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Commission Stresses Beefing Up Intel, Changing Focus

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10, 2001 – DoD must view terrorists as a relentless enemy and confront them with the same intensity and discipline that we have used in the past to defeat conventional antagonists, Defense Secretary William Cohen said Jan. 9.

Cohen was quoting the unclassified USS Cole Commission Report, which was released that day. The report was co- authored by retired Army Gen. William W. Crouch and retired Navy Adm. Harold W. Gehman. Cohen requested the report following the Oct. 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, that killed 17 sailors and injured 39.

The report recognizes that the military has dramatically strengthened force protection procedures since the terrorist attack against Khobar Towers, Saudi Arabia, in 1996. But notes terrorists are determined to try to intimidate U.S. forces and prevent the United States from pursuing worldwide national security interests. They will continue to tenaciously look for exposed seams in our force protection armor, Cohen said during a Pentagon news briefing.

Crouch backed up what the secretary said. Since Khobar Towers, Department of Defense has made tremendous improvement and paid a tremendous amount of attention to force protection, Crouch said during the same press briefing. We have focused on installations and fixed facilities. Nevertheless, as the secretary said, the terrorist, who is very persistent, has gone after our vulnerability.

Cohen said the commission wasnt intended to place blame for the tragedy, but to find areas in which to make improvements to military force protection plans.

He said there should be no zealous search for accountability, which, carried to the extreme, would lead to an imbalance where commanders in the future would fail to take action for fear of any repercussions. But he said DoD owes it to the families of those killed and injured in the blast, and to all service members, to at least look at the matter of accountability.

There's a delicate balance that has to be maintained, Cohen said.

Cohen also directed Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Henry Shelton to review the commissions report and a forthcoming report from the Navys Manual of the Judge Advocate General and advise Cohen on matters associated with this incident, including issues of accountability. The instructions to Shelton came in a Jan. 9 memo that also reminded that the chairman is the principal advisor and focal point on all anti-terrorism and force protection issues.

The commissions report found ships in transit provide a weak point. There are institutional changes that have to be made and improvements which have to be made to try and prevent this from taking place in the future, Cohen said. [But,] as good as we get or will get in the future terrorists are bound to examine other ways of finding vulnerabilities. We saw when we started to really strengthen the force protection elements for fixed sites (after the Khobar Towers bombing) they moved to our embassies, bombing the embassies in East Africa. And as we take additional measures here with our fleet, no doubt they will look for other softer targets to go after.

The 30-member USS Cole Commission examined five areas: organization, antiterrorism and force protection, intelligence, logistics and training. The report lists 30 findings within these areas and accompanying recommendations.

A major issue the commission focused on is that the Cole didnt have specific intelligence tailored to its visit to Aden. Cohen said the members of the Cole Commission found this to be a shortfall for all ships in transit. There was not specific intelligence communicated to the captain of the ship; the warnings that were received were general in nature and not directed against this ship; and they preceded this tragedy at least a month prior to that time, he said. So one of the recommendations would be to get much greater focus on intelligence that is focused for the ships and for all the commanders.

The commission found no credible intelligence that could have predicted this attack. The commissioners noted that transiting ships do not have enough intelligence analysts, but rely on support from outside agencies. We recommend that the theater intelligence centers focus some resources on tracking, dedicating intelligence products, overwatching and advising these transiting units as to the risks into the areas in which they are going, Gehman said at the briefing.

He also said units in transit need to be better trained to demand this type of intelligence support. They need to ask more difficult questions, he said.

Gehman praised DoD and the intelligence community for shifting analysis resources to the anti-terrorism mission. He said these efforts must continue and grow, particularly assets related to human and signals intelligence.

The report recommends the defense secretary consolidate all functions related to combating terrorism under one individual at the assistant secretary of defense level. Gehman said he couldnt recommend which assistant secretary, but that that is the appropriate level for such a critical function.

The commission also recommended DoD work more closely with other Cabinet agencies that work significantly outside the United States. The Department of Defense is not the only department that's conducting engagement activities, Gehman said. Treasury, Commerce, State, as well as Defense and others all have engagement activities. And we believe that further coordination and consolidation of activities would be to the benefit of everybody.

The third recommendation concerns host nations providing security to transiting U.S. forces. It's in the department's best interest that host nation security forces be capable and willing to help us with our force protection roles. In many of these places that we visit, the host nation is either unwilling or unable to provide that support, Gehman said. We're very, very good at military- to-military support. What we're talking about here is military-to-non-military support, and we would like to see that process streamlined.

The commission made 13 anti-terrorism/force protection recommendations. They include changing the term threat condition to another term that better reflects its purpose such as alert states or force protection posture.

Threat condition is too easy to confuse with threat level, and the term doesnt clearly convey that it is an operational posture, not an explanation of conditions in an area, Crouch said. If the terminology is not easily interchanged, we think it will be of real benefit to users, he said.

The commission also found the standing rules of engagement in place in the region were adequate and fundamentally sound, and saw no reason to revise them. Other recommendations include: 

  • Providing full-time force protection officers to commanders-in-chief and their component commanders; 


  • Augmenting units moving through high-threat areas with force protection experts; and 


  • Giving the geographic CinCs responsibility for assigning the threat level for countries within their areas.

Logistics recommendations include directing the services to update their respective logistics doctrine to include force protection issues regarding transiting units and to incorporate anti-terrorism and force protection concerns into the entire fabric of logistics support, Crouch said.

Regarding training, the commission found the crew of the Cole had received more than what DoD requires for anti- terrorism and force protection training. Nevertheless, all that training did not result in the kind of posture we think is required to deter these very tenacious and clever opponents, Gehman said.

He said force protection training should take on a higher priority, up to a priority which is equal to a units primary mission.

He acknowledged this would take more time and resources, but said the ends justify the means. What we are trying to do here is suggest that the training needs to be of sufficient sophistication to be able to recognize the unexpected rather than just react to the expected, he said.

Cohen expressed his confidence in Crouch and Gehman and took the opportunity to laud Americas uniformed services. And as I noted during the memorial service for the victims of this attack, every night all of us sleep under this blanket of freedom because men and women in uniform sail and patrol in harm's way, he said. And as secretary of defense, I understand that even America's best efforts cannot remove every risk that our soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines are going to face, although we will always strive to do exactly that.

We have to continue what we started, and that is to protect our nation's interest, to protect our men and women in uniform, and to subdue the enemies, the secretary said. And we have to continue to thank the soldiers, the sailors, the airmen, and Marines, and their families, for all that they do to protect us.

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Related Sites:
DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Jan. 9, 2001
DoD USS Cole Commission Report, Jan. 9, 2001

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