The Foreign Service Journal - March 2014 - page 33

MARCH 2014
Prelude to a Disaster
In one of the most horrific events
in U.S. diplomatic history, on the
morning of Aug. 7, 1998, suicide
bombers parked trucks loaded
with explosives outside the embas-
sies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi
and almost simultaneously deto-
nated them. In Nairobi, at least 212
people were killed, and an estimated
4,000 wounded; in Dar es Salaam,
the attack killed at least 11 and
wounded 85.
Prudence Bushnell,
a career
FSO, was ambassador to Kenya at
the time. She had repeatedly warned
the State Department about gaps
in the embassy’s security, but to no
avail—as she recounts in this section
n the 1990s, President Bill Clinton felt compelled to give
the American people their peace dividend, while Congress
thought that now that the Cold War was over, there was no need
for any significant funding of intelligence, foreign affairs or
diplomacy. There were discussions about whether we needed
embassies at all now that we had 24-hour newscasts, e-mail, etc.
[House Speaker] Newt Gingrich and Congress closed the federal
government a couple of times. Agencies were starved of funding
across the board.
Needless to say, there was no money for security. Funding
provided in the aftermath of the bombing of our embassy in Bei-
rut in the 1980s that created new building standards for embas-
sies and brought in greater numbers of diplomatic security
officers dried up.
As an answer to the lack of funding, the State Department
stopped talking about need. For example, when we had inad-
equate staff to fill positions, State eliminated the positions. If
there’s no money for security, then let’s not talk about security
needs. The fact of increasing concern at the embassy about
crime and violence was irrelevant in Washington. So was the
condition of our building.
The first day I walked into the chancery, I knew something
had to be done. Here was an ugly, brown, square box of con-
crete located on one of the busiest street corners in Nairobi.
We were situated across the street from the train station. Street
preachers, homeless children, muggers, hacks and thousands of
pedestrians came by our threshold every day. The security offset
prescribed by the Inman Report in the aftermath of the truck
bombing of our embassy in Beirut was non-existent. Three steps
from the sidewalk and you were in the embassy.
In the back we shared a small parking lot with the Coopera-
tive Bank, which was a 21-story building. We may have had
about 20 feet of offset from the rear parking lot, but no more.
We had an underground parking lot, which was inadequate,
and we were squatting on some space in the front, but that was
I had learned before I got to Nairobi that the Office of Foreign
Buildings Operations, now Overseas Building Operations, was
planning [to spend between four and seven million dollars on]
renovation of this building that was unsafe and much too small
for us. Having spent three years in [the Bureau of] African Affairs
dealing with an assortment of disasters, I thought it was dumb to
invest more capital in a building that would never be considered
safe. There just was no way to protect the building. I suggested
that FBO sell it and pool the proceeds with the money proposed
for the renovations to buy a new site. Washington’s response was
somewhere between “Are you nuts?!” and “Get out of the way,
the renovation train has already left the station.”
In 1997, I was told that we were under what was deemed to be
Zweifel/Creative Commons
The Memorial Park Embassy bombing site in Nairobi was opened in 2001 to honor those who were injured and
killed in the Aug. 7, 1998, terrorist bombing of the U.S. embassy there.
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