Magazine article National Defense

Bases More Aware of Threats, Still Vulnerable

Magazine article National Defense

Bases More Aware of Threats, Still Vulnerable

Article excerpt

Despite a series of blue-ribbon reports, security policies continue to evolve

Many U.S. military installations remain just as vulnerable as they were before the 911 attacks, despite a heightened awareness of terrorist threats, said security experts.

It would only take one determined suicide bomber, for example, to wreak havoc on a major naval base. A kamikaze truck could ram through the gates, plunge into the water-and detonate a bomb right next to sleeping nuclear submarines, spreading enough radioactivity to pollute large sections of the ocean. "It could be a one-man job," said Richard Marcinko, a former Navy SEAL and now president of a company that specializes in security. He often gets paid to breach security at government facilities and to point out the vulnerabilities.

"At best, what our major installations have done [since September 11] is inconvenience the access, but we have not removed the threat," he told National Defense.

Military officials recognize that they may have let their guard down in the past. "Up into September, there was never a feeling that something would happen here," said a Joint Staff officer from the J-34 anti-terrorism directorate. He requested that he not be quoted by name.

Much of the anti-terrorism and force protection efforts have focused overseas, particularly after the 1996 bombings of the Air Force Khobar Towers barracks in Saudi Arabia, the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the Navy's USS Cole in Yemen two years after that.

After the Khobar Towers attack, then-Secretary of Defense William Perry appointed Army Gen. Wayne Downing, who was head of the Special Operations Command, to survey U.S. bases around the world and recommend ways to improve security and force protection.

In the aftermath of the attack on the USS Cole, then-Secretary of Defense William Cohen commissioned retired Army Gen. William Crouch and retired Navy Adm. Harold Gehman to lead a review of lessons learned from the attack.

The Crouch-Gehman commission came up with 53 recommendations. Among them was the need to have a "unity of effort" throughout the offices and agencies in the Defense Department, and to centralize the resources available to combat terrorism. The commission also advocated "proactive antiterrorism techniques," such as better coordination during the transfer of units between theaters of operation.

The panel said that antiterrorism training should have the same priority as war-fighting training, and resources for human intelligence and signals intelligence should be increased.

Additionally, six Joint Staff groups-called Integrated Vulnerability assessment teams-were established in 1997. They have completed more than 400 antiterrorism/force protection studies at both domestic and overseas installations. The teams also included weapons of mass destruction experts.

According to the J-34 officer, "The recommendations from all those reports have been incorporated into the training tactics and techniques."

Government studies, however, don't provide solutions, said Marcinko. "These commissions [only] write recommendations," but don't have any control over the implementation of any measures.

He noted that the Navy used to have so-called "Red Cell" teams, who went around the world, breaking into military facilities, just to test their vulnerabilities. "The program was cancelled, because it was an embarrassment, the findings were an embarrassment," said Marcinko.

Although many recommendations of the Vulnerability Assessment Teams have been implemented, "I am still concerned that we do not have the most efficient and effective processes to attain information dominance and superiority in this war [on terrorism]," said Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston, head of the U.S. European Command, in his 2003 Posture Statement.

Ralston created a Joint Interagency Coordination Group, to "strengthen the relationship with all government agencies and EUCOM partners on terrorist activities in this theater. …

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