Combating Terrorism: Efforts to Protect U.S. Forces in Turkey and the Middle East

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-10-28.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                          United States General Accounting Office

GAO                       Testimony
                          Before the Subcommittee on National Security,
                          International Affairs and Criminal Justice, Committee on
                          Government Reform and Oversight, House of

For Release on Delivery
Expected at 10 a.m. EST
                          COMBATING TERRORISM
October 28, 1997

                          Efforts to Protect U.S.
                          Forces in Turkey and the
                          Middle East
                          Statement of Mark E. Gebicke, Director, Military
                          Operations and Capabilities Issues, National Security and
                          International Affairs Division

           Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

           We appreciate the opportunity to be here today to discuss the Department
           of Defense’s (DOD) efforts to protect overseas forces from terrorist attacks.
           As the Subcommittee requested, we will focus our discussion on Turkey
           and the Middle East. In July we issued a report1 on DOD’s antiterrorism2
           efforts based, in large part, on our visits to the five geographic combatant
           commands and to selected overseas sites where U.S. forces are stationed.
           Most of the sites we visited were in countries that DOD considered high
           threat. Among the countries we visited during March and April 1997 were
           Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. My testimony today is based
           on the results of those visits and related work we conducted at the Joint
           Staff, the military services, and other DOD components during the course of
           our review. We have also provided the Subcommittee with a classified
           statement that expands upon the information in this statement.

           We would like to provide a brief overview and then go back and provide
           more information about the following three issues: (1) the environment
           U.S. forces overseas are facing, including the terrorist threat and the
           relationship with the host nation governments; (2) the measures DOD has
           taken to enhance the security of personnel in the countries we visited; and
           (3) DOD initiatives to improve its overall force protection program.

           Senior military commanders and defense officials we met with emphasized
Overview   that they can reduce, but not eliminate, vulnerabilities and that further
           terrorist attacks against U.S. forces should be expected. They observed
           that efforts to defend against the terrorist threat are complicated by a
           number of factors, including the ability of terrorists to decide where and
           when to attack and to choose from a wide selection of targets. Moreover,
           DOD relies heavily on the host nations for many of its security needs.
           Because of this reliance, efforts to reduce vulnerabilities often require
           extensive host nation support. In addition, many DOD personnel overseas

            Combating Terrorism: Status of DOD Efforts to Protect Its Forces Overseas (GAO/NSIAD-97-207,
           July 21, 1997). In addition, we issued a separate report entitled, Combating Terrorism: Federal
           Agencies’ Efforts to Implement National Policy and Strategy (GAO/NSIAD-97-254, Sept. 26, 1997), on
           national counterterrorism policy and strategy; the roles, responsibilities, programs, and activities of
           federal agencies under this policy; and the mechanisms for coordinating interagency efforts.
            For the purposes of this testimony, we use DOD’s term “antiterrorism” to refer to defensive measures
           used to reduce the vulnerability of individuals and property to terrorist acts. Counterterrorism, in
           contrast, refers to offensive measures taken to prevent, deter, and respond to terrorism. Antiterrorism
           and counterterrorism are elements of a broader concept known as combating terrorism. In turn,
           combating terrorism is part of a much broader concept known as force protection. Other elements of
           force protection are physical security, operations security, protective services, and law enforcement

           Page 1                                                   GAO/T-NSIAD-98-44 Combating Terrorism
                       may not be protected adequately because it is unclear who is responsible
                       for their security.

                       During our March and April visits, we found that deployed U.S. forces
                       were better protected from terrorist attacks like the one that occurred last
                       year at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia than they were prior to that
                       terrorist incident. Security improvements were most evident where the
                       risk of terrorism was greatest, such as in the Middle East and Turkey. DOD
                       placed less emphasis on addressing vulnerabilities in countries considered
                       a lower terrorist threat. However, DOD officials said that even in high-threat
                       countries vulnerabilities exist and that new vulnerabilities could emerge as
                       terrorist tactics respond to the measures DOD has taken.

                       In addition to the improvements made at individual sites, DOD initiated a
                       number of changes aimed at enhancing its overall antiterrorism program.
                       However, we found these initiatives did not represent a comprehensive
                       and consistent DOD approach to antiterrorism. We made a number of
                       recommendations for improving the situation. DOD concurred with all of
                       our recommendations except for the one calling for prescriptive DOD-wide
                       physical security standards. DOD believes that commanders, who are
                       responsible for force protection, need flexibility and should not be told
                       how to provide physical security for their personnel. However, the
                       commanders we spoke with believe that such standards would help them
                       carry out this responsibility as well as provide an objective basis for
                       determining whether antiterrorism measures are sufficient.

                       With this overview, let me talk about the security environment for U.S.
                       forces overseas.

                       DOD  faces a number of obstacles in defending against future terrorist
Security Environment   attacks. First, DOD has a large presence in many countries around the
Facing U.S. Forces     world, offering a plethora of potential targets. Second, predictive
Overseas               intelligence on terrorist attacks is difficult to obtain. Commanders,
                       therefore, may not be in a position to prevent an attack from occurring;
                       they can only prepare to minimize the consequences from an attack. Third,
                       DOD installations are often located on host nation installations and as a
                       result there are limitations on the security measures DOD can undertake.
                       Political and cultural considerations outside the control of local
                       commanders also influence decisions that affect security. During our
                       visits, military officials told us that the question is not whether additional
                       terrorist attacks will occur, but when, where, and how. They emphasized

                       Page 2                                    GAO/T-NSIAD-98-44 Combating Terrorism
that vulnerabilities to attacks can be reduced, but a zero defects approach
to fighting terrorism is not possible.

According to DOD officials, terrorism is a pervasive phenomenon, whose
specific threats are difficult to predict. It is worldwide in scope, with some
terrorist organizations state supported and some only loosely affiliated, in
support of multiple causes. It is a transnational phenomenon, acting across
geographic and political boundaries. Areas considered safe and benign one
day, such as Saudi Arabia prior to the bombings, can quickly become high
threat the next. Terrorists’ tactics have not been to challenge U.S. military
power directly, but to weaken U.S. resolve through isolated attacks with
high publicity value.

DOD designates the terrorist threat level faced by personnel in each
country. A five-step scale is used to describe the severity of threat. These
steps, from highest to lowest, are critical, high, medium, low, and
negligible. Threat levels may be raised or lowered on the basis of new
information or analysis. As of October 1, 1997, DOD had designated
14 countries as having a high threat level. The list included Egypt, Jordan,
Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Greece, and Turkey.3 No countries were
assessed as having a critical terrorist threat.

According to a report issued by the Secretary of Defense following the
Khobar Towers bombing, U.S. forces are constantly exposed to the
terrorist threat because executing the national security strategy requires
their physical presence in many nations. U.S. commanders in the past have
agreed to operate out of facilities and locations that now present serious
security challenges in today’s terrorist environment. The Khobar Towers
complex, for example, was paid for by the Saudis and convenient to U.S.
military work areas but was difficult to defend. In most of the countries we
visited, we found that many U.S. forces were located in urban areas,
closely surrounded by easily accessible buildings or roads.

Terrorists can alter their mode of attack. For instance, some commanders
in the Middle East are concerned that terrorists will switch to weapons
that can be fired over perimeter defenses from hidden locations. One U.S.
commander was concerned that terrorists could fire weapons from
different sectors of the surrounding city. Such attacks are difficult to
defend against because these weapons can be set up, fired, and moved in a
very short period of time.

 The others were Algeria, Bosnia, Colombia, Lebanon, Pakistan, Peru, and Rwanda.

Page 3                                               GAO/T-NSIAD-98-44 Combating Terrorism
In many cases, overseas U.S. forces work at facilities that are owned by
the host nation, and the host nation is responsible for their security. As a
result, DOD relies on the host nation for important security functions, such
as controlling entry onto bases. U.S. commanders in some cases are
prevented from taking actions that would make their forces more secure.
U.S. forces in the countries we visited are usually prevented from
patrolling outside the fencing of their own perimeter. At one location we
visited, entry to the base is controlled by host nation security forces with
no U.S. military role. The U.S. military does not have its own perimeter
within this base and may not approach the base perimeter without escort
from host nation personnel. U.S. security officials at this base said because
the base perimeter is easily penetrated, they believe themselves to be more
vulnerable to small suitcase sized bombs than to truck bombs. Although
the responsibility for ensuring force protection for most DOD personnel has
been assigned to the geographic combatant commanders, a large group of
DOD personnel deployed abroad do not fall under the authority of these
commanders. Some of these personnel, such as those assigned to the
Defense Attache Office and Marine embassy guards, fall under the
authority of a chief of mission,4 who is responsible for their security.
Others, however, while legally the responsibility of a chief of mission, fall
into a gray area between the force protection responsibility of the chief of
mission and the geographic combatant commander. Many of these
personnel were receiving little or no security support from the embassy.
Such support can include security guards, physical security assessments of
housing and work places, and threat information.

In Turkey, for example, the U.S. embassy and local U.S. military
representatives identified about 1,500 people whose security falls into this
gray area. These include several hundred assigned to the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization (NATO) as well as others assigned to the Office of
Defense Cooperation, the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, the
Army Corps of Engineers, and Military Traffic Management Command.
Embassy officials in Turkey said that antiterrorism responsibility for these
people must be clarified. Either DOD must take responsibility for these
people, they said, or the embassy must have explicit authority over them
to enforce the State Department’s security regulations. The officials added
that State will need a concomitant increase in resources to carry out any
added responsibilities.

 The chief of mission, with the title of Ambassador, Minister, or Charge D’Affaires, is the head of each
U.S. diplomatic mission. These officers are responsible for all components of the mission within a
country, including consular posts.

Page 4                                                   GAO/T-NSIAD-98-44 Combating Terrorism
                             Following the bombing in Saudi Arabia, DOD and State signed a
                             memorandum of understanding clarifying security responsibilities for all
                             DOD personnel in the region. In our July report, we recommended that the
                             Secretary of Defense take the necessary steps to expedite approval of a
                             similar memorandum of understanding with the Secretary of State that
                             would clarify the antiterrorism responsibilities for all DOD personnel
                             stationed overseas who do not fall under the command of a geographic
                             combatant commander. DOD concurred with this recommendation.

                             During our review, we found the U.S. Central Command and its service
Protection of Many           component commands had taken a number of steps to improve the
U.S. Forces Has              protection of U.S. forces from terrorist attacks. The U.S. Central
Improved, but                Command’s area of responsibility includes the Middle East, the region
                             with the most high-threat countries. The special emphasis at U.S. Central
Vulnerabilities Remain       Command was not unexpected given that its forces were the most recent
                             targets of terrorist attacks. Among the actions taken, the command had

                         •   determined the range of specific terrorist threats it needed to counteract
                             in its area of responsibility, including a 20,000-pound truck bomb—the
                             estimated approximate size of the bomb that struck Khobar Towers;
                         •   devised threat-based standards, such as stand-off,5 to guide the design and
                             construction of new facilities and modifications to existing structures;
                         •   established an office that coordinates antiterrorist activities in the region
                             and reports directly to the Deputy Commander in Chief, U.S. Central
                             Command; and
                         •   identified a need for and filled hundreds of additional security positions.

                             During our visits to overseas bases, we found that significant efforts had
                             been taken in Turkey and the Middle East to increase the protection of
                             U.S. forces from vehicle bombs. In these countries, sites had been fortified
                             in various ways for protection against a possible terrorist attack,
                             particularly against a truck bomb like the one that struck Khobar Towers.
                             Commanders were attempting to extend the stand-off distance around
                             their facilities. Where sufficient stand-off was not available, they were
                             using other measures, such as concrete barriers, to mitigate against the
                             impact of a truck bomb.

                             Saudi Arabia had seen the most profound changes, as thousands of DOD
                             personnel were moved to remote facilities in the desert and restricted

                              According to DOD officials, “stand-off” is the distance between the base facilities and uncontrolled
                             public and private land.

                             Page 5                                                  GAO/T-NSIAD-98-44 Combating Terrorism
                          from leaving base throughout their entire tour. Most military dependents
                          were returned to the United States to reduce exposure to the terrorist
                          threat. Many dependents also were being withdrawn from Kuwait and
                          Bahrain. In Turkey, an off-base apartment building dedicated solely to U.S.
                          military personnel was closed because it was considered too vulnerable to
                          a truck bomb attack. The personnel living in this building were relocated
                          to on-base housing or dispersed to other off-base housing facilities. The
                          base also had installed concrete barriers to make on-base residential areas
                          and headquarters buildings less vulnerable and had begun to repair holes
                          in the perimeter fence.

                          Despite these improvements, commanders and security officials
                          acknowledged that vulnerabilities remained. We discuss these
                          vulnerabilities in our classified statement.

                          Some U.S. officials expressed concern that efforts to isolate and fortify
                          DOD facilities could have the effect of making other targets more
                          vulnerable. For instance, terrorists could decide to target small military
                          offices or vehicles outside the main installations. Moreover, they could
                          target housing areas because in Turkey and some Middle East countries,
                          many U.S. military personnel were living in off-base housing complexes or
                          in individual quarters dispersed among the civilian population.

                          At the time of our review, DOD had initiated a number of changes in its
DOD Has Taken Steps       overall antiterrorism program in response to the Khobar Towers bombing.
to Improve the            Some of the major initiatives were as follows:
                      •   The Secretary of Defense assigned the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, to
Program                   be his principal advisor on antiterrorism. To support this added
                          responsibility, the Chairman created a new office in the Joint Staff—the
                          Deputy Directorate for Combating Terrorism.
                      •   The Secretary of Defense directed that the five geographic combatant
                          commanders take on increased antiterrorism responsibilities. Prior to this,
                          the combatant commanders did not have explicit responsibility for
                          ensuring the force protection of all DOD activities in their area of
                      •   Under the direction of the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Defense
                          Special Weapons Agency began to conduct vulnerability assessments at
                          installations. The assessments, which supplement those done by other DOD
                          components, are intended to help commanders understand their

                          Page 6                                  GAO/T-NSIAD-98-44 Combating Terrorism
    vulnerabilities to terrorist attack and to give them options for enhancing
    security and mitigating weapon effects.
•   DOD mandated more robust antiterrorism training for personnel deploying
    to medium- and high-threat countries. The training is intended to increase
    awareness of the threat and provide information on individual protective
    measures. Additional training is to be provided to (1) personnel designated
    as unit antiterrorism instructors and advisors, (2) officers attending
    pre-command courses, and (3) executive-level officials with antiterrorism
•   The Secretary of Defense established a centrally controlled fund to
    support emergency high-priority antiterrorism requirements not funded by
    the services. The fund is managed by the Joint Staff. In fiscal year 1998,
    DOD requested $15 million for this fund.
•   The services also had planned or instituted changes in their approach to
    antiterrorism. Most notably, the Air Force created a Force Protection
    Group that would be among the first to deploy in a contingency and would
    be responsible for establishing the security infrastructure at the
    deployment site.

    Nevertheless, Mr. Chairman, our work raised concerns that DOD’s
    initiatives were falling short of establishing a comprehensive and
    consistent approach to antiterrorism. This was the vision set forth by the
    Downing Assessment Task Force, appointed by the former Secretary of
    Defense to investigate the Khobar Towers bombing and make
    recommendations on how to prevent or minimize the damage of future
    attacks. The Secretary on the whole concurred with the task force’s
    report. The report identified key principles for managing and improving
    the antiterrorism program, and we used these principles as the primary
    criteria for our review.

    The Downing task force found, and our review confirmed, that
    commanders at all levels lacked definitive guidance on implementing an
    antiterrorism program. Such guidance—in the form of prescriptive,
    measurable standards—is one of the tools commanders need to fulfill their
    responsibilities for protecting the force. In the absence of definitive
    guidance, commanders lack an objective basis for determining whether
    their antiterrorism measures are sufficient. They must rely instead on their
    own knowledge and experience and that of their staff. I should note here
    that U.S. Central Command was much further along than the other
    combatant commands or DOD as a whole in providing definitive guidance
    to commanders in its area of responsibility.

    Page 7                                   GAO/T-NSIAD-98-44 Combating Terrorism
    In our July report, we made a number of recommendations to the
    Secretary of Defense. Specifically, we recommended that the Secretary
    direct the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, to develop the following
    common standards and procedures:

•   standardized vulnerability assessments to ensure a consistent level of
    quality and to provide a capability to compare the results from different
•   DOD-wide physical security standards that are measurable yet provide a
    means for deviations when required by local circumstances, and
•   procedures to maintain greater consistency among commands in their
    implementation of threat condition security measures.

    DOD concurred with two of our recommendations but did not agree on the
    need for DOD-wide physical security standards

    Mr. Chairman, it is important to note that in its investigation of the Khobar
    Towers bombing, the Downing task force found that DOD had not
    established physical security standards, including standards governing the
    design and construction of new buildings or the modifications of existing
    structures against the terrorist threat. The Downing task force
    recommended that DOD adopt prescriptive physical security standards. We
    found that DOD had not implemented this recommendation and had no
    plans to do so.

    The Downing task force held up the State Department’s physical security
    standards as an example for DOD to follow in developing its own standards.
    The task force characterized State’s standards as detailed and descriptive.
    Most importantly, the task force said that State had adopted the standards
    as requirements, not as guidance. State’s standards, developed in
    coordination with the Overseas Security Policy Board, apply to all U.S.
    missions abroad under the authority of a chief of mission. The standards
    were created primarily for U.S. diplomatic offices and residential facilities.
    They are based on the assessed threat level in the country, with the result
    that facilities in higher threat countries must meet more stringent
    requirements. For high-threat areas, the standards address such physical
    security concerns as the height of perimeter walls, entry control, stand-off
    distance, and the location of parking areas.

    Currently, DOD requires its components to deploy a physical security
    system to protect defense resources. But, unlike State’s regulations, DOD’s
    regulations do not establish physical security standards that define what is

    Page 8                                    GAO/T-NSIAD-98-44 Combating Terrorism
acceptable or unacceptable. After the Khobar Towers bombing, DOD
developed combating terrorism program standards,6 but these do not
provide detailed and descriptive requirements. The new DOD standards,
rather, are intended as a baseline for developing specific standards. For
instance, one program standard states,

“Commanders at all levels shall develop and implement a physical security plan, as part of
the [antiterrorism/force protection] program, that incorporates facilities, equipment,
trained personnel, and procedures into a comprehensive effort designed to provide
maximum antiterrorism protection to personnel and assets.”

More specific guidance to implement these performance standards is
provided in a DOD handbook, but the handbook guidance is advisory only.7

DOD  officials told us they had no plans to issue DOD-wide physical security
standards. They believe that the variability in threat and vulnerabilities
among geographic areas and individual sites precludes such standards.
However, we noted that diplomatic missions also face different threats
and vulnerabilities yet are required to meet State’s physical security
standards. The DOD officials also said commanders responsible for
antiterrorism may establish specific standards if they choose. Of the five
geographic combatant commands, only U.S. Central Command had
developed prescriptive design standards. Central Command officials said
that since DOD declined to issue standards for protecting facilities against a
bomb blast, they developed their own. Officials at the other geographic
combatant commands had various opinions regarding the need for
DOD-wide physical security standards. For instance, U.S. European
Command officials stated that DOD should establish minimum physical
security standards for each threat level and then require the services to
publish more specific guidance. Such an approach would allow for
differences among the services. U.S. Pacific Command officials believe
that measurable DOD-wide physical security standards are a good idea if
they provide flexibility to allow for variability in the threat and local
circumstances. U.S. Navy Europe stated that there is a need for a DOD-wide
standard that is tough enough to force all activities to a minimum level of
compliance but flexible enough to allow an activity to adjust for
impediments that might prevent them from complying with the
requirements. In its official comments on our report, DOD stated that
commanders should not be told how to accomplish the task of providing

 The standards were issued in July 1997.
 DOD 0-2000.12H, “Protection of DOD Personnel and Activities Against Acts of Terrorism and Political
Turbulence” (Feb. 1993).

Page 9                                                GAO/T-NSIAD-98-44 Combating Terrorism
           physical security for their personnel. DOD believes that its new program
           standards, supplemented by existing physical security guidance, will be
           sufficient to assist commanders. DOD also stated that it would be a mistake
           to have a central office in Washington, D.C., issue standards because such
           an office could not react quickly enough to changes in terrorists tactics.
           Furthermore, DOD stated that establishing standards would require a
           bureaucratic waiver process for facilities that do not meet the standards.

           We continue to believe that common DOD standards would aid
           commanders by providing them with a more objective basis for
           determining whether their forces are adequately protected from terrorist
           threats. Many of the commanders and antiterrorism officials we spoke
           with specifically noted the need for, and the importance of, DOD-wide

           We agree with DOD that any physical security standards must be flexible to
           accommodate unique security situations and recognized this need for
           flexibility in our recommendation. The common DOD standards could be
           supplemented as warranted by the geographic combatant commands and
           their service component commands. Similarly, if a waiver process is
           required, it could be implemented by these commands rather than by a
           central office in Washington, D.C. Moreover, in our view and in the view of
           several commanders we spoke with, a waiver process is likely to add a
           measure of accountability to the program and assures that senior-level
           officials are aware of potential problems.

           Mr. Chairman, that concludes our prepared statement. We would be
           pleased to answer any questions you or Members of the Subcommittee
           may have.

(703224)   Page 10                                  GAO/T-NSIAD-98-44 Combating Terrorism
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