Admiral William Crowe
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PHIL PONCE: On August 7th, car bombs exploded almost simultaneously at American embassies in two African capitals – Nairobi in Kenya, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. More than 220 people were killed, including 12 Americans; more than 4,000 were injured. A federal court has indicted 11 people in the bombings, including the alleged ring leader, Osama bin Laden, a Saudi believed to head an international terrorist group.
The attack immediately raised questions about security at the two embassies. On September 9th, the New York Times reported that the U.S. ambassador in Nairobi, Prudence Bushnell, had repeatedly complained to her superiors in Washington about the lack of security at her embassy.
Last fall President Clinton got for and got Congress to appropriate more than $1 billion to make security improvements at many of the U.S. Embassies around the world. In October, two panels, both led by former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral William Crowe, were appointed to investigate potential security lapses that may have contributed to the August bombings.
And today, Crowe issued a report criticizing both Congress and the Executive Branch for failing to protect justice embassies and the people who work in them. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright accepted the findings.
SECRETARY MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: The boards did identify a collective failure by the executive and legislative branches of our government over the past decade to provide adequate resources to reduce the vulnerability of U.S. diplomatic missions. The report suggests that responsibility for this failure must be shared broadly, including by the Secretary of State, and I accept that. It reminds us all that no matter how much we care, no matter how much we do, we can always do more when the lives of our people are on the line.
PHIL PONCE: Crowe proposed a 10-year, $15 billion capital program to improve embassy security.
PHIL PONCE: And Admiral Crowe joins us now. Thank you for being here, Admiral. Your report talks about the embassy’s vulnerability because of the “collective failure” and specifically the collective failure of Congress, of recent administrations, of the State Department. Let’s take those one at a time. Elaborate on what we just heard Secretary Albright say about the collective failure of Congress.
ADMIRAL WILLIAM CROWE, JR.: First thing we discovered, of course, as we began to get into the security issue more and more was that it’s widely – security affairs are widely dispersed throughout the U.S. Government. Many people have a chunk of it. It’s difficult to pinpoint responsibility. But, of course, one of the main things that runs throughout this question is the funding for it.
PHIL PONCE: And you believe it’s been seriously under-funded?
ADMIRAL WILLIAM CROWE, JR.: Yes, very much so. It certainly has not improved in the last decade the vulnerability of position of these embassies. Now, that’s striking, given the Inman report of 1985, which pointed out many of the things. And one of the things that -
PHIL PONCE: The Inman report came out after the 1983 bombings -
ADMIRAL WILLIAM CROWE, JR.: That is correct.
PHIL PONCE: — of the American embassy in Beirut and the Marine barracks bombing.
ADMIRAL WILLIAM CROWE, JR.: One of the main things that struck is most notably is we keep running across recommendations that turn out to be the same ones the Inman report made. Not much has changed, but those recommendations are still very valid.
PHIL PONCE: And the failure of administrations and the State Department?
ADMIRAL WILLIAM CROWE, JR.: Well, and in many departments and in the State Department, itself. If there were two things that struck us that we really were concerned about and very disturbed about is first of all there were not sufficient funding put into the resource side of the picture. And almost every one of these questions, ultimately, if you want to improve it or change it or do something worthwhile, comes down to a matter of money. But also the procedures, there were some real gaps in the procedures throughout the system, not just in the embassy, not just in the field, that ignored the threat, the specifics of the threat of a car bomb.
PHIL PONCE: But we heard you say earlier in the program that nobody at the embassies themselves did anything wrong. The guards didn’t do anything wrong; the – none of the — the personnel were, what, following standard procedure, accepted procedure?
ADMIRAL WILLIAM CROWE, JR.: That’s absolutely correct. I mean, you have an emergency action plan in the embassy which is patterned on the emergency action plan for all embassies put out by the Department. All the embassies were working under what they call a composite threat list, which rated the threat level among every embassy in certain regions and so forth. The categories were high, medium, low. The Dar Es Salaam embassy was rated as low, the Nairobi embassy as medium. And this primarily was a management tool to prioritize how you allocated the resources.
PHIL PONCE: And you’re saying it wasn’t a very good management tool because it ignored this – this possibility of a bomb in a car?
ADMIRAL WILLIAM CROWE, JR.: Very, very flawed. Well, among other things, but it was a very flawed management tool. Obviously, the threat level for medium for Nairobi, it was higher than that. But it was used to allocate resources, but it had an insidious influence that went way beyond the State Department. And we heard people say in the field, well, we had all the things that a medium threat embassy would have; we did all the things they’re supposed to do for medium threat.
PHIL PONCE: Admiral, in Nairobi, the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Prudence Bushnell, repeatedly asked for more resources and she didn’t get them.
ADMIRAL WILLIAM CROWE, JR.: Well, she complained -
PHIL PONCE: Who messed up?
ADMIRAL WILLIAM CROWE, JR.: Well, as we said, it was a collective failure – the whole thing. You got -
PHIL PONCE: On that count, though?
ADMIRAL WILLIAM CROWE, JR.: Well, on this count, are you saying did they act on her – on her request properly? If you take the fiscal background, if you take the historical background, the managers of the State Department acted properly because given the funds they had and so forth, they could not build a new embassy, and that was what Ambassador Bushnell liked or wanted. But you’ve got to go deeper than that and say, well, then where is the problem? The problem is that budget pressures were driving the security problem. And that’s not correct. They should be able to overcome that.
PHIL PONCE: So in the case of Kenya, what was needed, according to the U.S. Ambassador there at the time, was a completely new embassy, and because what was wrong with the current one?
ADMIRAL WILLIAM CROWE, JR.: Well, first and foremost, and this is true of many, many of our embassies around the world, there’s no standoff distance. And what I mean by that, there was no perimeter that was away from the embassy where they could preclude people approaching, or trucks, vehicles, et cetera, et cetera.
PHIL PONCE: The Inman report, the Inman commission recommended what?
ADMIRAL WILLIAM CROWE, JR.: Stressed that and, in fact, set down a requirement that all embassies must have at least 100 feet standoff distance around their entire embassy complex.
PHIL PONCE: And this embassy was what, right on a busy street.
ADMIRAL WILLIAM CROWE, JR.: A main street in Nairobi. Incidentally, this is not unique; it’s true of many of our embassies. The old approach – the historical way was that we must put an American embassy right in the middle of the life of the city. We’d show the American flag where the most people are; we’d open it up; we’d project an image to the public that we are an open society, they’re welcome, they’re welcome to see us, they’re welcome to have business with us, et cetera, et cetera. It was fine when the policy or the attitude was originally formed. In a new era of very heavy security threats it’s not very practical.
PHIL PONCE: So you’re saying that kind of openness is not so likely in an era where – or what, are you recommending the embassies become -
ADMIRAL WILLIAM CROWE, JR.: Well, that kind of openness has already disappeared. I was the ambassador in Great Britain. No matter where we’re located – standoff distance or not – we have closed up our embassies and made it impossible to get in them unless you have business there, unless you’re invited, unless you can prove that you’re who you are and you check your camera, you do this – we don’t have open embassies anymore even in the middle of cities. We’re also hoping that ultimately we can build embassies that do have this large standoff distance.
PHIL PONCE: Admiral, there are what, more than 250, 260 diplomatic facilities around the world. How many of those are at risk? How many of those are vulnerable?
ADMIRAL WILLIAM CROWE, JR.: About 2/3 or about 80 percent. The standards that have been set down by the Inman report – we also incidentally have suggested that we study again to revise the Inman standards; they may need changing.
What has happened here – and I think it’s important for the American people to understand it – is we’ve been security conscious for quite sometime now but on a very different level. What has emerged – two things have emerged that are new – that are unprecedented. The first is the appearance and the introduction of large bombs – up until this point mainly car bombs or truck bombs.
PHIL PONCE: Not contemplated in the design of previous embassies historically?
ADMIRAL WILLIAM CROWE, JR.: Not originally. We worried about mortars coming in; we worried about suitcase bombs outside of windows. We worried about fire, arson, and so forth. Now introduced on the scene are huge bombs that cannot only kill a few people but they injure four hundred of four thousand in Nairobi and leveled several buildings outside of the American embassy. In fact, most of the people killed were Kenyans.
The second new factor on the scene were these global networks of terrorists who are very sophisticated, very professional terrorists, who are aiming to do harm to the United States interests, and they are what we call transnational. They don’t operate locally.
We originally worried about the local threats, were there political dissidents in the country, are the people in that country or elements that don’t like the United States being there? Now, we’re dealing with transnational terrorism. They subsume a whole region or many countries; they operate freely across borders with no regard for them, smuggle their things across borders.
PHIL PONCE: So your boards, the two boards have come up with some recommendations. What do you think are the most important ones?
ADMIRAL WILLIAM CROWE, JR.: Unfortunately, the longer and complete report is classified, and many of those recommendations are in the classified area, but we have suggested changes in the procedures; we have suggested changes in – the main change that we would like to see wrought throughout the service is more sensitivity to security. This was very alarming when we find that many, many people just don’t put great stock on security.
What they would like is to continue to do their work the way they have traditionally and historically done it, and somebody else make it safe. They don’t want to change their way of life. They don’t want to change the way they go to work. They don’t want to change their desk. They don’t want to make sure that things can’t become projectiles in a bomb in their office; they want somebody else to take care of that. Those days are gone.
Well, these two new threats – all the old guidelines have disappeared. It’s a watershed. It is now – concerns everybody that’s going to be involved. It’s a new era, and what is more threatening and what we are more concerned about, it’s going to get worse, and we’re not just concerned about bombs; we’re looking at a period where terrorists are now beginning to look at chemical weapons, biological weapons.
The prospects out there in the future -unless we make our-we’re never going to make our embassies invulnerable. What we can do – and what we have recommended throughout this report – that is a result of recent research, new material structurally, of new ideas, et cetera, it is possible to make them more impervious to attack.
PHIL PONCE: Admiral Crowe, that’s where we’ll have to leave it. I thank you very much for being with us.
ADMIRAL WILLIAM CROWE, JR.: And to cut down and to save lives – that’s the main thing.