TCS Daily

Built In Vulnerability

By Ralph Kinney Bennett - December 23, 2004 12:00 AM

It now appears almost certain that someone, probably wearing a suicide bomb "vest," was able to get inside the vast mess facility at that base in Mosul.

Was this a "major breach" of security? In one sense, obviously, yes. But in another sense it is amazing it has not happened before. Our modern military, with its huge "baggage" of contracted services, carries with it a huge potential for vulnerability wherever it goes.

The movement of contractors and Iraqi civilian workers through these bases is a fact of life. The days when the military fed itself (you never hear the term KP, "kitchen patrol," anymore in this "person's" army) or even cleaned up after itself on base are long gone.

When soldiers return to their bases from the dangers of patrol and convoy, they come back to the relative safety of an area thick with civilian contractors and foreign workers whose backgrounds may or may not have been thoroughly checked.

It is one thing to live, as our soldiers in Iraq do, with the random danger of daily "indirect fire" attacks from mortars and rockets. It is another to be concerned about every non-military person you see on base (and there are a lot of them).

The U.S. military itself is supposed to do the screening of civilian employees. But how far do you go, or can you go, in checking the bona fides of, say, an Iraqi dishwasher? And in this particular case, where it is almost certain that a number of persons were complicit in the act, what about the van driver bringing supplies on base, or the guy cleaning barracks tents?

The Islamic terrorists have shown a capacity for patient duplicity to rival that of Soviet "sleeper" agents during the Cold War. Those who are inflamed enough to strap on a vest full of ball bearings and plastic explosives, are abetted by others who -- by force, fear, or sympathy -- are prepared to case the target for them, guide them away from potential discovery or even build up enough credibility to vouch for them.

The investigation of this terrible bombing will probably reveal either long, long planning or a heretofore unsuspected chink in the security "armor" that was quickly exploited by ever-probing terrorists. All things are possible. The bomber could have been a dedicated Islamomaniac, or he might have been a worker whose family was taken hostage and threatened with death unless he carried out the mission.

To say that all bases in Iraq are now under heightened alert would be to put it mildly. It cannot be discounted that the terrorists have planned a "Christmas crescendo" of similar actions.

But it is part of the insidious nature of this war and the structure of our "contracted" military that our soldiers must now face the reality of an uneasy, even poisonous atmosphere of fear and mistrust at their bases, their sanctuaries.

If they have learned nothing else from this horrible incident, our military must be prepared for more ugly surprises. Anywhere, at anytime.


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