- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2002

U.S. servicemen stationed abroad face threats that are difficult to anticipate, even when not engaged in combat, as evidenced by the fatal attack in Kuwait last Tuesday. Troops were ambushed while training outside their base. But according to terrorist experts, military personnel face their most glaring threat within their base while eating their meals, or relaxing after a day's training. This specific risk can't be rectified through more bricks and mortar.
Foreign nationals working in U.S. bases who are not natives of the host country pose the largest threat, since information on their background is usually scarce. But many bases, particularly in sensitive areas such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, have many of these third-country nationals working inside them, serving food, cleaning floors, etc. A Pentagon spokesman said that the background of all foreigners working on U.S. bases is checked by the host country government or the private-sector contractor that hired them not the U.S. government. This worries many terrorism experts, since contractors are most concerned with profits, while foreign governments are bound to have scant information on individuals not native to their country.
Peter Probst, a former Pentagon and CIA official, told The Washington Times that he raised the alarm at the Pentagon from 1996 to 2000. The Pentagon appeared to have somewhat heeded his concerns, and in April 2000 it published a report titled "Insider threat mitigation." While the study calls for increased vigilance and other precautions, it falls short of some of the more comprehensive policy prescriptions that are relevant to this post-September 11 world. The study focuses mostly on the threat that administrative workers, who have access to unclassified but still sensitive information, could pose. But terrorism experts today are focusing on a more direct potential attack by foreign nationals, such as the poisoning of a base's food supply.
The Pentagon said it has drafted policy prescriptions based on the findings of the report and will make them public in about two months a welcome step. But, coming more than two years after the report was published, it seems long overdue.
Given the peril that troops face abroad, the Pentagon should take bold steps to bolster security. Military officials should carefully reassess the need for maintaining foreign bases abroad. In the bases that are considered to be central to U.S. interests but are high-risk areas, foreign-national workers should be replaced with U.S. citizens. This would double or triple labor costs in some countries, a cost that is easily justified when one considers the many American military lives it would almost certainly save.
The recent ambush in Kuwait, the horrific bombing of a club frequented by Westerners in Indonesia and the attack on a French vessel in Yemen demonstrate that terrorists, most likely linked to al Qaeda, are determined to regroup. An attack within a U.S. base would deal a dramatic blow to morale at a critical moment for U.S. interests. Surely, Pentagon officials are aware of the threat. Now is the time to take action on that awareness.


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