Combating Terrorism:

Status of DOD Efforts to Protect Its Force Overseas

NSIAD-97-207: Published: Jul 21, 1997. Publicly Released: Jul 21, 1997.

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GAO reviewed the Department of Defense's (DOD) efforts to protect U.S. forces from terrorist attacks, focusing on: (1) measures taken at overseas U.S. bases to enhance the security of deployed personnel; and (2) recent DOD initiatives to improve its antiterrorism program.

GAO noted that: (1) many deployed U.S. forces are better protected today from terrorist attacks similar to the one that occurred at Khobar Towers; (2) during March and April 1997, GAO visited 30 overseas sites and found that security improvements were most evident where the risk of terrorism is the greatest, such as Turkey and the Middle East; (3) DOD has placed less emphasis on addressing vulnerabilities in countries that are currently considered to have a lower threat; (4) senior military commanders and defense officials GAO met with emphasized that they can reduce, but not eliminate, vulnerabilities and that further terrorist attacks against U.S. forces should be expected; (5) they also observed that efforts to defend against terrorism are complicated by a number of factors, including the ability of terrorists to decide where and when to attack and to choose from a wide selection of targets; (6) nevertheless, the officials said, some risk must be accepted as the United States pursues its national security strategy abroad; (7) since the bombing at Khobar Towers, DOD has initiated a number of changes aimed at improving its antiterrorism program; (8) for example, DOD has established a new office for combatting terrorism in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, enhanced the antiterrorism responsibilities of the geographic combatant commands, and instituted a vulnerability assessment process under the aegis of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; (9) these initiatives, however, have not resulted in a comprehensive, consistent approach to antiterrorism as called for by the Downing task force; (10) for instance, DOD's force protection focal point has not provided the geographic combatant commanders the guidance the commanders believe they need to carry out their expanded antiterrorism responsibilities; (11) such guidance would include establishing standards for assessing vulnerabilities and agencywide physical security requirements designed to provide a minimum level of protection to U.S. forces no matter where they are located; (12) a comprehensive, consistent approach to antiterrorism using common standards would give commanders a more objective basis for determining whether they are providing adequate protection to their facilities and personnel; and (13) DOD would have a capability to compare vulnerabilities at different sites on a worldwide basis and thus ensure that sufficient emphasis is being placed on the most vulnerable areas.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Memorandum was signed on December 16, 1997.

    Recommendation: To ensure that security responsibility for DOD personnel overseas is clear, the Secretary of Defense should take the necessary steps to ensure that the memorandum of understanding now under discussion with the Department of State is signed expeditiously.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD believes that the level of instruction and guidance provided to field commanders is sufficient. It sees no need to be more specific and believes that to do so would constitute telling commanders how to do their jobs.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to develop common standards and procedures to include procedures to maintain greater consistency among commands in their implementation of threat condition security measures.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD's final response to the report has not been received. However, in comments on the draft report DOD did not concur with this recommendation. The Department believes that the establishment of DOD-wide physical security standards are not necessary. The Department believes that the combatant commanders should develop physical security standards for their AOR.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to develop common standards and procedures to include DOD-wide physical security standards that are measurable yet provide a means for deviations when required by local circumstances.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD has addressed and acted on the recommendation. The joint staff is providing the program of instruction used by the Defense Special Weapons Agency to train the Joint Staff Integrated Vulnerability Assessment Team to the services and combatant commands.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to develop common standards and procedures to include standardized vulnerability assessments to ensure a consistent level of quality and to provide a capability to compare the results from different sites.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: This was included in the memorandum signed on December 16, 1997.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should provide the geographic combatant commanders with the guidance to successfully negotiate implementation agreements with chiefs of mission.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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