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The U.S.S. Cole Investigation

Kwame Holman reports on the ongoing investigation into the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole.

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    The October 12 suicide attack on the U.S.S. "Cole" marked the first time a modern American warship was successfully targeted by terrorists. The blast of explosives aboard a small boat that had maneuvered close to the "Cole" killed 17 sailors and injured 39 others. The Navy destroyer was refueling in the port of Aden in Yemen. It was docked for almost two hours when detonation of the small boat with two men onboard blew a house-size hole in the side of the warship.

    The "Cole" bombing has prompted an FBI investigation and at least two Pentagon reviews. This afternoon, the Pentagon issued its first analysis. The goal was to assess procedures for better protecting U.S. ships and personnel in transit, not to decide if there was fault by the "Cole's" commanders, crew or Navy officials. Defense Secretary William Cohen opened the Pentagon briefing.


    They found that terrorists are determined to intimidate and prevent the United States from pursuing our worldwide national security interests, and they will continue to tenaciously look for exposed seams in our force protection armor. Their fundamental conclusion is that we must view terrorists as a relentless enemy and, "confront the terrorists with the same intensity and discipline that we have used in the past to defeat conventional antagonists." Now, I agree with this conclusion. As our conventional superiority increases, we must pay greater attention to combating asymmetric threats, including terrorism.

    Every night, all of us sleep under this blanket of freedom because men and women in uniform sail and patrol in harm's way. And as Secretary of Defense, I understand that even America's best efforts cannot remove every risk that our soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines are going to face, although we will always strive to do exactly that. We have to continue what we started, and that is to protect our nation's interest, to protect our men and women in uniform, and to subdue the enemies. And we have to continue to thank the soldiers, the sailors, the airmen, and Marines, and their families, for all that they do to protect us.


    The ten-page public report is the work of a commission headed by retired Navy Admiral Harold Gehman and retired Army General William Crouch. They also gave classified findings to the Pentagon. The Commission did not grade protections in place before the attack. But it recommended tightening U.S. security worldwide by better anticipating terrorist attacks and enhancing protection of ships, aircraft and troops in transit. The report also called for greater resources for U.S. intelligence to gather information about terrorists' plans and more anti-terrorism training for U.S. forces worldwide.


    We found no credible intelligence that could have predicted the attack onboard the U.S.S. "Cole." That does not mean, however, that we did not find there are some things that we can do better in the intelligence community to help us mitigate the risk to our transiting units, and we outlined them in our findings.


    Admiral Harold Gehman and General Crouch were asked if a lapse in security allowed the attack to happen.


    We, of course, were not charged to find a culpability or performance factors so we didn't. We did not look into accountability and all those sort of things. We looked at policy and procedures. We used the "Cole" event as a catalyst for our examination, and found processes that we thought could be done better. Thought could be done better. But we did not attempt, and I would ask you not to read into any of our findings, a failure by anybody or any organization.


    The terrorist threat is extremely dangerous. It is enduring. It's not going away. They are persistent, they are tenacious; they're a patient opponent. We have to deal with that.


    A separate Navy investigation aimed at assessing the actions of those on board the "Cole" has not been released. But according to the "Baltimore Sun" it says the "Cole's" captain, Commander Kirk Lippold, "should not face disciplinary action, although an investigating officer faulted the captain and crew for not following prescribed procedures." Meanwhile in Yemen, the FBI continues its efforts to track down those who may have been involved in the bombing. Yemeni officials said yesterday a suspect now in custody linked the terrorist Osama bin Laden to the attack.