Foreign Policy Blogs

US gets bin Laden:China gets US stealth technology

US gets bin Laden:China gets US stealth technology

Photographs taken after a Navy SEAL team raided Osama bin Laden?s compound in Pakistan show the wreckage of one helicopter that clipped a rotor on a compound wall, was abandoned and destroyed. (European PressPhoto Agency)

Monday morning quarterbacks continue to swamp the airwaves and internet with competing interpretations, analyses and sidebars about the bin Laden raid last week, but stories like the one that appeared via (penned by, count ’em, three NYT reporters who got their information from ‘senior administration officials who declined to be quoted by name’), reports which claim Obama was ready to ‘fight it out’ in the event Navy SEALs encountered blowback from the Pakistani military, beggar the experience and common sense, not just of foreign policy, defense and military experts, but of  the “street” at large.You don’t have to have a degree from Hopkins to understand ‘the fix,’ as they say, was in on this one, and that a meeting between US Army General Petraeus and his Pakistani counterpart a week before the raid points to both sides understanding the the game plan and the rules of engagement in advance.

The scene was blocked, roles cast, timing determined, and no doubt, certain contingency plans laid–in case  someone in Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI (not always team players with Pakistan’s military) decided to transform a double-cross into a triple-cross for reasons and rewards of their own.

Of course, we know now this didn’t happen, and that on this occasion, at least, the US found the right people to whom it proposed the right deal at the right time. The man, the money, and the moment coincided.

After the Bay of Pigs debacle, JFK told Congress and the nation that “Victory has many fathers, failure  none.” Reports that Obama and top White House aides resisted the incursion into the bin Laden compound, and that it was Hillary Clinton who finally persuaded Leon Panetta to ‘screw his own courage to the sticking place’ sound right. The Administration’s grab for glory after the fact, Washington’s bravado, and Pakistan’s bellicose rumblings about firing on US aircraft if we ever “try anything like that again” are standard stagecraft.

If the ISI had managed to turn the assault on bin Laden’s compound into Operation FUBAR, paternity testing in Washington, DC would have taken on a whole new meaning–with White House DNA classified and off-limits. A conciliatory, risk-aversive president a year away from reelection is not going to chance armed conflict with the only strategic (and yes, erstwhile) partner we have in a region that poses an incalculable security threat to the United States.

The US needs Pakistan badly, and don’t they know it.

Our steady financial contributions to Pakistan’s government and military total billions over the past decade, and the suspicion that bin Laden has been hiding in Pakistan these many years has kept US dollars flowing steadily to Islamabad.The support the US received from Pakistan for the raid on bin Laden’s compound (confirmation, as required by the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill, that Pakistan remains our partner re ‘counter-terrorism’) ensures continuing aid to Pakistan’s military for the foreseeable future.

David Millar (no relation), a blogger for The Huffington Post, has written a smart, in-depth account (“Why Pakistan Plays a Double Game”) of the US-Pakistan relationship over the past ten years, and the role that US greenbacks have played in keeping that dubious partnership in place–read it here.

If bin Laden was ready to run, as has been reported, do we not believe that Pakistan and bin Laden’s ‘in-country’ protectors would have been ready to cash out, to squeeze as much gold as possible out of this particular goose before he flew the coop?You betcha.

Money made it happen–and politics, in the US, drove an enterprise that might have been better timed (closer to the 2012 election), but which the White House understood had to happen. Letting bin Laden escape was neither a political nor a security option.

Timing was something here, but not everything.

Everything was killing bin Laden.

The Stealth Helicopter

Did the US get away clean? Almost. As close to it, maybe, as Fate allows. For the past few days, another story, a sidebar to the bigger report, has been gathering steam: one of the Stealth Blackhawks used to invade the bin Laden compound crashed as a result of a ‘hard landing.’ An accident. No matter. It turns out that the Stealth Helicopters used to transport the Navy SEALs are “never-before-seen,” state-of-the-art military technology, composed of carbon fibers that resist radar detection by the enemy. Cutting edge, top-secret, and not available to the world.

Until now.

It appears that the pre-raid talks between the US and Pakistan, the choreography that made the invasion of the bin Laden compound so successful, did not include discussion about what to do with any US military equipments that our side might not be able to retrieve, for any reason, from the attack site. Not on the list. Not in the contract. No buy-back clause.

And so now, according to sources in the US intelligence community and the media, what we have is a situation in which Pakistan, with its indomitable entrepreneurial energy, is in sole possession of top-secret military hardware, technology that cost US taxpayers billions to develop and build. And Pakistan is offering bits and parts of that technology from the carbon-composite Stealth Helicopter to the highest bidders, who in this case seem to be the Chinese.

ABC News has this to say:

Pakistani officials said today they’re interested in studying the remains of the U.S.’s secret stealth-modified helicopter abandoned during the Navy SEAL raid of Osama bin Laden’s compound, and suggested the Chinese are as well.

The U.S. has already asked the Pakistanis for the helicopter wreckage back, but one Pakistani official told ABC News the Chinese were also “very interested” in seeing the remains. Another official said, “We might let them [the Chinese] take a look.”

A U.S. official said he did not know if the Pakistanis had offered a peek to the Chinese, but said he would be “shocked” if the Chinese hadn’t already been given access to the damaged aircraft.

The chopper, which aviation experts believe to be a highly classified modified version of a Blackhawk helicopter, clipped a wall during the operation that took down the al Qaeda leader, the White House said.

The U.S. Navy SEALs that rode in on the bird attempted to destroy it after abandoning it on the ground, but a significant portion of the tail section survived the explosion. In the days after the raid, the tail section and other pieces of debris — including a mysterious cloth-like covering that the local children found entertaining to play with — were photographed being hauled away from the crash site by tractor.

Aviation experts said the unusual configuration of the rear rotor, the curious hub-cap like housing around it and the general shape of the bird are all clues the helicopter was highly modified to not only be quiet, but to have as small a radar signature as possible.

The helicopter’s remains have apparently become another chip in a tense, high-stakes game of diplomacy between the U.S. and Pakistan following the U.S.’s unilateral military raid of bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, more than a week ago. The potential technological advancements gleaned from the bird could be a “much appreciated gift” to the Chinese, according to former White House counterterrorism advisor and ABC News consultant Richard Clarke.

“Because Pakistan gets access to Chinese missile technology and other advanced systems, Islamabad is always looking for ways to give China something in return,” Clarke said.

So the US gets bin Laden and China gets billions in top-secret US technology (even if they only purchase remnants, the Chinese can reconstruct the whole from its essential components–extrapolate the finished design from the configuration and composition of the  parts).

This is not a small misfortune for the US; not only do we lose a huge financial investment–an adversary has gained access to secret military technology that China, its allies (think North Korea), or other well-paying customers are likely to use against the United States.

The moral of this story? We see it everywhere, of course, in literature and life: a kingdom lost for want of a horse, a sibyl who asks for immortality instead of eternal youth, a paranoid American president who records hundreds of hours of taped conversation that ultimately destroy instead of save him.

The devil, as we are reminded by this situation, is always in the details. Particularly the ones we overlook.

But let’s keep it simple, down-to-earth, and just say that if we’re going to pay good taxpayer money (and lots of it) for services rendered, let’s examine the fine print in those agreements with the same perspicuity we apply to the logistical and strategic aspects of the military operation itself. In other words, don’t drop the ball.

Let’s remember this is Pakistan, not Atlantic City, and if you’ve come to play, and you’re ready to pay, you have to do both with exceptional dexterity. Not just more, but faster, smoother, and with greater foresight and cunning than the big ugly guy with no rule book sitting across the table.

This is something many people in the US government, including Senator John Kerry (D-Mass), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appear not to understand–or perhaps he simply refuses to accept the fact that when you make deals with corrupt states, partners rendered unreliable by their insensibility to what we call ‘the rule of law’–you cannot hold them to their ‘word,’ or expect consistency or ‘fair play.’ Forget it. Not even when you keep paying them.

With Pakistan, we’re talking about competitive bidding: getting into the game, even staying in, doesn’t necessarily mean winning. A single good hand doesn’t mean you get to leave at the end of the night with everybody else’s money in your back pocket. No, no, no.

Ask China, or the Pakistani officials who’ve undoubtedly already collected their money for our stealth technology. They’re on the way to the bank to deposit those funds along with what we’ve given them for ‘looking the other way’ while we invaded the bin Laden compound. You won’t have any trouble recognizing them–they’ve been laughing all the  way.



Kathleen Millar

Kathleen Millar began her career in public affairs working for Lyn Nofziger, White House Communications Director. She has gone on to write about a wide range of enforcement and security issues for DHS, for the US Department of the Treasury (Customs & Border Patrol), for Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), then a Member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and for top law enforcement officials in the United States and abroad.

A Founding Member of the Department of Homeland Security, Millar was also the deputy spokesperson-senior writer for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna, Austria. She has authored numerous speeches, articles and opeds under her own and client bylines, and her work, focusing on trafficking, terrorism, border and national security, has appeared in both national and international outlets, including The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The International Herald Tribune, The Financial Times, and Vital Speeches of the Day.

Kathleen Millar holds an MA from Georgetown University and was the recipient of a United Nations Fellowship, International Affairs, Oxford. She is a member of the Georgetown University Alumni Association, Women in International Security (GU), the Women’s Foreign Policy Group, and the American News Women’s Club in Washington, DC. Kathleen Millar is currently teaching and writing about efforts to combat transnational organized crime.