Chapter 7
The Investigation1

As a result of the Commandant's request for an investigation of the bombing incident by an independent commission, on 7 November 1983, Secretary of Defense Weinberger convened The DOD Commission on Beirut International Airport (BIA) Terrorist Act of 23 October 1983. This move was taken in accordance with the provisions of the Federal Advisory Commission Act (Public Law 92-463). The commission's proceeding were to be governed by Executive Order 12024 and by General Service Administration and Department of Defense regulations.

The charter of the commission stipulated that its advisory function was to be completed within 90 days. Appointed members were Admiral Long; The Honorable Robert J. Murray; Lieutenant General Lawrence F. Snowden, USMC (Ret.); Lieutenant General Eugene F. Tighe, Jr., USAF (Ret.); and Lieutenant General Joseph T. Palastra, Jr., USA.

Also assigned to the commission were both military and civilian assistants to provide advice in various technical areas which would be investigated. Intelligence, planning, operations, special warfare, terrorism, command relations, medical, and international law experts were assigned as full-time staff assistance. Since the substantive information to be collected necessarily included highly classified national security material and because these matters could not reasonably be segregated into separate classified and unclassified categories, all witnesses were interviewed in closed sessions.

The Long Commission visited all major units in the chain of command--from the 24th MAU ashore in Beirut; to Task Force 61 offshore of Lebanon; to Sixth Fleet on board Puget Sound at Gaeta, Italy; to CinCUSNavEur in London; to CinCEur in Stuttgart. Commission members also visited Tel Aviv, Rota, Akrotiri, and Wiesbaden. While in Beirut, the commission met with members of the 24th MAU before it left Lebanon, toured Marine positions along the airport perimeter, and inspected the ruins of the BLT building. In Lebanon as well, commission and staff members met with Ambassador Bartholomew and his embassy staff, General Tannous--Commander of the LAF--and the commanders of the French, Italian, and British MNF contingents.

Some of its preliminary findings were time-sensitive. Upon the commission's return from Beirut, it provided the Secretary of Defense with a memorandum outlining the 24th MAU's existing security arrangements. The commission also sent a second memorandum to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs regarding the Federal Bureau of Investigation's comprehensive report on the nature of the explosive devices used in the embassy and BLT building bombings, with a recommendation that the report be forwarded to the service chiefs as well.

In the belief that a thorough understanding of the circumstances surrounding the bombing of the BLT headquarters required a comprehensive knowledge of a number of separate, but closely related substantive areas, the Commission divided its report into ten parts:

Part 1: Addresses the development of the mission assigned to the U.S. Multi-National Force, assesses the clarity of the mission, and analyzes the continued validity of the assumptions upon which the mission was based.

Part 2: Addresses the adequacy of the rules of engagement that governed the execution of the mission.

Part 3: Outlines the chain of command that was tasked with the accomplishment of the military mission and assesses its responsiveness to the security requirements of the MAU in the changing threat environment.

Part 4: Examines the threat to the MAU, both before and after the attack, and assesses the adequacy of the intelligence provided to Colonel Geraghty.

Part 5: Analyzes the security measures that were in force prior to the attack.

Part 6: Provides a comprehensive recapitulation of the tragic events of 23 October 1983.

Part 7: Describes the security measures instituted subsequent to the bombing and assesses the adequacy.

Part 8: Reconstructs and evaluates on-scene casualty handling procedures, aeromedical evacuation, and definitive medical care provided to the victims of the attack. Also addresses the circumstances surrounding an Israeli offer of medical assistance and examines the basis for its non-acceptance.

Part 9: Addresses the 23 October 1983 bombing in the context of international terrorism and assesses the readiness of U.S. military forces to cope with the terrorist threat.

Part 10: Lists the commission's major conclusions and recommendations.

The commission's philosophy in preparing the report was outlined:

. . . the Commission analyzed those factors bearing upon the security of the USMNF in Lebanon in general, and in the security of the BLT Headquarters building in particular. The Commission began with the premise that U.S. participation


Members of the Long Commission pose with Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger before beginning their hearings into the bombing: (left to right), LtGen Joseph T. Palastra, Jr., USA; Adm Robert L.J. Long USN (Ret); LtGen Lawrence G. Snowden, USMC (Ret); Mr. Weinberger; LtGen Eugene F. Tighe, Jr., USAF (Ret); and Mr. Robert J. Murray.

Department of Defense photo by Frank Hall

in the Multinational Force was designed to support the efforts of the United States and its allies to facilitate the withdrawal of foreign military forces from Lebanon and to assist the Lebanese Government in establishing sovereignty and authority over the Beirut area. The Commission did not question the political decision to insert the Marines into Lebanon and did not address the political necessity of their continued participation in the Multi-National Force following the 23 October 1983 terrorist attack. Although those political judgments are beyond the purview of the Commission's Charter, and not addressed in the report, the fact did not impede the work of the Commission in examining the impact of those policy decisions on the security of the USMNF.

The Commission reviewed the responsiveness of the military chain of command as it pertained to the security requirements of the USMNF. The Commission did not conduct an administrative inspection of any headquarters element during the review process.

The Commission's focus was on the bombing of 23 October 1983 and the security of the USMNF both prior to and subsequent to that catastrophic event. The security of offshore supporting forces was not reviewed in depth by the Commission. The security of other American personnel in Lebanon was not considered, being outside the Commission's Charter.2

The report that the commission delivered to the Secretary of Defense was one of the most comprehensive studies prepared on the history and development of the U.S. presence in Lebanon and the rationale for the Marines' mission.

This history will not review in full the lengthy study the Long Commission published on 20 December 1983. [See HyperWar for the full report. All citations to the Report in the footnotes of this history are linked for ready reference.] Part 10 of the report, "Conclusions and Recommendations," can be found in Appendix E. The main areas investigated by the commission covered the Beirut bombing in general, as well as certain factors affecting the MAUs over which they had no direct control.

The commission concluded that the so-called "presence" mission was not interpreted the same way by all levels of command. These differences, including the responsibilities of the Marines for the security of Beirut International Airport, should have been recognized and corrected within the chain of command. On th expanding role of the MAUs, the commission concluded that high-level decisions regarding Lebanon were characterized by an emphasis on military options and expansion of the roles, despite the fact that the security of the Marines continued to deteriorate as progress toward a diplomatic solution slowed. Decisions affecting the role of the MAUs were taken without clear understanding that the conditions under which the Marines first deployed to Lebanon


had changed; that the nature of the American military involvement in Lebanon had changed, and that the expansion of our military involvement in Lebanon greatly increased the risks of the Marine The commission then recommended a re-examination of alternative means of achieving American objectives in lebanon, "to include a comprehensive assessment of the military chain of command and a more vigorous and demanding approach to pursuing diplomatic alternatives."3

With respect to the rules of engagement, the commission found that a specific set of rules for countering the types of terrorist attacks committed against the embassy and the BLT building had not been provided to nor implemented by the MAU commanders. In addition, the commission said that the Marine mission statement, and the implementation of the May 1983 dual "Blue Card-White Card" rules of engagement, contributed to a mindset which detracted from the Marines' readiness to respond to the type of terrorist attack which occurred on 23 October.

The commission was critical of the chain of command, finding in deficient in several ways:

  1. An effective command supervision of the MNF security posture was lacking prior to 23 October.

  2. The operational chain of command's failure to correct or amend the Marines' defensive posture constituted tacit approval of the security measures and procedures in force at the BLT headquarters building on 23 October.

  3. Although the US CinCEur operational chain of command was at fault, a series of circumstances beyond the control of these commands influenced their judgement and their actions relating to the MAU's security.

In view of these findings, the commission recommended that the Secretary of Defense ". . . take whatever administrative or disciplinary action he deems appropriate, citing the failure of the USCinCEur operational chain of command to monitor and supervise effectively the security measures and procedures employed by the USMNF on 23 October 1983."4

Although Colonel Geraghty had received a great volume of intelligence warnings about potential terrorist threats before 23 October, the commission concluded that he was not provided timely intelligence tailored to his specific needs, that would have enabled him to defend against the full spectrum of threats he faced. In addition, the paucity of HUMINT assets--and the fact that the HUMINT he received was her precise nor tailored to his needs--limited Colonel Geraghty's ability to perceive clearly the severity of the threat he faced. The commission made several recommendations concerning the establishment of an all-source fusion center which would tailor and focus ". . . all-source intelligence support to U.S. military commanders involved in military operations in areas of high threat, conflict, or crisis." The commission also recommended that the Secretary of Defense, together with the Secretary of State and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency jointly examine current HUMINT activities with a view to improving this type of intelligence support to the American contingent in Lebanon and other U.S. military forces that might operate in areas of potential conflict.

Part 5 of the report's conclusions and recommendations deals with Marine security before the attack and command responsibility for the security of the 24th MAU and BLT 1/8 prior to the attack. The Commission concluded that the security of the MAU compound was neither equal to the increasing level of threat nor sufficient to preclude the catastrophic losses suffered on 23 October. The decision to house approximately one quarter of the BLT in a single structure as a response to incoming hostile fire was found to contribute to the great loss of life. Accordingly, the commission held the BLT commander responsible for placing about 350 members of his command in one building. The MAU commander was held equally responsible for condoning the concentration of troops in the BLT building; for concurring in the BLT commander's modification of prescribed alert procedures; and for emphasizing safety over security, in directing that sentries on posts 4, 5, 6, and 7 carry unloaded weapons. The commission softened these findings by recognizing a series of circumstances beyond the control of both Colonel Geraghty and lieutenant Colonel Gerlach which influenced their judgement and actions relating to the security of the MAU. Nevertheless, the commission recommended that the Secretary of Defense take administrative or disciplinary measures against these two officers.

The commission also discussed post-attack security, noting that actions taken subsequent to 23 October had reduced the vulnerability of the MAU to a similar suicide attack, but that security measures were still not sufficient to prevent additional casualties from being suffered by the Marines. Although the improved disposition of the Marines may have reflected the best option available, the commission felt that the Department of Defense should prepare and submit to the National Security Council a comprehensive set of alternatives to the status quo in Beirut.

In a discussion of casualty handling, the Commission praised the speed and skill with which the rescue and medical efforts were mounted. it found little to criticize in the aeromedical evacuation of the casualties


or their distribution to medical centers, but it pointed out that there were an inadequate number of experienced medical planning officers in the CinCEur chain of command. Another medical aspect had diplomatic implications, for it concerned the rejection of the Israeli offer of medical assistance immediately following the bombing. Commodore France had considered accepting the offer, but determined that the medical capabilities of his command were functioning adequately and that the casualty evacuation plans were being implemented smoothly under actual crisis conditions.

In the report's final section, the commission discussed military responses to terrorism. It concluded that the bombing of the BLT building was a terrorist act ". . . sponsored by sovereign States and organized political entities for the purpose of defeating U.S. objectives in Lebanon." It also concluded that international terrorist acts like those which occur in the Middle East constitute a world-wide threat to American and other facilities. Terrorism, the commission concluded, has become an important part of warfare and it is necessary to develop an active national policy to combat it and reduce its effectiveness. The members called upon the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to develop appropriate military responses to terrorism and to work with the National Security Council to develop appropriate political and diplomatic measures. ,p> In conclusion, the commission stated that the Marine force in Lebanon was not trained, organized, staffed, or supported to deal effectively with the terrorist threat in that country. It called upon the Secretary of Defense to ". . . direct the development of doctrine, planning, organization, force structure, education, and training necessary to defend against and counter terrorism."

On 30 December 1983, in response to the Long Commission report, the Secretary of Defense signed a number of memoranda addressed individually to the Secretaries of the Army and the Navy, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Each addressee was referred to a specific portion of the report which came within his province and was requested to report to Mr. Weinberger by 9 January 1984 what action he was taking to correct deficiencies or to implement the recommendations made by Admiral Long and his colleagues. The Service secretaries were referred to the appropriate parts of the report in which the Commission recommended that administrative or disciplinary action be taken with regards to individuals, but in his 30 December memorandum the Secretary of Defense mentioned only ". . . administrative action."

The memorandum to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff dealt with several separate topics, and General Vessey furnished copies to each Service chief for information. The Chairman was asked to outline actions he had taken with respect to the commission's recommendations about military responses to terrorism; casualty reporting; the chain of command and effective command supervision of the USMNF security positions; tailored intelligence; rules of engagement; and post-attack security.

Meanwhile, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) mounted its own investigation. The subject of the HASC Investigation Subcommittee's effort was "Adequacy of the U.S. Marine Corps Security in Beirut." The subcommittee was tasked to examine the U.S. policy objective in lebanon; how the Marine mission contributed to those objectives; whether the risks to the Marines were adequately assessed; and whether adequate precautions were taken to counter them.5

On 12 November, the subcommittee delegation arrived in Beirut to conduct two days of hearing, in which they interviewed Commodore France; Colonel Geraghty; embassy security officer Alan O. Bigler; Commander Richard Balzer and Lieutenant Frazer Henderson, both Navy doctors; Lance Corporal Berthiaume; and Navy Hospital Corpsmen Michael Arau and Donald Davidson.

Earlier that month, the full committee held two days of hearings in Washington, during which time the following testified: General Kelley; General Mead; Captain Lewis Mantel, a Navy doctor; Congressman G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery; Rear Admiral Jonathan T. Howe, Director of the Bureau of Politico-military Affairs at the State Department; Ambassador Dillon; and Gordon E. Harvey, Deputy Director the State Department's Office of Security. In early December, the Subcommittee also heard from Ambassadors Dillon and Habib; four witnesses from the National Security Agency; John W. Hicks, Chief of the Scientific Analysis Section, Federal Bureau of Investigation; Legislative Counsel Jack Perkins, Office of Legislative Affairs, Department of Justice; General Mead again; Corporal Joseph Martucci; Lance Corporals Burnham Matthews and Robert Calhoun, and First Lieutenant Gregory P. Balzer.6

On 14 and 156 December, the Subcommittee heard testimony from Aviation Electronics Technician Talmadge E. Lea; First Lieutenant Glenn L. Wanger; Commodore France; Colonel Geraghty; Petty Officer Kenneth W. Densmore; General John W. Vessey, Jr.;


and General Bernard Rogers, CinCEur. The Subcommittee prepared its report from sworn testimony at these hearing and it was published in two sections--the main report itself with diagrams, maps, photographs, and selected portions of testimony, and a second section that contained a summary of findings and conclusions. Both sections were published and made available on 19 December, a day ahead of the Long Commission report.

The Subcommittee found that inadequate security measures had been taken to protect the MAU from the full spectrum of threats In addition, Colonel Geraghty was found to have made :. . . serious errors in judgement in failing to provide better protection for his troops within the command authority available ot him."7 Commodore France was adjudged to be equally culpable. The summary also stated that high command elements failed to exercise sufficient oversight of the MAU. The House members were particularly concerned that the higher level commanders did not reevaluate the security posture of the MAU when it appeared to become increasingly vulnerable in the weeks before the bombing, and that the high level visitors to Beirut, although they were given familiarization briefings, did not seem to be sensitive to the increased security needs of the MAU. The Subcommittee also called into account the role of the ". . . higher level policy making authority that adopted and continued a policy that placed military units in a deployment where protection was inevitably inadequate."8 The Subcommittee's summary continued:

Both the Marine ground commanders who testified, consistent with the view of the Marine Corps leadership, interpreted the political/diplomatic nature of the mission to place high priority in visibility and emphasized to the extent of allowing greater than necessary security risks. The subcommittee was particularly distressed to find that the security of the MAU was less than that provided at the interim U.S. Embassy in Beirut.9

The Marines in the MAU were praised for their skill, courage, and fortitude, and were considered to be functioning well in a role that was less military than diplomatic. Continuing, the summary dealt with intelligence matters and found that the MAU did not receive adequate intelligence about terrorism, and that the MAU erred in failing to consider truck bombs as significant threats.

In conclusion, the subcommittee in strong terms urged the Administration to review its policy in Lebanon, ". . . from the standpoint of how the Marine mission fits into the policy to determine if continued deployment of the Marine unit, as part of the Multinational Force (MNF) of French, British, and American units is justified."10

Finally, the congressmen stated: "The solution to Lebanon's problem will only be found at the bargaining table. We must not in any way encourage the perception that a solution can be found on the battlefield with the participation of U.S. armed forces."11


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[1] Unless otherwise indicated the material in this section is largely derived from the Long Commission Rpt.

[2] Long Commission Rpt, pp. 17-18.

[3] Ibid., pp. 134-135.

[4] Ibid., pp. 135-136.

[5] U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Armed Services, Adequacy of U.S. Marine Corps Security in Beirut, 98th Cong., 1st sess, 1983, hereafter, House Rpt.

[6] Ibid., pp. 1-2.

[7] U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Armed Services, Adequacy of U.S. Marine Corps Security in Beirut, Summary of Findings and Conclusions, 98th Cong., 1st sess., 1983, p. 1, hereafter House Summary.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., p. 2.

[10] Ibid., p. 3.

[11] Ibid.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation