Pentagon report warns of growing military threat

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," August 17, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADMIRAL HARRY HARRIS, U.S. PACIFIC COMMAND: China remains our biggest long-term challenge. Without focused involvement and engagement by the United States and our allies and partners, China will realize its dream of hegemony in Asia. We should cooperate with Beijing while we can but stand ready to confront them where we must.

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BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: That is Admiral Harry Harris a couple of months ago talking about China and the threat from China. He is the former U.S. Pacific forces commander. Now a new report from the Pentagon suggests China is targeting the U.S., definitely training for strikes against the U.S. The report, annual report to Congress over the last three years, the army there in China expanding its overwater bombing operating areas, a stealthy long- range strategic bomber with nuclear delivery capability that could be operational within the next 10 years, computer systems, definitely invested in that, attacking U.S. government systems. China's comprehensive military modernization program aimed at increasing its military and making it world- class by 2049.

So with that, let's bring in our panel: Tom Rogan, commentary writer for the Washington Examiner; Karen Tumulty, opinion writer for the Washington Post, and Morgan Ortagus, national security analyst and cofounder of GO Advisors. Morgan, let me start with you. We get these reports annually. I used to cover the Pentagon, it's always an assessment. But this one really raised some eyebrows today.

MORGAN ORTAGUS, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, I think anyone who is watching the Chinese belt and road initiative, the Chinese military expansion, this isn't a surprise, actually. If you look at the president's national security strategy, one of the things that you hear the administration talking about most is this great power complex, that we are entering this era of great power competition, specifically with the Chinese. So with the amount of money that the Chinese are spending on the military I think it's natural that they are building up their capabilities. They're looking at with the South China Sea their sphere of influence. They want us to have less influence in their region. They want navigation of the seas.

So the Chinese military buildup is not a surprise to me, but what I do think that we have had our eye off the ball for the past 10 years in Republican and Democrat administrations is how we effectively counter them and how we maintain freedom of navigation and freedom of the sea.

BAIER: Speaking of navigation, we have these pop-up islands, Karen, in the South China Sea that the U.S. Navy has had skirmishes with the Chinese, trying to hold the line there as you see naval vessels through that area. There are some tense in that area.

KAREN TUMULTY, THE WASHINGTON POST: And I think that our national conversation about China particularly in the Trump administration has been primarily an economic one. We've talked about China in terms of tariff wars. I do think, and certainly back in the Obama administration they kept talking about their great pivot to Asia that never seemed to quite happen.

I do think that we do have to start realizing that China really is the next great superpower and that their goals are expanding their influence not just in Asia but around the world.

BAIER: Here's the vice president, Tom. We were talking about this possible space force, the administration moving forward this. He mentioned China.

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VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: China claimed to have made its first successful test of a hypersonic vehicle just last week. Hypersonic missiles designed to fly up to five miles per second at such low altitudes that they could potentially evade detection by our missile-defense radars. As their actions made clear, our adversaries have transformed the space into a war fighting domain already.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: So you think the trade stance and the talking out about the military tied together?

TOM ROGAN, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: I do. I do. And I wasn't sure about that a couple of months ago, but now I think from the administration you see Mike Pompeo today meeting a Tibetan monk. You see the invitation of the Taiwanese president in town. You also see the U.S. Navy really catching up with the Chinese with some of these stand-off missile platforms and also perhaps moving more toward the submarine fleet away from the carriers actually behind the scenes in doctrine because of their vulnerability to Chinese missiles.

But I think the exigent point is that this is the new challenge for the 21st century. One positive, I think the alliances, Vietnam now incredibly is growing very close to the United States, that allows us to push back some of that Chinese influence.

BAIER: Second day of the stories about the security clearance being pulled from former CIA director John Brennan. Take a listen.

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GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY DIRECTOR: We were unanimous in our view that using the security clearance process to punish a political opponent was simply inappropriate. Even though we all admit that the president does have absolute authority in this area, it's just a bad thing to do for the health of the American republic.

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: If Mr. Trump believes that this is going to lead me to just to go away and be quiet, he is very badly mistaken.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There's no silence. If anything, I'm giving him a bigger voice. Many people don't even know who he is and now he has a bigger voice, and that's OK with me because I like taking on voices like that. I've never respected him, I've never had a lot of respect.

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BAIER: Talking about John Brennan. Now you have about 75 former intel officials and officers putting out a letter in support of Brennan. Karen, one of them is Admiral William McRaven. We ran some of this yesterday in an op-ed, "I would consider it an honor if would revoke my security clearance as well so I can add my name to list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency. If you think for a moment that your McCarthy-era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you're sadly mistaken." He's the former head of special ops command, led to the Usama bin Laden raid. But he made that op-ed in a phone call to you?

KAREN TUMULTY, OPINION WRITER, "WASHINGTON POST": Actually, he called me and I didn't pick up my phone, so he actually dictated it into my voicemail. He is currently on vacation away from cell coverage and away from wi-fi coverage, but he said he really felt strongly that he had something to say. I've known Bill for a very long time, since fifth grade as it happens. And he is not a partisan. He is a patriot. He is someone who in fact has I think -- he was sought out during the Clinton years but he was also sought out by the Trump administration during the transition. This is a guy who has had any number of opportunities in his life to be political, but he decided here that he really felt that he had to speak out.

BAIER: Morgan, your thoughts.

ORTAGUS: Listen, I think when it comes to if he could take his security clearance away, clearly the president has the authority to do it, and there's a lot of people that are upset by it. As someone who was formerly in this community, I'm actually quite upset by how Brennan has conducted himself as a former CIA director. Yet again, he went out in an op-ed this week and accused the president's campaign of collusion with no evidence.

We will have an investigation, we will have a report from Bob Mueller. And until then, I think as a CIA director he has acted as the head of the resistance, and instead when other countries are seeing what our former CIA director has to say, he's spewing a lot of stuff out there without evidence to the American people, and I think he owes the American people that. And I think I speak for many people formerly in the intelligence community who sick of our intelligence process being politicized, and Brennan has done that just as much as anyone.

BAIER: And I guess, Tom, the controversy, some of these people agree with that but they sign on, I think, having talked to a few of them, to this letter to what is the bar by which you are going to yank security clearances going forward, and where is the stipulation that it's going to happen?

ROGAN: I think very quickly, yes, that is the case. And the problem here is twofold. Number one that perhaps you lose access at lower levels to expertise and operations that Brennan would have started that are ongoing, and secondly that you deter the kind of freethinking and you deter the sense of professionalism that defines that freethinking.

TUMULTY: Certainly nobody disputes the president has the right to do this. The question is whether it's the right thing to do this. And maybe there is a conversation to be had about revoking everyone's security clearance when they leave the government. What people are objecting to here is using it as retribution for either criticizing the president or for being connected to the Russia investigation.

BAIER: But in reality, don't they really use it to sit on boards for companies that look at them as a little more attractive once they leave office?

ORTAGUS: For the rest of us little people who aren't the heads of agencies, whenever we leave, our clearance does expire. You go through a five-year investigation. If you are in, five years later it comes up again. So I think what's good for the goose is good for the gander, and we should apply, as you said, we should look at the whole process. And if you don't have a need to know, if you're not actively helping that administration, you have no need for security clearance.

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