U.S. embassies and overseas military bases are generally fortified against attack. But the schools where American kids go each day often aren’t.
Neither are restaurants where American business people meet clients, nor the church in Pakistan where an embassy worker and her daughter were killed.
Americans are in growing danger as terrorists search for vulnerable targets, the State Department said Monday. It warned those overseas to be wary of or even outright avoid any place where Americans typically congregate, including churches, restaurants and schools.
“One would have hoped that there would be some respect for a church, but even that doesn’t always exist,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. “So, we all take the best precautions we can.”
Total security is impossible. Private companies and the government need to have workers overseas, and those workers want their families nearby. If families are nearby, they shop, they go to school.
Some U.S. companies with operations in the Middle East or south Asia have in recent months relocated workers’ family members to other locations, like Europe, still close enough for frequent visits, said Vince Cannistraro, a former government counterterrorism official who runs his own security business.
Others are cutting back on the number of Americans overseas, relying instead on more local workers.
Still other U.S. companies are spending thousands of dollars to add guards and improve the physical security at compounds where their employees live, Cannistraro said.
The U.S. military designates many of its bases in Middle Eastern countries and other hot spots as “unaccompanied,” meaning that spouses and children cannot go along. But that is viewed as a hardship, and thus rotations have to be frequent, costing more money.
It can be tricky to know when a place is unsafe.
The Americans killed in Islamabad, Barbara Green, an employee at the embassy, and her 17-year-old daughter, Kristen Wormsley, had only recently returned to Pakistan after the State Department decided in January it was safe. The two, along with many others, had left last September in a departure authorized by U.S. officials.
“The people at posts were looking forward to having their families back with them,” Boucher said. “And at that time, we operated on the best security information we had.”
An additional 14 Americans all private citizens were injured in the church attack.
Terrorists have always looked for “soft” targets when their primary goals military bases and government offices have proved difficult to reach.
Fifteen years ago, in an attack blamed on Libya, two U.S. soldiers were killed in a bombing at a West Berlin disco. In 1997, four American auditors of a U.S. oil company and their Pakistani driver were killed while traveling in Karachi, Pakistan, between their hotel and work.
Military bases and embassies are fortified more than ever before with high walls, concrete barriers, sophisticated cameras, armored vehicles and guards with machine guns.
“If you’re going to exact some revenge against Americans, you look for softer targets. (Journalist) Daniel Pearl was a softer target. They went after him. Businesses are generally softer targets, so they’re at risk,” Cannistraro said.
Schools are one of the biggest concerns, many government and private security officials say. Private schools in many cities are often attended by the children of both official and private Americans.
After the USS Cole (news – web sites) bombing in Yemen in October 2000, some U.S. embassies in the Middle East asked American employees to keep their children home for a few days, so security could be scrutinized. Some private Americans did the same.
Embassy security officers often work with private schools to improve security, trying to ensure, for example, that buses vary their routes each day, one official said.Words
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