intelligence analysts on China”.

For another, one of the “failures” alleged by Gertz—the IC was said to have “missed” the deployment deployment of a new attack submarine known as the Yuan class—is a much more complicated story that I plan to tackle tomorrow.


  1. Josh Narins (History)


    Not sure how much you know about Gertz, I certainly don’t know that much, except that he is a personal favorite of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. John Gorenfeld is a journalist (Slate, mostly) and blogger who keeps track of Moon as a hobby.

    Gertz is a believer in the Unification Church, that Rev. Moon is the Christian messiah come again.

    Moon and the World Anti-Communist League are described (in too much detail) here.

    In a sense, Gertz is low-hanging fruit, but Moon’s East Asian roots means Gertz’s focus on the region is natural.