EXCLUSIVE: Tapes Show Terror Attack on U.S. Consulate

ByABC News
December 6, 2005, 3:44 PM

Dec. 6, 2005 — -- It took only five seconds for al Qaeda terrorists to break into the U.S. compound in Jeddah in an attack that killed five people, according to tapes obtained exclusively by ABC News.

The terrorists entered the compound at 11:16 a.m. on a day when the compound was supposed to be at a critical threat level. As seen on tape, a white U.S. government consulate vehicle pulls up to a side gate where it waits for two security barriers to be opened. Chanting "God is great" over a cell phone to their accomplices, the terrorists pull up in their four-door sedan just as the consulate car is cleared.

"Obviously they'd done a surveillance action on this facility," said Tony Deibler, a former State Department security officer, as he watched the tapes of the December 2004 attack.

The terrorists' car is blocked, but they exit on foot and open fire. Within five seconds, they get through the security gates, including an expensive obstacle known as a Delta barrier.

As the terrorists run inside, the Saudi National Guard troops assigned to protect the consulate run in the opposite direction -- away from the fight.

"Well, I hate to say it because I have a lot of friends who are on the Saudi National Guard, but they're running away," Deibler said. "At least, that National Guardsman took his weapon with him, although he's going the wrong way."

One minute into the attack, the terrorists have the run of the compound as employees run for their lives. The attackers open fire on several buildings. By 11:19 a.m., all Americans are safely secured inside the consulate's main building after what is known as the "duck and cover" alarm. Meanwhile, the terrorists attempt unsuccessfully to get past security doors and rig an explosive charge. Four minutes later, the Marines release tear gas, but the State Department uses a weaker version than the military so it appears to have little effect on the attackers.

"You can see it's dissipating already, and it's not even, it's not having any effect at all," Deibler described, as he watched the tapes of the attack.

At 11:47 a.m., the terrorists take down the American flag in front of the consulate. After that, out of the sight of the cameras, they take four U.S. employees and a local guard hostage, all of whom are later killed. Ten others under the protection of the U.S. consulate will be injured.

The State Department maintains to this day that the response to the attack was successful because no U.S. citizens were harmed.

"It was thanks to the courage, the bravery, and quick thinking of our American and local staff that those terrorists were either killed or captured, and were not able to penetrate the consulate building," a State Department spokesman said today on the attack's one-year anniversary.

But former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke disagreed. "When U.S. government employees are killed on embassy grounds or consulate grounds, that's a failure no matter how you look at it," he said.

Finally at 12:30 p.m., one hour and 15 minutes after the start of the attack, the Saudi police enter through the compound's alpha gate. One terrorist is shot dead while the four others are reported to be killed in a gun battle.

The American flag goes back up, and those in charge begin their own bureaucratic version of "duck and cover" to avoid blame.

"The State Department should have been on alert, should have been on high security standards in Jeddah," said Clarke, now a consultant for ABC News. "The fact that they weren't means that someone wasn't doing their job."

A secret State Department review of the incident, obtained by ABC News, found that while security measures met standards, they were "inadequate" to stop the terrorists.

"The implications of that are pretty serious because it means the worldwide standards being used to secure our hundreds of diplomatic installations aren't good enough," Clarke said.

The secret State Department review concluded that no one breached his or her duty, but noted, "leadership problems in Jeddah," and found that the officials in charge of security "received little support" from the consul general.

Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, the consul general, is no longer posted in Saudi Arabia and declined to comment on the incident in an appearance in Cleveland last week.

The secret review found "a widespread negative perception among the consulate staff of the consul general's degree for security," which did not surprise Diebler, a former State Department security officer.

"The man that broke me in when I first joined Diplomatic Security told me one day, he said: 'You have to decide -- do you want a career, or do you want to do the right thing?'" Deibler said. According to him, challenging an ambassador on security "is the kiss of death."

ABC News' Len Tepper and Chris Isham contributed to this report.