- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2001

The Army's top officer has sent a message to his generals warning they are vulnerable to terrorist attacks like the USS Cole bombing when their planes stop at overseas civilian airports.

In his message, Gen. Eric Shinseki, Army chief of staff, refers to one specific incident in which a jet carrying top brass was unguarded during a refueling stop at a foreign airport.

"This situation represented an unacceptable security seam and an unacceptable risk to senior U.S. Army leaders," said the message, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.

A spokesman for Gen. Shinseki declined to comment last week except to confirm that the alert was sent.

A military-intelligence source said "there are threats" against senior officers. He declined to elaborate.

Military officials say Gen. Shinseki's advisory reflects the Pentagon's heightened awareness of its duty to ensure force protection in the aftermath of the suicide-bomber attack on the USS Cole in Yemen on Oct. 12. Officials also said the message represents a realization that senior officers can be top targets of anti-American terrorists, notably exiled Saudi Arabian millionaire Osama bin Laden.

Meanwhile, an Army official said the threat condition for soldiers in Europe was raised several weeks ago, not because of a specific threat, but because of "the general picture out there."

One source said troops were told not to park their cars near "sensitive buildings so a suspicious vehicle stands out."

Gen. Shinseki issued his warning after two retired commanders issued 30 recommendations on how forces overseas could be better protected against terrorists. Former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen named the commission, led by Army Gen. William W. Crouch and Navy Adm. Harold W. Gehman, in an effort to prevent a Colelike terrorist attack.

"The terrorist threat is extremely dangerous," Gen. Crouch said. "It is enduring. It's not going away. They are persistent. They are tenacious. They're a patient opponent. We have to deal with that."

Gen. Shinseki wrote of the refueling stop:

"A recent experience has raised my concern for the safety of senior U.S. Army leaders traveling [outside the country]. The event that triggered this message was a scheduled refueling stop in a foreign civilian airport by a marked military aircraft with senior Army leaders on board. While no incident occurred, the opportunity for a USS Cole-like attack was potentially significant, as the aircraft and its occupants were without established security in a high-risk environment.

"In this instance, force-protection planning was not fully taken into consideration as an integral part of travel planning and coordination, and no senior leader had reviewed and approved the details of the travel plan with a filed flight plan, a known arrival time and no external security. This situation represented an unacceptable security seam, and an unacceptable risk to senior U.S. Army leaders."

Gen. Shinseki issued new guidelines for senior leaders' travel:

• Generals or senior civilians are responsible for planning and approving all stops and layovers at foreign airports.

• Those same personnel must ensure that each refueling stop or layover calls for adequate security around the aircraft.

• The senior person on board must approve any stop in a high-threat airport.

The message states that the Army's criminal-investigative division is available to advise trip planners on stops at potentially dangerous airports.

"Security planning can help identify weakness, measures to correct noted weaknesses, assist in determining levels of protection appropriate to the threat and facilitate coordination of security resources while in travel status," the message says.

Gen. Shinseki said his alert does not mean generals should become reclusive.

"I expect senior Army leaders to remain visible and engaged with our soldiers who are on point," he said. "Leaders must remain in charge, particularly during transit when vulnerability to terrorist attack is high. Complacency can have tragic results."

Critics have faulted the USS Cole captain for not employing stricter force-protection action as the destroyer stopped to refuel in Yemen, a known haven for anti-American terrorists. Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations, ruled last week that no one on the ship, including the captain, would be disciplined following a Navy investigation into force-protection measures.

Mr. Cohen said that the entire chain of command, but no individual, was responsible for not protecting the Cole.

The Shinseki messages provided no details on where the security lapse occurred and who was involved during the refueling.

Said one officer, "The incident upon which this is based has not been positively classified as a terrorist attempt through the unclassified channels, but I understand that there's more behind this message than has been released to the field."

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