By ROBERT BURNS
WASHINGTON – A Pentagon intelligence expert on terrorism in the Persian Gulf has told Congress that he warned of possible terrorist attacks on U.S. forces there before the bombing of the USS Cole but higher-ups failed to pass the information to military commanders, senators said today.
The intelligence official, whose name was not disclosed, resigned in protest the day after the Cole attack Oct. 12, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
Roberts said the resignation letter was given Monday to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Although it is not classified, the Armed Services Committee said it would not make it public.
Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., said the allegations would be discussed in detail during a closed-door committee hearing with several Pentagon officials, including Vice Adm. Thomas Wilson, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, for whom the official worked.
“What he felt is that his assessment was not given that proper level of consideration by his superiors and, as such, was not incorporated in” the final intelligence reports given to military commanders in the Gulf, Warner told reporters after the hearing.
He would not say how specific the DIA official was in his warning about terrorist attacks.
Roberts said the resignation letter refers to an intelligence assessment in June that apparently predicted a terrorist attack in the Gulf.
“He indicates his analysis could have played a critical role in DIA’s ability to predict and warn of a potential terrorist attack against U.S. interests, and goes further to say he is very troubled by the many indicators contained in the analysis that suggest two or three other major acts of terrorism could potentially occur in the coming weeks or months,” Roberts said.
Roberts said he wanted to know whether the reference to potential for additional acts of terrorism in coming weeks played a role in last weekend’s decision to put U.S. forces in Bahrain and Qatar on high alert.
Walter Slocombe, the undersecretary of defense for policy, who testified before the committee along with Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander in chief of U.S. Central Command, did not directly answer Roberts’ question. Slocombe did, however, indicate the Pentagon had no specific information about a likely terrorist attack against an American target in the Gulf prior to the Cole bombing.
“Information of that kind, if it had existed – which it didn’t – would have been disseminated on the most urgent basis to all the people who were potentially affected by it,” Slocombe told the committee.
Aside from the DIA official’s allegations, Warner said he personally had reviewed nine months of intelligence reports and concluded that someone should have questioned the wisdom of letting the Cole stop in Aden, the Yemeni port where a small boat sidled up to the 505-foot destroyer and detonated explosives.
“I believe that there were enough red flags to at least call into question the decision to stop and to refuel in Aden,” Warner said.
Warner also referred to a Washington Times newspaper report today that the National Security Agency issued a top-secret intelligence report on the day of the Cole bombing, warning that terrorists were planning an attack in the Gulf. The Times said the report did not reach commanders in the Gulf until after the attack.
The National Security Agency, or NSA, collects electronic intelligence such a communications intercepts.
Slocombe, while not confirming any details of the NSA intelligence report, said it was open to interpretation.
“I have seen the messages in question, and I think it is highly questionable whether those messages constitute what the Washington Times’ story says they constitute, in terms of specificity,” Slocombe said.
U.S. military officials have said there were no intelligence warnings of specific terrorist threats against American targets in Yemen at the time of the Cole attack, which killed 17 sailors and injured 39.
Yemeni authorities investigating the bombing, meanwhile, have detained a Yemeni carpenter and a Somali woman. Yemeni sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said today the carpenter confessed to helping two men modify a small boat to carry explosives and the woman confessed to buying the car they used to haul the boat to shore, paying for it with money the two men provided. Charges had not been filed against either person, the sources said.
In opening remarks at the hearing, Franks, whose Central Command is responsible for all U.S. forces in the Gulf, said the Cole attack will not trigger an American military retreat from the region.
“The U.S. Central Command will not back away from this mission,” Franks said. “We will never reduce the risk to our people to zero, but we will reduce the risk to our people in every way we can.”
The Pentagon said Tuesday that in response to specific terrorist threats against U.S. forces in Bahrain and Qatar, troops based there have been put on the highest possible state of alert. The Pentagon would not describe the nature of the threats and said it had not determined whether they were credible.
“We’ve got fairly specific information, but the credibility is unknown,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said.
The threat condition in Bahrain and Qatar was raised to “Delta,” the highest possible level, last weekend, he said.
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