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Terrorist Attack in Syria: US Embassies, Personnel Remain Targets

Posted by kinchendavid on September 15, 2006

By Jim Kouri

On the day after the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, the US Embassy in Damascus, Syria was attacked by a four-man team that used two vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. Three of the attackers were killed and one was wounded; there are no known American casualties at this time.

While that specific embassy is not protected by US Marines, the Syrian guards reportedly foiled the attempt by suspected Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists to blow up the US Embassy on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2006, exchanging fire outside the compound’s walls with gunmen who were shouting “God is great” as they tried to storm the embassy with automatic weapons.

US government officials working overseas are always at risk from terrorist threats. Since 1968, 32 embassy officials have been attacked — 23 fatally — by terrorists outside the embassy.

As the US State Department continues to improve security at US embassies, terrorist groups are likely to focus on “soft” targets–such as homes, schools, and places of worship. The Government Accounting Office was asked to determine whether the State Department has a strategy for soft target protection; assess State’s efforts to protect US officials and their families while traveling to and from work; assess State’s efforts overseas to improve security at schools attended by the children of US officials; and describe issues related to protection at their residences.

The State Department has a number of programs and activities designed to protect US officials and their families outside the embassy, including security briefings, protection at schools and residences, and surveillance detection.

However, they have not developed a comprehensive strategy that clearly identifies safety and security requirements and resources needed to protect US officials and their families abroad from terrorist threats outside the embassy. State officials raised a number of challenges related to developing and implementing such a strategy. They also indicated that they have recently initiated an effort to develop a soft targets strategy. As part of this effort, State Department officials said they will need to address and resolve a number of legal and financial issues.

Three State initiated investigations into terrorist attacks against US officials outside of embassies found that the officials lacked the necessary hands-on training to help counter the attack. The investigations recommended that State provide hands-on counterterrorism training and implement accountability measures to ensure compliance with personal security procedures. After each of these investigations, State reported to Congress that it planned to implement the recommendations, yet the GAO found that State’s hands-on training course is not required, the accountability procedures have not been effectively implemented, and key embassy officials are not trained to implement State’s counterterrorism procedures.

The State Department instituted a program in 2003 to improve security at schools for embassy employees’ children, but its scope has not yet been fully determined. In fiscal years 2003 and 2004, Congress earmarked $29.8 million for State to address security vulnerabilities against soft targets, particularly at overseas schools. The multiphase program provides basic security hardware to protect US officials and their families at schools and some off-compound employee association facilities from terrorist threats.

However, during visits by GAO investigators to posts, regional security officers were unclear about which schools could qualify for security assistance under phase three of the program. State’s program to protect US officials and their families at their residences is primarily designed to deter crime, not terrorism.

The Residential Security program includes basic security hardware and local guards, which State officials said provide effective deterrence against crime, though only limited deterrence against a terrorist attack. To minimize the risk and consequences of a residential terrorist attack, some posts that were visited limited the number of US officials living in specific apartment buildings. To provide greater protection against terrorist attacks, some posts security inspectors visited used surveillance detection teams in residential areas.

Sources: US Department of State Security Division, Government Accounting Office, National Security Institute, American Society for Industrial Security

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Jim Kouri is fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and he’s a staff writer for the New Media Alliance (thenma.org). He’s a former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed “Crack City” by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for several major organizations. Kouri has appeared as on-air commentator for more than 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. Kouri’s own website is http://jimkouri.U.S.


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