The aftershocks of terrorist bombs Challenges: Protect U.S. personnel overseas, secure embassies, bring terrorists to justice.

August 15, 1998

NOTHING will compensate for the 12 U.S. citizens, serving their country far from home, who died in the terrorist bombings in East Africa. The nation and its citizens are forever in their debt.

The nation's sympathy also goes to the citizens of Kenya and Tanzania. The targets may have been U.S. embassies, but the effect was war on Kenya, where nearly 250 died in Nairobi and some 5,000 were wounded. The casualties were fewer in Dar es Salaam, but Tanzania, an even poorer country, was equally attacked.

It seems likely that the terror Aug. 7 was the work of a sophisticated and large organization. It may have originated among the Islamic fanatics who gathered to drive the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan more than a decade ago. Any claim that Islamic militants make to common cause with sub-Saharan Africans probably died in the rubble.

If there were heroes to the local people, besides Kenyan and Tanzanian passers-by who pitched in with rescues, it was the 120 Israeli army specialists who flew immediately into Nairobi. They worked well with the Kenyan authorities and rescued many injured and dead Kenyans from the rubble. It is dangerous work they had taught themselves, to contain terrorism at home. They are the best at it in the world, willing at high risk to lend their expertise to others.

Identifying the terrorists is now a high U.S. priority. It requires the FBI and CIA to work together, combining the FBI mission of bringing criminals to justice with the CIA mission of defeating the enemy. The FBI did superior work in the New York World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings, but failed to work well with sovereign Saudi authorities when futilely trying to solve the 2-year-old terror bombing there.

Whether the enemy is the much-publicized Saudi expatriate Osama Bin Laden or some other terrorist, Americans are at risk throughout the world. Somebody knew that the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam are not the most secure and may even have known that they did not conform to the security standards recommended in 1985 by a State Department commission under Adm. Bobby Ray Inman.

U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Prudence Bushnell knew. So did the Pentagon's Central Command. Both had recommended moving the embassy to a more secure building, recommendations the State Department ignored. This would not have prevented the atrocity -- a decision made last December would not have resulted in a new building this soon.

But it points up the scandal of persistent congressional shaving of the foreign policy budget, including State Department operations, for false economies whenever pork is wanted elsewhere. This undermines U.S. influence and, as the nation has tragically learned, can sacrifice the lives of U.S. personnel.

The enemies will not go away. The United States can afford secure embassies. It is time to bring U.S. facilities abroad up to the Inman commission standards or higher, and for Congress to find the money. Otherwise, the terrorists will keep winning.

! Pub date: 8/15/98

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