How Could This Happen?

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: Two things were clear after Senators laid into top Pentagon officials Tuesday over last month's bombing in Saudi Arabia. First, the military underestimated the threat of terrorism to U.S. troops in the Middle East. Under stiff inquiries from members of the Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary William Perry admitted that U.S. military commanders were slow to beef up security around service bases after another bombing in Riyadh last November. Second, and more damaging, testimony by Perry and others made clear that U.S. officials had not pushed the Saudi government hard enough to comply with the new security plans. Senator John Warner (R-Virginia) said he was "stunned" by the witnesses' inability to describe U.S. efforts to gain Saudi permission to extend the perimeter fence around the Khobar towers, the base where 19 U.S. servicemen died June 25. "In hearings like this, there's a lot of second-guessing and it's unpleasant," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. "But it should be: people died." Extending the Khobar fence might have helped to prevent the attack, he adds, but the measure would hardly have addressed growing anti-American sentiment in the region. "The bad guys always find a way to hit you at your weakest point. The attack would simply have been executed differently." Even so, Thompson says, several military personnel in charge of security are likely to receive letters of reprimand that will effectively end their military careers. -- Lamia Abu-Haidar