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Source: No punishment for USS Cole commander
Review of Mideast security due out this week
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Navy's top admiral has decided the commanding officer of the USS Cole should not be punished, despite his failure to implement some 30 security measures on the day the Cole was bombed in Yemen, a senior Pentagon official told CNN on Monday.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Vern Clark, will uphold the recommendation of Adm. Robert Natter, who reviewed the Navy's investigation of the actions of captain and crew in the wake of the October 12 attack in the Port of Yemen.
Natter is the commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, based in Norfolk, Virginia.
According to Pentagon sources, Natter concluded that the actions of the Cole's skipper, Cmdr. Kirk Lippold, while not perfect, fell within the acceptable range of conduct expected from a ship's commander. He further concluded that even if all of the security measures had been perfectly implemented, they would have made little difference given the circumstances of the attack.
No zero-defect standard
"Our standard is not perfection," one Navy official familiar with the investigation told CNN on Sunday. "It's not zero-defect, somewhere between good and outstanding."
If Lippold's actions fell within that range, and nothing he failed to do would have prevented or mitigated the attack, then no punishment is warranted, the official said.
The USS Cole was attacked last fall in Yemen by suicide bombers in a small boat that appeared to be one of many work boats assisting the ship.
The blast from the small boat blew a 40-foot hole in the port side of the billion-dollar warship, killing 17 sailors and wounding 39 others.
Defense Secretary William Cohen is planning to order a separate review to look at whether high-ranking officers should be held accountable for sending the Cole to refuel in Yemen, a country the U.S. State Department has labeled a "safe haven" for terrorists.
The results of the Navy investigation and a separate review of security lapses in the region are scheduled to be released this week at the Pentagon, possibly as soon as Tuesday.
What measures weren't implemented
CNN reported last week that the Cole's commander failed to implement some basic security measures when the ship stopped in the Port of Aden.
Sources familiar with the report say it found 30 of the 62 security measures in the approved plan were not carried out, but 20 of those were judged to be unnecessary because the ship was refueling in the harbor, away from a pier.
Nearly a dozen other lapses were considered significant -- including the failure to brief the ship's crew on the threat condition in effect and to warn them to be alert for possible terrorist attack, according to sources.
When the Cole entered port, it was operating under "Threat Condition Bravo" an alert level that warns of "an increased and more predictable threat of terrorist activity" but with no particular target.
The ship protection plan filed by Lippold specifically called for the crew to be reminded of the threat and warned to be "suspicious and inquisitive of strangers" and that "harbor craft require special concern because they can serve as an ideal platform for terrorists."
Sources say that was not done.
Other security measures that were not carried out, according to sources, include:
"Unauthorized craft should be kept away from the ship, and authorized craft should be carefully controlled, surveilled, and covered."
"Identify and inspect work boats."
"Prepare fire hoses. Brief designated personnel on procedures for repelling boarders, small boats, and ultralight aircraft."
Admiral seeks no punishment for Cole commander
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