24 October 2000


There's a striking and alarming parallel between the USS Cole catastrophe -- which took 17 sailors' lives and zeroed out a billion-dollar warship -- and one that occurred seven years ago to our force in Somalia, where 18 American soldiers died. No one at the top seems to have learned much from Somalia, which happened at the beginning of President Clinton's term. Now, days before the election, he and his gang of national security know-it-alls have made the same mistakes again in Yemen.

In both instances, at the highest level -- the White House, State Department, Pentagon, Intelligence Community and Central Command -- the civilian and uniformed bureaucrats screwed up big time.

Simply stated, the right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing, basic security measures were ignored, and people died. No one played from the same sheet of music, and the final tune -- "Taps" -- was not a happy sound to the loved ones of the fallen or to many concerned citizens.

In Somalia, while State was into getting out of that war-ravaged land, the Pentagon jumped in with all guns blazing. Sheriff Wyatt Clinton had impulsively changed the mission from feeding to fighting by ordering the Rangers to nail a two-bit gang leader.

When Army Gen. Thomas Montgomery asked for tanks to protect his forces in Mogadishu, his request was denied -- since we supposedly were on our way out. Gen. Montgomery went-along-to-get-along; then Ranger task-force leader Gen. William Garrison set so clear a pattern for his opponent while conducting seven identical raids that he might as well have had the Rangers flashing "here we come" in neon. So once the rebel trap slammed shut, there was no U.S. armor waiting in the wings.

Like our Rangers in Somalia, our sailors on the Cole were fed into the fire like a gas-soaked log -- even though Intelligence had warned of an attack on a U.S. warship and State had closed its embassies in the region because of a danger alert just days before the Cole arrived.

Central Command not only ignored these reports -- never upgrading its threat level (re: the Port of Aden) from green to red as it shot up the thermostat -- it failed to conduct basic security checks of harbor workers in Aden.

Had the Cole's skipper known the risk, surely he'd have taken security precautions to identify and destroy any terrorist craft before it closed within a thousand yards of his ship!

Now Navy brass and their spinners are making more story revisions concerning the Cole than the Oval Office defenders made during the Siege of Monica.

First they said the attack occurred at 12:20 p.m.; a week later this was revised to 11:18 a.m. Next they said the Cole was mooring when attacked. Now word is the ship was tied up at the refueling dock for more than two hours. Right after the incident, the party line was that the suicide craft was part of the harbor-boat operation and that the terrorists had used the mooring as a ruse to mask their attack. Why the sudden switch in stories? Was the Cole's security detail asleep at the switch?

Navy boss Adm. Vern Clark initially said the ship went to Aden to be refueled. Now the Navy's admitting the Cole had 240,000 gallons of fuel aboard when it arrived at Aden, enough to make it to low-risk Oman -- one of the world's biggest gas stations -- with at least a quarter tank to spare.

Why would the Navy take such a high risk in such a dangerous port only to top off and pick up some fresh vegetables, an exercise that included notifying every vendor -- and all their terrorist cousins and brothers -- of the ship's arrival?

Navy insiders say with bitterness that the Cole sailed into Aden to win the hearts and minds of the Yemeni brass because the State Department sees it as a strategic asset. But the folks at State were hunkered down, bunker-safe at the very time our sailors were being blown to kingdom come.

If the sailors killed in Yemen had leaders who weren't into repeating the same bloody mistakes over again, they'd still be alive. The new administration must give learning from the past maximum priority.