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Military bases vulnerable to terrorist attacks

Friday, July 06, 2001


Inadequate security at 11 major U.S. military facilities, including Fort Hood in Texas, leave the bases vulnerable to possible terrorist attacks, according to a recent congressional study.

Military officials acknowledged the risks and say they need more federal dollars to pay for added protections, including more guards, reenforced fences, and surveillance equipment. Security also could be improved by simply changing base operations, they say.

The report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, concluded that the 11 bases in the United States that it reviewed had "numerous potential vulnerabilities." The study was requested by Congress last fall following the terrorist bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, that killed 17 U.S. sailors.

At sprawling Fort Hood, officials have a huge task in monitoring all entrances, said Cecil Green, spokesman for the base. The facility covers about 337,000 square miles -- equal to the land area of Dallas -- and employs 42,000 civilians and military personnel.

The base intends to deploy guards to tighten access at entry points and register cars which routinely enter and leave the installation, Green said. Many of Fort Hood's buildings are open to the public, such as museums and educational facilities used by local colleges. In addition, there is a large recreational complex at Lake Belton that attracts many visitors.

"We are working toward increasing security in accordance with army guidance," Green said. He declined to discuss specific plans.

Congress is re-examining the security of other facilities nationwide. Of the 580 U.S. military bases worldwide, 61 are located overseas or outside of U.S. territory. These facilities are typically considered more "at risk" to terrorism.

But the threat of terrorist attacks within U.S. borders poses risks to bases stateside, too, five U.S. commanders told a congressional panel last week.

"The enemy is out there, we know that," said Brig. Gen. Thomas P. Kane of the 60th Air Mobility Wing at Travis Air Force Base in California.

At the Special Oversight Panel on Terrorism, under the House Committee on Armed Services, the U.S. commanders cited personnel shortages, old and damaged buildings and fences, and the need for updated surveillance cameras and communication systems at their bases. Some facilities could be fortified by simply constructing new fences, while others need base-wide repairs.

Officials estimate it could cost billions of dollars to make the upgrades. Budgets for anti-terrorism measures have been on the decline since 1999, they said.

"There is a shortfall in resources," said Maj. Gen . David F. Bice, commanding general of the Marine Corps Base at Camp Pendleton in California. "Everything done to date has been at the expense of something else."

Fort Stewart in Georgia was not part of the GAO review but, like other army bases, has been ordered to review protection measures in order to ensure a "secure environment," said a spokesman. The fort is an open installation with two state highways running through it.

"There are a number of things that we could do -- at the very least, there will need to be shelters ... barriers, more personnel. And that is just the tip of the iceberg," said Bob Close, a spokesman at the Fort Stewart. He said the base needs more money to take the necessary security measures.

The call for increased security comes on the heels of a national debate on the defense budget for the fiscal year 2002. Last week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testified at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, where he said an estimated $11 billion is invested in "terrorism issues ."

-- Martin Thompson (, July 06, 2001

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