Lessons Learned: Khobar Towers

It's impractical to try and prepare for every potential possibility, but prudent to address those impending attacks based on probability.

In short, all the typical failings were ever present, to include: lack of intelligence, inability to conceive of a unique threat which impeded proper planning, missed opportunities to further investigate known terrorist activities and overlapping protective responsibilities, to name a few.

The report also distinguished the successes of defending the facility. Among them were:

  • The military commander responsible for the Khobar Towers complex had been "very proactive and aggressive in implementing improved security measures" prior to the bombing. Due to the assertiveness of the commander, over 130 new security measures were implemented.
  • Many of the security measure enacted complemented one another as the threat condition increased during the months leading up to the incident. As the defenders awareness grew so did their defensive posture. For instance, threat condition awareness coupled with physical barriers and "serpentine driving control patterns at checkpoints" augmented the security inspections being done when either packages or personnel entered the base.
  • Threat and vulnerability assessments focused on protecting the entire installation in addition to individual buildings and recommendations were made.
  • USAF Security Police were well trained in executing emergency procedures, including mass evacuation techniques, while under attack and performed heroically doing so.

Although the attack did take place and successfully took life and caused hundreds of injuries, without the things that were done right the AAR panel concluded that death toll would have been catastrophic. Instead of 19 dead, it would have been hundreds.

So, how does knowing about the particulars of the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia benefit police and security tasked with anti-terrorism? First, it serves as a blue print as to how to defend a static target (building, complex, school building, or anything of importance that does not move). Second, it illuminates the protection strategy that defense-in-depth measures must be inextricably linked providing a comprehensive defensive plan. Putting a guard at the front door is not sufficient. Having a guard as one component of 20 other measures working in tandem is, for example. Third, as the threat environment evolves security measures must change too. Utilize assessments to lead your defensive thought process when planning. Follow industry standards mitigating the threat(s) you have identified. Finally, imagine the unimaginable. Whenever a spectacular terrorist attack occurs the first comment made by those who were paid to protect is, "We never thought..." It's your job to think or the horrific and unimaginable. I guarantee that if you are not, someone else is.

Here is the least you need to know for this section:

  • The most probable method for a terrorist attack that First Responders will have to address is bombings against static targets.
  • Terrorists have demonstrated they will continuously use what has worked.
  • Anti-Terrorism protective measures against bombings need to be of a comprehensive design and evolve due to the changing environment.
  • When it is impossible to interdict a terrorist attack during the planning stage, then the defenders goal changes from disruption of the attack to mitigating the damage.

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