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Study Reveals Security Flaws Destroyer Bombing Shows Vulnerability To Terrorist Attacks

By Paul Richter
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

A high-level Pentagon study found Tuesday that the bombing of the American destroyer Cole last October revealed dangerous shortcomings in U.S. military security and intelligence-gathering.

The report, which did not attempt to assess leadership performance in the attack, found that U.S. planes and ships remain highly vulnerable to terrorist attack as they shuttle American forces through dangerous regions. And it said that U.S. intelligence-gathering remains too focused on old, Cold War threats and needs to devote more attention to shadowy terrorist foes.

The Oct. 12 attack, which occurred while the destroyer was refueling in the harbor of Aden, Yemen, revealed “a seam in the fabric of our efforts to protect our forces,” the report said. Seventeen U.S. sailors were killed and 39 injured when a bomb carried on a small boat blasted a hole in the the destroyer at midships.

Despite the study’s conclusions, it remains unclear whether any U.S. official will be found in any way at fault for what happened to the $1-billion destroyer.

Retired Navy Adm. Harold Gehman and retired Army Gen. William W. Crouch, who headed the study panel, named no individuals, organizations or foreign nations in their report. Their job was not to seek blame but to look for ways to “improve the processes,” Crouch said.

And, so far, the Navy chain of command has rejected the idea that any blame should be attached to the Cole’s skipper, Cmdr. Kirk S. Lippold, or to the ship’s crew. Though an investigative officer found that the crew failed to follow dozens of required security precautions on the day of the attack, senior Navy officers have declined to assign blame, arguing that none of the precautions would have averted the blast.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen Tuesday formally asked the military’s top officer, Joint Chiefs Chairman Henry Hugh Shelton, to look again at whether anyone in the military chain of command deserves blame in the incident.

Shelton will not gather facts in a new investigation, but rather will review the evidence accumulated so far to assess whether anyone was negligent, Cohen said.