U.S. should place more emphasis on improving our intelligence efforts

Posted: Wednesday, October 18, 2000

The bombing attack in Aden, Yemen, on the USS Cole resulting in injuries and the tragic deaths of at least 15 U.S. seamen on board the Cole has given the U.S. intelligence agencies another black eye.

Think about it. American forces apparently had no clue the attack was coming and now have no leads to go on in catching those responsible for the bombing.

In light of the circumstances in the Middle East, it's hard to comprehend that our central intelligence network would be so clueless. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has escalated to a level of hostilities not seen in several years. Anti-American sentiment in that region of the world has been growing recently and expressed in a variety of ways, including the burning of the American flag and threats against Americans.

American leaders have indicated a desire to curry favor with Yemen to help with the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but was it really prudent policy to send a U.S. vessel by itself to Aden for fuel? By docking and refueling at the Aden port, the ship became more easily accessible for attack. And, with Yemen one of those countries with a reputation for harboring Iraqi-sponsored terrorists and other world renegades, the United States should have at the least had the U.S. intelligence forces working overtime to help ensure the safety of the ship.

The power of the blast on the USS Cole was enough to tear a 40-by-40-foot hole in the destroyer, reports say. One official indicated that such an explosion was generated by "more than just TNT,'' which suggests that the attack probably came from a well-organized and supplied group.

If that's the case, then it would seem reasonable to expect our intelligence force, with all its sophisticated equipment and technology, to have some idea that a terrorist plot was afoot. But there was nothing from our network of intelligence officers. On the contrary, the port had been assessed as safe.

"We obviously determined it was safe to come into this port. If we had specific and credible information to the contrary, the ship would not have come in,'' Ambassador Barbara Bodine said Sunday.

The blast ranks as the deadliest terrorist attack on the U.S. military since the bombing of an Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996 that killed 19. Like the incident in Saudi Arabia, questions also arise about how someone bent on attacking American forces could get so close to their target. Granted, the waterway was reportedly full of pleasure boats, fishing vessels and merchant ships, but that's no excuse for allowing one to come alongside a U.S. destroyer.

The fact that the suicide bombers could get so close mandates employing better and tighter security measures by the Navy and other military services.

When you consider some of the U.S. intelligence community's lackluster history of the last several years, including the most recent fiasco involving scientist Wen Ho Lee and the Los Alamos nuclear research laboratory, it's time more emphasis was placed on making our agencies more effective.

The attack on the Cole was a tragic reminder that American forces can be under attack anywhere, most especially in the Middle East. We offer our condolences to the families of those who died in service of their country. We also urge our military and intelligence leaders to effect ways to help prevent this from happening again.

-- The Athens Banner-Herald

Oct. 16

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