The July 9 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, reveals the attackers' shortcomings — and the strength of U.S. diplomatic fortifications abroad built to Inman Commission standards.
Four gunmen attacked the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, July 9, resulting in the deaths of three local police guards and three of the gunmen (the assailants' driver escaped). Security mechanisms kicked in when gunshots were first heard, and the gunmen were neutralized within several minutes of the initial attack. Given the gunmen's modus operandi, their weapons and the excellent security measures built into U.S. foreign missions, the chances the attackers could have breached the compound's concentric rings of security were very slim. The three attackers who opened fire on the consulate may have been seeking to penetrate the grounds and kill Americans or take them hostage; considering the getaway driver idled while the gunmen attacked, this may have been their objective. Their tactics, however, were woefully rudimentary if they hoped to achieve something like that. Armed with handguns and shotguns, the men opened fire, first targeting the guards at the entrance, and then according to witnesses began firing at the embassy itself. If this was their attempt to strike at a symbol of U.S. power in the name of radical Islamists, it was more of an embarrassment than a triumphant strike. Of course, this is not the first time such attacks have been attempted on U.S. foreign missions. In December 2004, five gunmen attacked the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, entered the compound's outer wall through a gate that had opened to allow a vehicle to pass, and then engaged Saudi and U.S. security forces in sporadic gunbattles. Even less successful attacks involving only firearms took place against U.S. missions in Sanaa, Yemen, and Damascus, Syria, in 2006. Members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula are thought to have been behind the Jeddah attack. They would have had more support, and probably more training, than their counterparts in the Istanbul attack. Those behind the attack in Turkey most likely were amateurs from a local grassroots jihadist cell. It is reasonable to imagine they had little in the way of resources or training. Storming a U.S. mission in a foreign land is a difficult task even with explosives, assault rifles and training; with only handguns and shotguns, it is virtually impossible. Since the 1983 attacks in Beirut, U.S. foreign missions around the world have been converting to the security standards set forth in the Inman Commission. These standards call for foreign missions to be designed and built to withstand the threats to U.S. assests in dangerous places. High blast walls prevent vehicle-borne explosive devices detonating on the street from damaging diplomatic structures. Standoff of at least 100 feet from the street further insulates embassies and consulates. And finally, the structures themselves are made from reinforced concrete and blast-resistant windows. Within the facility itself there are concentric rings of security that includes a haven to which staff can retreat when the situation outside becomes dangerous. In short, U.S. foreign missions are fortresses that are difficult to damage and very difficult to storm with small arms. The U.S. Consulate in Istanbul was built to the Inman standards and completed in early 2003. The consulate was moved from an older, less-secure building, a move sped up after 9/11. The consulate is basically a fortress on a hill — meaning the four men who attempted to breach it July 9 were on a suicide mission. That they managed to kill three locals will probably not do very much for their cause, and that they failed to injure Americans is a testament to their lack of preparedness and the security features in place at facilities such as the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul.