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Analysis of Security of U.N. Compound

Aired August 19, 2003 - 13:34   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Despite its possibility as being a high-profile target -- you heard the spokesperson for de Mello say it just a little while ago -- the United Nations compound in northeast Baghdad was deliberately not as fortified as some of the U.S. installations, military and otherwise, might have been.
Joining us from Washington to talk about protecting such a thing as a United Nations outpost in such a place is Kelly McCann, our security analyst.

Kelly, good to have you with us. Before we get down and get into the specifics of the lay of the land there using some of our satellite imagery, the U.N. really has to walk a tightrope between securing its installations, protecting its people and then doing its mission.

J. KELLY MCCANN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: There's no doubt. I mean, obviously, they are not and don't want to portray themselves as a military entity. So, they run a risk in any kind of war-torn place that they work at -- Sierra Leone, for example, in East Timor, in Bosnia, in Kosovo -- they run a very, very real risk of eventually being targeted. Now, that's not been the pattern previously, Miles, but unfortunately today it was.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's talk specifics now. We're going to go to our satellite imagery right now, zoom in on Iraq and specifically this northeastern part of Iraq where the former Canal Hotel, the location of the United Nations compound is. And one thing to point out here, we're talking about a place that is right in the middle of a city. That in and of itself is a problem, isn't it, Kelly?

MCCANN: It absolutely is, because as we know, with porous borders in a war-torn kind of place, it's hard to control someone coming into the country. But when you get into an urban area, Miles, it's very difficult to control anybody's movement -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Yes, looking at this compound -- and hopefully, you can see well the monitor here, and I don't know that you've had a chance to study this in advance. But just off the top of your head, it looks like it's fairly well separated from the neighborhood around it. That's good, right?

MCCANN: It is good, but still there has to be, first, a level of organization, Miles. As you look at the building here and you look at the number of roads that come in there, there has to be some kind of vehicle registration process. In other words, at the checkpoints that are being numbered right there, when you see these entrance points, how would you know what vehicle to let in and what vehicle to refuse? I mean, what kind of process and what do you do with the traffic that backs up as it starts to come in?

Once you've come to some kind of vehicle recognition process, then there has to be an area-of-denial tool. If you look at the No. 1 and you go forward, maybe that would be a two-foot-by-two-foot trench that would be dug across that road that would absolutely preclude a vehicle from running past it.

If you were allowed to pass, then steel plates would be put on and the truck could pass over it. And then the plate would be removed, and the next vehicle might be checked for bombs, et cetera.

Once you go a little bit closer and you get inside there, then you'd have fixed-point surveillance detection by the guards. They would be at the outposts of those buildings, similar to where you're putting the highlighted areas. And they'd be looking for patterns of normalcy. In other words, how many times do particular vehicles pass by? Is there photograph-taking? Do they watch the changing of the guard if there's a demonstrable security effort in that regard?

O'BRIEN: Kelly, let me ask you this quickly, too. If you had your druthers in a place like that, would you extend the compound out even further, like that?

MCCANN: Well, absolutely. But, again, the U.N., what you just said, it runs contrary to what they want to appear to be, which is accessible to the people. So, in that area, in the box that you just drew for instance, we'd want to have security patrolling. You'd want to have Humvees or other military vehicles in and around that buffer area, who would go up and ask people what they were doing, who would be on the lookout for people who would be conducting surveillance.

Now, how important is surveillance, Miles? If you look at it, a truck bomb was blown up near the highest-ranking U.N. official's office, which had to mean that they confirmed he was in the office, that he was literally in his office based on where the bomb placement is purportedly, you know, to have been taken place. So, there had to have been eyes on target somewhere in there.

Now, once you've got all of this kind of thing going on -- these buffer areas, these vehicle registrations, the area-denial tools -- then you have to say, well, we want to model success, but we have to consider failure. What would we do to mitigate a bomb blast? That would go to closer to the building, Miles. If you were to draw a box, for instance, right around the actually physical confines of the compound, that would go to truncated landscaping, so that if there was a blast of any significance, the bomb blast wave propagation would basically crash into those and be directed away from the building. The glass would be...

O'BRIEN: You're talking about like Jersey barriers, those concrete barriers we're familiar with, that kind of thing, right?

MCCANN: You can definitely put in Jersey barriers that would redirect the blast, or you could dig a trench -- actually a trench on a grade where it would actually blast outwards away from the building. The glass -- the glass would be sandwiched between Mylar, so that if it did break, it would not break apart and become flying missiles.

There are other procedures that have to be taken in, for instance, standoff distance. In this particular case, standoff was not allowed. In other word, trucks were allowed to come directly in there. And during a war -- in a war country like this where it's kind of torn up, Miles, where you see that area you drove right in, maybe cement trucks pass in and out of there fairly frequently, because they're pouring foundations, they're refurbishing -- a very, very difficult security situation -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: So, the bottom line here is, you've reached a conundrum. As a security person, you'd tell the U.N. to do just what we just talked about, and the U.N. would probably say, no thanks.

MCCANN: I've lived it, Miles. I have actually been in the situation where we have offered those kinds of inputs and been pretty adamant about it, only to be pushed back and to be told, no, we can't do that because of any number of reasons -- accessibility to the public, people have to feel like they can come in and be with the U.N., et cetera. So, it is a very, very difficult situation.

You would not find the same situation over at the coalition provisional authority, because that, in a security matrix, a threat matrix, obviously would be at a higher priority target than the U.N., which is exactly what drives people to the softer target -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right, one other thought from you. We talked about this a little while ago. Just the hallmark of an al Qaeda attack is a suicide bomb inside a vehicle. What's your gut tell you? Is al Qaeda at work here? Or is this copycat?

MCCANN: You've known me way too long to ask that question. My gut tells me to not say anything until I know more.

O'BRIEN: All right. But interesting that the car bomb has surfaced inside Iraq, isn't it?

MCCANN: There is no question, Miles. But we also know that terrorist groups look and learn. And one of the cheapest and easiest tactics, techniques and procedures that you can get -- especially when explosives are basically available anywhere -- would be a truck bomb. So, it's not, I don't think, by itself indicative of much.

O'BRIEN: Kelly McCann, we have known you a long time and we do appreciate it. You always help out us in these difficult instances.


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