U.S. Military Security Flaws Exposed

ByABC News
July 3, 2001, 6:59 PM

W A S H I N G T O N, July 5 -- Military commanders almost never talk about the steps they take to protect their bases against a terrorist attack, but that is what several did in a highly unusual recent congressional hearing.

Commanders from across the United States spelled out their problems of their bases in extraordinary detail before a special House Armed Services Committee panel on terrorism late last week.

The testimony came as the General Accounting Office warned there were "significant weaknesses" and "numerous potential vulnerabilities" at U.S. military bases to a possible terrorist attack.

While the intelligence community does not believe any attack on a U.S. military base is imminent, the vulnerabilities are real.

Real Life Breaches

Three recent criminal cases underscore just how easy it is to penetrate a U.S. military facility most of which co-exist in cities and other commercial areas, housing thousands of military personnel and their families with buildings and offices, schools, hospitals and weapons storage depots:

In April, devices for making military IDs were stolen from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center outside Washington D.C. Phony military identification cards could give terrorists and criminals wide access to all military bases.

In May, police arrested an individual for theft of C-4 plastic explosives, antipersonnel land mines, silenced machine guns and night vision devices from the Navy SEAL base in San Diego, Calif.

In August of last year, a man disguised as an Air Force officer penetrated Fort Meade, Maryland outside Washington D.C. He stole rifles, pistols and 12,000 rounds of ammunition.

While there may be no security measure that could ultimately thwart a determined terrorist, military bases have been under orders to beef up security ever since the bombings of the Air Force barracks at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia 1996; the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa and the Oct. 12, 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.

Improvements include stronger fences and gates, improved construction standards so buildings can withstand blasts, and most importantly "standoff" or ensuring key areas are surrounded by empty restricted space so vehicle-borne bombs cannot be driven up to the edge of populated areas.