We want them to know we know what they are up to…

Having missed being a victim of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon by mere minutes, the new commander of U.S. Pacific forces is well aware of the world’s dangers. So he believes in an aggressive peace

Steve Murray
Wednesday - May 30, 2007
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The admiral says another attack on Pearl Harbor is highly unlikely
The admiral says another attack on Pearl Harbor is
highly unlikely

deadly act.

His chief concern, Keating says slowly and pointedly, is “possession of weapons of mass destruction by folks who are trained and equipped to use them effectively. I think it’s very, very unlikely, and we’re working hard to prevent just that development, but that is the thing that would worry me more than anything.”

And while the best sites for a terrorist attack are those that would garner the most attention - such as a second attack on Pearl Harbor - Keating feels it is extremely unlikely that Hawaii would be a target.

“Could they attack us at Pearl Harbor or fly a plane through this window right now? Is it possible? It’s possible. I think it is an extremely, extremely remote possibility ... We keep our eyes wide open, and that’s the challenge for them. We are watching very closely.”

While Hawaii may not be anyone’s prime target, one particular Pacific neighbor does get the lion’s share of attention when it comes to dangerous behavior. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il is the region’s dedicated bad guy, and the threat that he poses to the Korean peninsula and its Asian neighbors bears considerable attention.

“They have a large standing army,” the admiral says. “They are developing a missile force that is not trivial. Their naval forces are limited, but if appropriately and properly deployed could be a minor factor, and they’ve got a number of airplanes, some of them are relatively new Russian imports, and most of them are older,” he says, running down the rogue nation’s military assets.

“The exchange of information across the interagencies is robust and is ongoing daily, so it is in my opinion very, very, very unlikely that North Korea, even with this military package they could present, could muster their forces in such a time and in such a fashion that whatever they would do would be a surprise to us. We watch them carefully. We will beat

them if they come south or try to undertake any adventurism. We want them to know that we know what they are up to, and it would be very impolitic of them and untoward, and could be a very, very bad move if they were to undertake any military action.”

One of the most tense episodes involving North Korea came a year ago when it launched one long-range and five short-range missiles, interesting enough, on the Fourth of July. Although the missiles failed within minutes, the long-range missile was speculated to have the range capable of hitting the continental U.S. Watching their unspectacular journey was Keating from inside the United States Northern Command in Colorado, ready to act if the missiles ventured too far.

“We watched as each of these missiles left their launch pad, and we were prepared to respond with ground-based, mid-course interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, or Vandenburgh (Air Force Base, Calif.) to protect Alaska or the West Coast of the United States. Had that longer-range missile actually been a threat to Hawaii or the West Coast, I am confident we would have been able to shoot it down.”

Meeting with high-ranking military officers is an interesting

experience. Completely relaxed in their surroundings, usually it’s their aides who seem to be in a state of constant near panic, trying to make sure their boss isn’t late for one of the many, many appointments and commitments on his schedule. Keating’s assistants are a bit different. More relaxed - a reflection of the man they work for, who exhibits a tremendous sense of ease and likability and would be just one of the guys if it weren’t for his prime parking space, the four stars on his shoulders and a Rolodex filled with the names and numbers of the world’s most powerful and influential individuals. That being said, he isn’t shy about an occasional boast.

“Did I mention they were both brilliant and powerfully attractive grandchildren?” he asks jokingly when the subject turns to his grandchildren, 5-year-old Lauren Joy and 18-month-old Matthew. “And that’s fact. I can prove that.”

Photos scattered about his still empty office show there is as much fact as opinion in his assessment.

Keating’s time in the military will soon come to an end. If he’s asked to take another assignment, he and Wandalee will without question. But if this is the last stop, he takes comfort knowing that the men and women in his care are being looked after as never before from both the government and civilian communities.

“The support for the men and women in uniform, I keep saying this, I’ve been at this for 40 years, the support is better today, more comprehensive; it’s deeper and more vocal than I have experienced in my entire career. And that’s a long time. That is powerful.”

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