Dir. of U.S. Navy Intelligence sacked for warning about China’s aggressive designs in East China Sea

Capt. James FanellCapt. James Fanell

In February of this year, at the U.S. Naval Institute’s WEST 2014 conference, Capt. James Fanell, 52, the director of intelligence and information operations at U.S. Pacific Fleet, said that the Chinese Navy was practicing for a “short sharp war” against Japan.

According to Fanell, the PLA Navy had been carrying out amphibious assault drills to practice taking territory in the East China Sea, specifically the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands that are claimed by both Japan and China. Once the uninhabited islands come under Chinese control, the PLA could then attack Okinawa to remove the facilities of the US Air Force and Marine Corps from the island. (See my post “U.S. Navy intelligence chief: China training for a quick war against Japan”)

Fanell also stated that China is at the center of virtually every maritime territorial dispute in the Asia-Pacific and that the Chinese were engaging in a blatant land-grab of islands that would enhance their exclusive economic rights to fishing and natural resources.

“I do not know how Chinese intentions could be more transparent,” he said, adding that when Beijing described its activities as the “protection of maritime rights,” this was really “a Chinese euphemism for the coerced seizure of coastal rights of China’s neighbors.”

Now comes news that Captain Fanell has been removed from his position as director of Navy Intelligence by Pacific Fleet (PACFLT) boss Adm. Harry Harris and reassigned within the command.

David Larter reports for Navy Times, Nov. 10, 2014, that Capt. Fanell’s remarks about China preparing for a “short sharp war” with Japan ran counter to the Pentagon’s talking points on building ties to the increasingly assertive Chinese navy, which forced top defense officials, including the 4-star head of the Army and the Pentagon spokesman, to respond to his comment in the following days.

PACFLT did not disclose the relief, saying that Fanell was not a commanding officer and therefore was entitled to increased privacy. “It is inappropriate to publicly discuss the internal reassignment of non-command triad personnel,” PACFLT said in an Nov. 7 statement.

The reasons for Fanell’s firing are cloudy, but two sources said the relief stems from alleged mishandling of classified information and fostering a negative command climate. Capt. Darryn James, top spokesman for PACFLT, declined to say whether Fanell’s relief was related to his controversial views, citing privacy concerns.

Fanell’s relief is the latest turmoil in the Navy’s intelligence community, and has raised questions about whether an intel officer was cashiered for publicly voicing a view that contradicted Pentagon public statements.

Fanell’s views have supporters inside naval intelligence, and he has become a high-profile spokesman for a more alarmist view of the rise of China than those espoused by Navy senior leadership, an intelligence source who spoke to Navy Times said. Fanell’s articles on China have been published by Hoover Digest, Naval Intelligence Professionals Quarterly and the U. S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings.

But his public remarks stirred a major controversy and forced both the Pentagon’s top spokesman and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to repudiate his comments.

John Kirby

John Kirby

Pentagon Press Secretary and Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters that Fanell’s comments were his to express and that they weren’t reflective of the organization’s stance on China: “What I can tell you about what [Defense] Secretary [Chuck] Hagel believes is that we all continue to believe that the peaceful, prosperous rise of China is a good thing for the region, for the world.”

Ray Odierno

Ray Odierno

Fanell’s comments in early 2014 came at an awkward time, coinciding with Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno‘s trip to Beijing in February, when he was asked by a reporter to respond to Fanell’s analysis. Odierno said, “I’ve seen no indications of that at all,” referring to Fanell’s analysis that China was preparing for war with Japan.

The comments also ran contrary to the messaging from Adm. Jon Greenert, who has made engagement with China one of

Jonathan Greenert

Jonathan Greenert

the hallmarks of his time as chief of naval operations. Later in 2014, Greenert stated that talking openly of war with China — and a Chinese war with Japan would almost certainly trigger a war with the U.S. — was unnecessarily antagonistic. “If you talk about it openly, you cross the line and unnecessarily antagonize,” Greenert said at a forum in Newport, Rhode Island. “You probably have a sense about how much we trade with that country. It’s astounding. ”

Fanell is a California native and nearly 29-year career intelligence officer commissioned in 1986. He was responsible for damage assessments for Pacific Fleet during operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield. He served as a China maritime watch officer at Joint Intelligence Center Pacific in 1991, and served on board the carriers Kitty Hawk, Carl Vinson, as well as the amphibious command ship Blue Ridge.

He has been reassigned as an aid to Rear Adm. Randy Crites, head of the maritime headquarters at PACFLT.

See also:



9 responses to “Dir. of U.S. Navy Intelligence sacked for warning about China’s aggressive designs in East China Sea

  1. Reblogged this on Fellowship of the Minds and commented:
    Obama’s purge of military officers continues. The latest: the director of the U.S. Navy Intelligence — because he actually told the truth about China.
    See also:

    * The real reason why Obama is purging military’s top command

    * 70% of active military oppose ground troops in Iraq because they distrust their commander-in-chief

    * U.S. military does not support Commander-In-Chief Barack Obama


  2. It is clearly hazardous to discuss national security issues with any degree of frankness if one is a reasonably high ranking military officer. The recent thinning out of the ranks of the highest ranking officers (on a variety of curious charges) indicates that the present administration insists on absolute submissivesness by its military. For whatever reason the current occupant of the White House has decided that nothing other than “soft diplomacy” is to be employed when dealing with China. We must await the response should Beijing do more than threaten to seize its “lost territories” in the East and South China seas. More important is the decision on the part of the administration to reduce military budgets when the circumstances on the ground are those accurately described by the former Director of Intelligence for the Pacific.


  3. Transfers, demotions and early retirements are the usual fate of those in the military who reveal “inconvenient truths.” At least he gets to keep his rank and pension.


  4. Pingback: Sacked for warning about China’s… Capt. James Fanell | Scanned Retina Resource

  5. Reblogged this on Centinel2012 and commented:
    Anyone who has actually been in the military and is honest like Capt. James Fanell would know that he is speaking the truth. It probably cost him dearly as he will never make Admiral now.


  6. I think this is a cart-before-horse situation. Capt Fanell surely knew years ago that he would never be promoted to Admiral, and that’s why he’s felt at liberty to give honest assessments. His only surprise was likely regarding that it took this “long” for COMPACFLT to swap him out of that billet.

    The cut from O-6 to O-7 is the toughest one of all promotions. Typically only roughly 10% of O-6s are selected for O-7. That’s far less than the rates for advancement from any of the more junior ranks, and it’s actually lower than the rate from one- to two-star, two- to three-star, and even than from three- to four-star. Capt Fanell has been in the Navy for 29years, so he’s well beyond the window for selection to Admiral already. Plus, he wears a mustache. All-in-all, he must have known already he would never get a star.


    • “Plus, he wears a mustache.”



      • Not sure if you think I was purely joking with that comment, but I actually was mostly-serious. No officer wears a mustache unless he has already counted himself out for promotion, is one cocky SOB who thinks he’s a shoo-in for promotion, or doesn’t care if he doesn’t get promoted (which means he likely will not be promoted).


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