- The Washington Times - Friday, June 3, 2005

The Pentagon yesterday sent Congress an unprecedented classified database on every military base worldwide that could be a handbook for future attacks if it fell into the hands of al Qaeda or other terror groups, U.S. and congressional officials said.

The digital database, which contains more than 25 megabytes of information on hundreds of bases and installations, was sent in response to complaints from lawmakers last month.

The lawmakers said they needed an extensive information base to defend 33 major bases and 147 smaller installations from Pentagon plans for closure.

An independent commission, led by former Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi, is holding hearings on the Pentagon’s hit list and will make recommendations in September.

The sources said the database is so sensitive that the Pentagon conducted what is called a “red team” exercise in which personnel played the role of terrorists.

The exercise has made some national security officials uneasy. It found that the information was so detailed that, in the wrong hands, it could be a “handbook for al Qaeda.”

In this fifth round of base closings since 1988, U.S. officials could not recall a time when so much information was provided to Congress on bases worldwide. The data were provided to the commission on Wednesday and to Congress yesterday.

Officials expressed confidence that Congress will be able to keep the classified database secure. Still, some worry that if it leaked out in its digital form, the information could be circulated on the Internet and help terrorists.

The Pentagon sent the data after 21 U.S. senators, including Maine’s two Republicans, Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe, complained in a letter to President Bush last Friday. Miss Collins said yesterday that the new data are not helpful because they are classified.

“This means that the documents cannot be used at public hearings, public meetings, or at meetings that are not held in a classified facility by people with security clearances,” she said.

U.S. officials and congressional sources said Pentagon personnel will be able to declassify parts of the data in time for public hearings.

The Maine senators are trying to head off the Pentagon’s recommendation to close the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, which would affect 201 military jobs and 4,032 civilian positions.

Once the commission settles on its list of bases, Congress can only reject or accept the entire list. If there is no such vote, the list becomes final.

One official said consultants hired by communities to save their bases are the ones pushing to force the Pentagon to produce reams of information.

“They say I can’t save your base unless I have data on all the other bases,” the official said.

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