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Admiral seeks no punishment for Cole commander
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The admiral overseeing a Navy investigation into the terrorist bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen has recommended that no one be punished despite security lapses on the destroyer, Pentagon sources told CNN on Sunday.
The recommendation of Adm. Robert Natter, commander of the Atlantic Fleet, based in Norfolk, Virginia, could be overturned by the Navy's two top officials -- Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark and Navy Secretary Richard Danzig.
But Pentagon officials, who asked not to be identified, said Natter's recommendation makes it unlikely that the Cole's captain, Cmdr. Kirk Lippold, or his crew will face any disciplinary action for the October 12 attack.
The officials said Natter rejected the findings of a lower-ranking officer that the apparent suicide bombing from a small, explosives-laden boat that pulled up next to the Cole in Aden harbor might have been prevented or minimized.
The blast ripped a 40-foot hole in the left side of the $1 billion warship, killing 17 U.S. sailors and wounding 39 others.
The lower-ranking officer's report concluded that the ship's captain and crew failed to follow the Cole's own security procedures on the morning of the attack.
At the time of the blast, the Cole was in what is known as "Threat Condition Bravo" -- the second highest of four alert levels -- which requires guards on deck to keep small boats away and mount a close watch for possible attacks during a refueling operation.
Navy and Pentagon officials have praised Lippold and some 300 crew members on the Cole for saving the ship from sinking.
'Our standard is not perfection'
Details of Natter's findings, as well as a separate investigation of military security overseas, are scheduled to be released this week.
According to the Pentagon sources, Natter concluded that Lippold's actions, while not perfect, fell within the acceptable range of conduct expected from a ship's commander, and that even if all of the security measures had been perfectly implemented, it would have made little difference, given the circumstances of the attack.
"Our standard is not perfection. It's not zero defect," said one Navy official familiar with the investigation. "(It's) somewhere between good and outstanding." If Lippold's actions fell within that range, then no punishment is warranted, the official said.
Sources: Some security measures not carried out
Sources familiar with Natter's report say it found 30 of 62 security measures called for under "Threat Condition Bravo" were not carried out -- many of them judged to be unnecessary because the ship was refueling in the harbor, away from a pier.
However, according to Pentagon sources, almost a dozen other lapses were considered significant, including:
Natter's investigation was limited to the actions aboard the Cole at the time of the blast.
Separately, a commission established by Defense Secretary William Cohen and led by a pair of retired military leaders was assigned to determine if security should be tightened for U.S. forces around the globe.
The panel, headed by retired Navy Adm. Harold Gehman and retired Army Gen. William Crouch, found that there were key U.S. security shortcomings in the Persian Gulf region before the attack and will call for improvements in the region and worldwide.
The commission's report does not assess accountability in the Cole attack, but Cohen wants to see if others in the chain of command above Lippold and possibly outside the Navy should be held accountable.
To that end, Cohen plans to order yet another investigation, defense sources told CNN on Saturday. "This review will ask the question: Should there be accountability?" said a Pentagon official who wished to remain anonymous.
Navy officials have questioned whether U.S. intelligence could have provided a specific threat warning for Yemen, a country the U.S. State Department has labeled a "safe haven" for terrorists.
Such a warning might have prompted the Cole to go to a higher state of alert than "Threat Condition Bravo" as it entered Aden harbor.
CNN Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre and Reuters contributed to this report.
Pentagon to review actions of senior USS Cole commanders, sources say
U.S. State Department, Response to Terrorism
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