TRANSCOM official takes issue with report of threat to Gulf-bound GIs
Servicemembers and weapons moving toward the Persian Gulf have come under threat of possible terrorist attack, The New York Times quoted senior military officials as saying.
But the report that intelligence officials had received a threat to a specific airline carrying U.S. troops to the Persian Gulf region from a specific airport at a specific time was inaccurate, according to a U.S. Transportation Command official.
The Times reported Monday that military and intelligence officials had said the military had come up with intelligence identifying a specific civilian airline, a specific airport in the United States and a specific date and time of a possible attack.
“That is not true,” said Navy Capt. Steve Honda, a spokesman at TRANSCOM.
The Times also reported that security officials at the airline company took pre-emptive steps, including changing the date and time of the flight and the route it followed.
Honda said that since 9/11, TRANSCOM has increased the amount of information shared with commercial airlines, but denied that anything had changed with respect to security and the buildup in the Gulf Region.
“We have the proper amount of security,” he said. Asked whether anything had changed with the buildup for the Gulf region, he said “That’s in the area of sensitive, classified information. I’ll repeat that we have the proper amount of security.”
The Times reported that the American military has begun for the first time to share classified intelligence warnings directly and quickly with commercial transportation companies ferrying U.S. forces toward the Middle East from here and abroad, the senior officials said.
I’m not aware of any [security level or procedure] that is heightened,” Honda said.
Ivan Eland, director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute, said it’s almost certain that the likelihood of a terrorist attempt on such GIs will increase.
“It’s nothing new for the government to share classified data with private companies; they keep their mouths shut better than people in government for fear of losing contracts,” Eland said.
“If they could blow a plane [carrying U.S. troops] out of the sky it would be a major coup for Saddam Hussein,” Eland said.
Eland said that a relative lull in the number of terrorist attempts during the Afghanistan campaign would be misleading.
“This is not self-defense, so attacks are more likely. In the Afghanistan campaign, fundamentalist Muslims understood that the United States was [angered]. But Iraq — this is perceived as an unprovoked attack on the Islamic world.”
In a full mobilization to war, more than 90 percent of the troops deploying would fly aboard private air carriers contracted by the military.
A number of other new steps to share secret intelligence warnings with the private freight and passenger sector — including a password-protected Web site — are being put in place at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., where TRANSCOM coordinates the movement of every person and piece of equipment in the armed services.
The Transportation Command is establishing the Web site for 24-hour posting of new intelligence warnings that can be read by freight carriers and the airlines.
Tens of thousands of troops have received orders to deploy toward the Persian Gulf with their weapons and the fuel and munitions to sustain any offensive that President Bush might order against Iraq. Troop movements have accelerated in the past few days, and more are to come, according to Pentagon officials.