Terrorism, Betrayal, and Resilience:
My Story of the 1998 U.S. Embassy Bombings
On August 7, 1998, three years before President George W. Bush declared a War on Terror, the radical Islamist group al-Qaeda bombed the American embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, where Prudence Bushnell was serving as U.S. ambassador, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Terrorism, Betrayal, and Resilience is her account of what happened, how it happened, and its impact twenty years later.
When the bombs went off in Kenya and neighboring Tanzania that day, Congress was in recess and the White House, along with the entire country, was focused on the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Congress held no hearings about the bombings, the national security community held no after-action reviews, and the mandatory Accountability Review Board focused on narrow security issues. Then on September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. homeland and the East Africa bombings became little more than a footnote.
Terrorism, Betrayal, and Resilience is Bushnell’s account of her quest to understand how these bombings could have happened given the scrutiny bin Laden and his cell in Nairobi had been getting since 1996 from special groups in the National Security Council, the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA. Bushnell tracks national security strategies and assumptions about terrorism and the Muslim world that failed to keep us safe in 1998 and continue unchallenged today. In this hard-hitting, no-holds-barred account she reveals what led to poor decisions in Washington and demonstrates how diplomacy and leadership going forward will be our country’s most potent defense.
Download sample excerpts from the book.Excerpted by permission of the University of Nebraska Press and imprint Potomac Books. © 2018 by Prudence Bushnell
With heroes and villains aplenty, this riveting cold tale of the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya has startling relevance. As today’s State Department struggles to survive gutting by its own government, Prudence Bushnell reminds us just how important and dangerous the job of diplomacy can be.
A gripping diplomatic thriller that tells the harrowing saga of the 1998 bombing of Embassy Nairobi, Ambassador Bushnell’s first-person account provides lessons of leadership, crisis management, and policy acumen. The tale dramatically illustrates the terrorism danger diplomats confront daily.
Ambassador Prudence Bushnell is a true professional with the toughness, grit, courage, and compassion that marks the kind of superb leader you want in charge during a crisis. I witnessed her remarkable composure, even when personally injured, and her take-command leadership. This book is important for many reasons. It vividly presents a profile in courage; an understanding rarely appreciated for our foreign service men and women working in difficult assignments; a set of valuable lessons learned; and a case study in leadership during crisis. Every American should read this book.
Prudence Bushnell’s name is not household familiar—but it should be. She was at the center of one of the most infamous terrorist attacks on American people and property in history. And she was a woman in the highest ranks of the State Department when such a thing was rare. She tells her story with integrity and intelligence—and gives lessons on leadership based on life experience.
A Story of Leadership and Fatal Missed Opportunity – Foreign Policy (on line); a review by Ambassador George Moose
Washington being Washington, the expectation is that books born in this city should focus on matters of high policy. On that front, Prudence Bushnell’s account of the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya—and that of its counterpart in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania—on Aug. 7, 1998, does not disappoint. Indeed, her book, Terrorism, Betrayal, and Resilience: My Story of the 1998 U.S. Embassy Bombings, raises important questions about how the Washington policy establishment missed the clues that might have allowed it to foresee, and possibly prevent, those twin tragedies and asks whether a serious inquiry into those events might have avoided an even greater horror—that of 9/11.
But, Washington being Washington, many times books about policy are dry, academic treatises, as often written to showcase an author’s intellectual and analytical prowess as they are to advance an idea. The books in this category are often bloodless. To the extent actual people are featured, they mostly fall into that elite category of policymakers. If other people are discussed at all, it is often not as individuals but as nameless and faceless collectivities—the Afghans, the Europeans, the Africans. To her credit, this is not the book Bushnell, who was U.S. ambassador to Kenya at the time of the bombings, chose to write, a story about an incident that changed her life and should have changed U.S. foreign policy.
Ex-U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Laments Failure to Prevent 1998 Embassy Bombings by Paige Aarhus
Prudence Bushnell understands the curse of Cassandra. Serving as deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 1993 to 1996, she issued an urgent memorandum on April 6, 1994, warning of imminent civil conflict in Rwanda. The U.S. government maintained its position — it would not send help — and the next day, the Rwandan genocide began. More than 800,000 were killed.
Appointed ambassador to Kenya in 1996, Bushnell found herself in a similar situation less than three years later. More urgent warnings followed — this time regarding sub-standard safety conditions at the American Embassy in Nairobi. These too were ignored.
On Aug. 7, 1998, she was one of thousands of victims of a coordinated al-Qaeda attack against American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Twenty years later, Bushnell, a maverick former diplomat who has often struggled to adhere to State Department protocol, is publishing an account of her experiences.
“Terrorism, Betrayal and Resilience: My Story of the 1998 U.S. Embassy Bombings” details the lead-up to the attacks, in which 224 people were killed and 5,000 injured in simultaneous bombings at embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.
The book offers a scathing critique of U.S government shortcomings both before and after the bombs went off, including during a January 2001 trial for four of 21 al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the attacks.
“The building swayed; a teacup began rattling; shards of glass and ceiling tile sprayed the area,” the book begins. “One thought swirled dreamily around my brain as every muscle in my body clenched in revolt. ‘I am going to die….’”
Former U.S. Ambassador and survivor of the 1998 embassy bombing in Kenya, Prudence Bushnell, tells that story in her gripping new book, with the emphasis on resilience, “Terrorism, Betrayal and Resilience.” Her book – Terrorism, Betrayal & Resilience – is amazingly relevant to today’s world, and proof that often the dust must settle before you can see clearly the truth.
Bought your book just before the virus lock-down hit so it provided great reading during these terrible times. First, the writing, organization and pace of your book is EXCELLENT! Congratulations. My biggest disappointment was your unhappiness in Tehran, since I look back on those years with great positive memories. But reading how you were moved entering your senior year, I better understand how you must have felt. As our yearbook predicted, you were destined for great things and it’s clear you’ve achieved that…..
…My many thanks for your incredible contributions over your career and for writing such an informative and moving story