The threat of terrorism has increased since the Osama bin
Laden-masterminded attacks, said a top Kenyan security official who
added that intelligence capabilities have also increased and that the
situation “is under control.” Obama is not visiting Kenya.
latest U.S. State Department Country Report on Terrorism for Tanzania
said that the country has not experienced a major terror attack since
the embassy bombing, but that Tanzania’s National Counterterrorism
Center said the June 2012 arrest of an al-Shabab associate shows that
terror groups have elements inside Tanzania.
Kenya, though, faces
more security concerns, given its shared border with Somalia. Scott
Gration, the immediate past ambassador in Nairobi, worries that security
at the Nairobi embassy has been “complacent” and may not have had
adequate priority in the recent past.
Gration, a retired U.S. Air
Force major general, told The Associated Press this week that during one
period of his yearlong tenure as ambassador the American security staff
saw its personnel numbers cut in half because of things like personnel
changeovers known as gaps.
“When it cuts down to 50 percent,
including the head guy, that’s a little bit much and to me that
indicates there wasn’t the sense of urgency that there needs to be, or
maybe we’ve become a little bit complacent and arrogant, and that became
an issue for me,” said Gration, who still lives in Nairobi and runs a
technology and investment consultancy.
“You know what Kenya’s like. There are grenades going off, in Mombasa, in Wajir, even in Nairobi,” he said.
period of the 50 percent reduction occurred about four months prior to
the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, he said, in which
four Americans were killed, including the ambassador, on Sept. 11, 2012.
The Nairobi Embassy is ranked as a “critical” threat posting for terrorism and crime by the State Department.
“There are 179 countries (with embassies). Take your gaps other places,
but don’t take your gaps in a high threat area. So it was surprising to
me that we would take a reduced capability in a place like Benghazi,
Nairobi and other places, though I think that this has been corrected by
the investigations and by the media” scrutiny, said Gration.
Renner, the State Department spokeswoman for the Bureau of African
Affairs, said she could not comment on specific security operations,
measures or personnel assigned to the Nairobi Embassy.
safety and security of U.S. personnel serving abroad is one of the State
Department’s highest priorities,” she said by email. “We continually
assess and evaluate the security of our missions, and make appropriate
adjustments, as needed.”
Gration also declined to say how many security personnel work in
Nairobi. But an official familiar with the security arrangements said
the embassy has only about five American security personnel, meaning a
reduction of 50 percent would have been two or three people. The embassy
also employs Kenya security personnel. The official said he was not
allowed to be quoted by name.
Though no major attacks against U.S. interests have occurred in
East Africa since 1998, the region has its share of terrorists,
including al-Shabab militants in neighboring Somalia, a group with ties
Also, Kenyan officials last year arrested two Iranian agents said to
be from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force, an elite
and secretive unit, who were found with 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of the
explosive RDX. Kenyan officials have said the two may have been planning
attacks on American, British or Israeli interests.
The new U.S.
embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were built far off the street, with
multiple layers of physical security, making a repeat of the truck bomb
that tore through the street-side Nairobi embassy in 1998 unlikely.
said the U.S. works closely with host governments on security matters.
And the U.S.-Kenya security relationship — in particular the
relationship the FBI has with Kenya’s Anti-Terrorism Police Unit — is
seen as strong.
The threat of terrorism is high in East Africa, as
a result of decades of instability in Somalia, said a top Kenyan police
official. The official, though, said he doesn’t think al-Shabab or
al-Qaida can carry out large-scale attacks in Kenya, and instead have
resorted to small-scale attacks with grenades. The official spoke on
condition he wasn’t identified because he was not authorized to share
Kenyan police last September said they disrupted a
major terrorist attack after they found four suicide vests, two
improvised explosive devices, four AK-47 assault rifles and 12 grenades
in Nairobi’s main ethnic Somali community, Eastleigh.
three dozen presumed terrorist incidents were reported in Kenya in 2012,
mostly grenade attacks, that were generally attributed to al-Shabab,
according to the latest U.S. State Department Country Report on
Terrorism for Kenya. It said Kenya showed persistent political will to
secure its borders, apprehend terrorists and cooperate in regional and
international counterterror efforts.
The Benghazi attack has
greatly increased the focus on security on overseas embassies. The State
Department’s diplomatic security budget increased from about $200
million in 1998 to $1.8 billion in 2008. But a recent Government
Accountability Office report found that there has been little long-range
strategic planning for embassy security.
Gration said he was in
the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia during the 1996 bombing that killed 19
Americans. He was also in the Pentagon when it was attacked on Sept.
Despite the criticism of the U.S. security posture
during a two-month period in Nairobi, he said: “I truly believe the
State Department is doing a great job. They’re working hard. There was
some small aspects of things that I disagreed with.”
Gration was a
national security adviser to Obama’s first presidential campaign and
resigned his job as ambassador in June 2012 ahead of a U.S. government
audit critical of his leadership.
Gration said that as he’s
thought about security over the years, he’s concluded that it’s
impossible to protect oneself completely.
“So yes we’re still
vulnerable when we’re overseas or in America to an attack, and it can be
well organized, or it can be disorganized and they can still do a lot
of damage,” Gration said. “So it’s a false security to think we can ever
be free of attacks against our interests overseas or even in the