Washington U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf states of Bahrain and Qatar were placed on high alert during the weekend because U.S. officials got wind of plans for terrorist attacks on multiple targets in both countries, a senior defense official said Wednesday.
Meanwhile in Washington, Republican senators, including Pat Roberts of Kansas, charged that Pentagon higher-ups ignored an intelligence report that suggested attacks on U.S. military forces were possible before the bombing of the USS Cole.
The targets cited by the senior defense official Wednesday included a school in Bahrain that is attended by American and other international children, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The school was closed indefinitely on Monday.
Other targets included the U.S. embassies in Manama, the Bahrain capital, and Doha, the capital of Qatar, the official said. An unspecified U.S. military site in Qatar also was targeted, he added.
ABC News reported Wednesday that U.S. officials also uncovered plans for a terrorist attack on a military airfield in Bahrain used by U.S. aircraft. ABC said the plan called for a suicide bomber to drive a vehicle loaded with explosives onto the runway and underneath an American airplane and to blow it up.
One senior Pentagon official said he believed there was a terrorist threat against the airfield but he was not certain of the details.
ABC reported that at least one suspected terrorist is believed to be in custody in Bahrain.
During a Wednesday hearing on Capitol Hill, senators said that a Pentagon intelligence expert on terrorism in the Persian Gulf warned of possible terrorist attacks on U.S. forces there before the bombing of the USS Cole, but that higher-ups failed to pass the information to military commanders.
The intelligence official, whose name was not disclosed, resigned in protest the day after the Cole attack Oct. 12 in Yemen, 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.
Later, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon issued a written statement saying the analyst told Vice Adm. Thomas Wilson, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, in a conversation Wednesday that he had concerns about how his views were used by the agency but that he had no information about terrorist threats that would have provided "tactical warning of the attack on the USS Cole."
Yemeni authorities investigating the bombing, meanwhile, have detained a Yemeni carpenter and a Somali woman. Yemeni sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday 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.
Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., said the allegations made by the Pentagon intelligence official would be discussed in detail during a closed-door committee hearing with several Pentagon officials, including Wilson 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.
Pentagon spokesman Capt. Timothy Taylor confirmed in a later interview that a "midlevel" DIA counterterrorism expert resigned the day after the Cole attack, but he would provide no other information about the individual or his analysis.
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, Roberts 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," Roberts said.
Warner referred to a Washington Times newspaper report Wednesday 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.
"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.
Later, in an appearance before the House Armed Services Committee, Slocombe was pressed by Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., for details on threat warnings. Slocombe said the intelligence report referred to in the Times story did not warn of an imminent terrorist attack on a U.S. ship and did not specifically mention Yemen. He said a separate intelligence report that cited a potential threat against U.S. or Israeli interests in Yemen was disseminated to the appropriate people 11 or 12 hours before the attack on the Cole.