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Know Where You Go That Terrorists May Show

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 15, 1998 – Service members and their families enjoy the opportunity to travel, serve and reside all over the world. But along with exposure to new cultures and experiences, they also must confront the real possibility of terrorist threats against them.

A host of terrorist attacks against Americans culminating with the Aug. 6 embassy bombings in Africa suggests nobody is ever completely safe from terrorism. You can, however, take precautions to protect yourself and your family en route to and during overseas assignments.

In "You May Be the Target," a new DoD videotape, Defense Secretary William Cohen and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Henry Shelton discuss the threat, while television actor Gerald McRaney discusses how you can improve your odds against terrorism. Distributed worldwide, the video also is available through the Defense Automated Visual Information System on the Internet at http://dodimagery.afis.osd.mil/dvi/Top/davis/. [link no longer available]

At the State Department Web site (http://www.state.gov/), you can read and print copies of guidelines and information, including "An Overview of Security Awareness Overseas" and "Security Guidelines for American Families Living Overseas." "Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets" for hundreds of locations are regularly posted and updated to the State Department Web site at http://travel.state.gov/.

Although many of the tips offered in these products are simple, common-sense approaches to personal security, you probably haven't thought about all of them. Defense security officials urge DoD travelers and overseas residents to stay alert and, at a minimum, follow these basic protective measures:

At All Times

  • Eat at different restaurants. o Alternate shopping locations.
  • Don't establish any sort of pattern.
  • Avoid crowded areas.
  • Be especially alert when you leave bars, restaurants and other public buildings.
  • Know how to use the local phone system, and carry telephone change. o Know the locations of U.S. embassies and other safe havens where you can seek refuge and assistance.

At Airport Terminals

  • Conceal identification tags inside your bags -- don't hang them outside. 
  • Pass through the airport security checks quickly, then proceed to a lounge or other open area away from baggage lockers. If possible, sit with your back against a wall.
  • Observe the people around you for any suspicious behavior.

At Hotels

  • Don't give your room number to strangers.
  • Choose an inside hotel room, which provides greater protection from gunfire, rocks, grenades and bomb blasts.
  • Sleep away from street-side windows.
  • Leave lights on when you're away from the room. You may also want to leave a TV or radio turned on with the volume low and to hang the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door. These actions give the impression someone is in the room.
  • Answer the telephone, "Hello." Don't use your name or rank.

From Domicile to Duty

  • Vary routes and avoid choke points.
  • Use different parking spaces.
  • Lock your car when it's unattended.
  • When you return to your car, look for evidence of tampering in and under the car.
  • Keep your car's gas tank at least half full.

U.S. air strikes against terrorist activities in Afghanistan and Sudan following the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania raised the potential for retaliatory acts against Americans, according to the State Department. In the aftermath, DoD heightened security at buildings and installations everywhere.

Travelers and overseas residents can gauge the current terrorist threat by knowing how military installations in the area view the threat. A Terrorist Threat Condition System -- THREATCON -- describes local conditions at any given time. For example, defense facilities in the Washington area currently are under THREATCON Alpha, a moderately heightened security posture.

The five terrorist threat condition levels are:

  • Normal: A general threat of possible terrorist activity exists, but warrants only a routine security posture.
  • Alpha: An unpredictable threat of possible terrorist activity exists against people and installations.
  • Bravo: An increased and more predictable threat exists.
  • Charlie: A terrorist incident has occurred or intelligence indicates some form of terrorist action against personnel and installations is imminent.
  • Delta: The immediate area where a terrorist attack has occurred, or when intelligence indicates a terrorist action against a specific location is likely.
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