Charles Faddis, a 20-year CIA counterterrorism veteran, says U.S. domestic military bases are "wide open to attack."
"I know exactly what is and is not being done, and, frankly, as an operator, I would say that in most cases, there is nothing standing between al Qaeda and a successful attack on a U.S. military base," Faddis said in an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast the day after an Arrmy psychiatrist killed 13 soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas.
"If you drive around the United States today, other than security measures in place at airports, you will see very little has changed in the last eight years," said Faddis, who has visited several U.S. military bases in the past year while researching an upcoming book on homeland security, Willful Neglect.
"We remain wide open to attack. That is true in the nation as a whole, and it is true on military bases as well," said Faddis, 51, who retired in 2008 as chief of the CIA's weapons of mass destruction terrorism unit. Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he led a counterterrorism team into northern Iraq in search of an al Qaeda base. He has authored two withering critiques of his former employer, most recently Beyond Repair: The Decline and Fall of the CIA, published last month.
“They know how to secure an installation,” says Faddis. “They are not failing to do so because they do not know what to do. They are failing to do so, because somehow, some way, we have convinced ourselves that an attack cannot happen here.”
"You may have to show a photo ID at some locations, but even that is not always true. Even if you have to show an ID, a civilian driver's license will often suffice," he said. "Most bases remain open to civilian visitors with even the most cursory of explanations for why they are coming on post. "
Even the Fort Meade, Maryland, headquarters for both the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command and the super-sensitive National Security Agency, has porous security, said Faddis, who has visited the sprawling post within the last few weeks. "There are no barriers (at the gate)," he said. "If you want to stop, you do so. If you want to go by the gate and onto the base at 60 miles an hour, you do so.
"Once you are on base," the former CIA official continued, "you go wherever you want. There are no armed guards. There are no checkpoints. There is no visible security. Even entering buildings, the only kind of security you are going to see is the kind designed to deter unauthorized personnel who are trying to sneak in, steal secrets. and sneak back out."
An armed response to an intruder or madman, as at Fort Hood yesterday, will come too late to save scores of lives, or to prevent a bomb from being set off, Faddis said. This, despite a General Accounting Office report in June warning that there were "significant weaknesses" and "numerous potential vulnerabilities" to a possible terrorist attack at U.S. military bases.
• Lee Siegel: America’s Mass Murder Addiction• Reihan Salam: The Collateral Damage to Muslims• Mimi Swartz: Fort Hood’s Bleak WorldFaddis, a former Marine, lives near Annapolis, Maryland, and often passes by the gates of the U.S. Naval Academy. Here, too, security is virtually nonexistent, he said. "This is an extremely high-profile target. There are literally thousands of future naval officers jammed together in dormitories there. The sentry at the front gate has no mechanism to compel incoming vehicles to stop. He is alone. He has a sidearm. There is no gate which he has to open to allow admittance."
Unlike a number of key government installations elsewhere, the Naval Academy's gate lacks a vehicle barrier, said Faddis. He finds the Naval Academy's lack of security astounding. "It is 2009. There have been hundreds of [car bomb] attacks against U.S. forces worldwide, and yet we have one of our most storied installations wide open."
Faddis adds: "If you go through that gate in a car bomb, you will be at a target building, i.e. a building jammed with midshipmen, in seconds, literally. The only 'security measure' in place is a slight bend in the road, which is intended to make cars slow down as they approach the sentry. The exit lane, on the other side of the guard shack, has no such bend in it. Apparently, the theory is that you might be willing to stage an attack on the installation, but you would never dare to drive the wrong way on a one-way street."
The Fort Hood attacks and Faddis' findings come six months after two New Jersey men were sentenced for conspiring to attack Fort Dix in New Jersey. "The individuals responsible for security of bases in the U.S. are likely individuals who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Faddis.
"They know how to secure an installation. They are not failing to do so because they do not know what to do. They are failing to do so, because somehow, some way, we have convinced ourselves that an attack cannot happen here."
Jeff Stein wrote the SpyTalk blog at Congressional Quarterly from 2005 through September 2009.