As two dozen American embassies are closed in the wake of an intercepted Al Qaeda threat, an official has told ABC News that the terrorists had been communicating about a “big” and “strategically significant” attack. Deja vu: during the summer of 2011 there were reports about chatter about a big attack — ending in 9/11. Is the U.S. prepared this time?
(UPDATE) And CBS News reports that “a major plot is under way and that the team to carry it out has been selected and is in place. (Report is underneath ABC News report). ABC News:
On the day that almost two dozen U.S. embassies and consulates across North Africa and the Middle East are closed following the identification of a significant threat from an al-Qaeda affiliate, a senior U.S. official is providing new details about the communications intercepted from the terrorists, telling ABC News that al-Qaeda operatives could be heard talking about an upcoming attack. The official described the terrorists as saying the planned attack is “going to be big” and “strategically significant.”
“The part that is alarming is the confidence they showed while communicating and the air of certainty,” the official said, adding that the group — Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — appeared to have a media plan for after the attack.
Authorities do not know the exact target of the planned attack, according to the official.
“We do not know whether they mean an embassy, an airbase, an aircraft, trains,” the official said.
This take on the communications is confirmed by a member of Congress, as well:
Today on “This Week,” Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-MD — the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee — said the intercepted communications called for a “major attack.”
“We received information that high level people from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula are talking about a major attack,” Ruppersberger said. “And these are people at a high level.”
“It’s a very credible threat and it’s based on intelligence,” Ruppersberger continued. “What we have to do now is the most important issue, is protect Americans throughout the world.”
Ruppersberger also commented on the threat’s al-Qaeda connection, saying “We know that al-Qaeda and other people out there want to attack us and kill us and our allies.”
And this time the concern isn’t only airplanes:
The senior U.S. official said there is concern about devices that could be implanted inside the body of a terrorist.
“We are concerned about surgically implanted devices,” they said. “These are guys who have developed the techniques to defeat our detection methods.”
The official also said authorities were stunned that the group broke “operational security” — meaning they talked likely knowing it would be picked up by intercepts.
Not a good sign. And, most likely, officials are also considering the possibility that this could also be “misdirection” — aiming U.S. attention in one are while planning an attack in a totally different one.
UPDATE: CBS News:
The terror threat prompting the U.S. government to close nearly two dozen embassies and consulates Sunday is the most specific, credible threat information in years, CBS News senior correspondent John Miller reports.
Intelligence officers have reporting from a reliable source that a major plot is under way and that the team to carry it out has been selected and is in place, Miller reports.
The threat information has been described as the most specific and credible since the foiled plot to blow up British planes en route to the United States in 2006, Miller reports. The specificity ends there.
What authorities don’t have is the date, the timing or the target of the attack, which is why they have taken such an approach to warning potential targets, Miller reports.
The threat has prompted the U.S. to issue a global travel alert to all Americans for the first time since the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
White House officials said President Obama was briefed Saturday morning on the potential terrorist threat before departing for Camp David, CBS News correspondent Jeff Pegues reports.
Canada’s high commission office in Bangladesh is closed today as western countries take precautions over concerns of possible al-Qaeda attacks.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s office says the mission in Dhaka is being closed as a security precaution.
It follows U.S. warnings of a threatened al-Qaeda attack and the closure of 21 American embassies and consulates in the Middle East and North Africa this weekend.
U.S. officials said al-Qaeda militants were eyeing western interests, not just American ones.
The British, German, Dutch and French embassies in Yemen will be closed over ‘increased security concerns’, the European countries have announced. They blamed an ‘increased threat’ from Al-Qaeda.
The Christian Science Monitor’s Mark Sappenfield asks whether this is a sign of Al Qaeda’s shrunken ambition:
The closure of 19 embassies Sunday and the issuing of a month-long global travel alert for all Americans abroad shows how Al Qaeda’s threat to the United States has evolved since 9/11 – and how the US response has evolved, too.
he closed embassies are all in an arc that runs from North Africa through the Middle East to Afghanistan, and the information suggests that the primary threat comes from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – the Yemen-based Al Qaeda branch that many experts say is now the movement’s strongest.
Officials with knowledge of the intelligence that led to the closures say the intercepts point to discussion of actual operations, not just typical chatter.
Some Obama administration critics have hailed the decision, with Rep. Peter King (R) of New York, who has been briefed on the threat, telling CNN: “I think the government is doing exactly the right thing here.”
The closures are both a testament to Al Qaeda’s persistent threat and an indicator of how its aspirations have contracted since 9/11.
Indeed, with the drone attacks, world-wide ongoing alert, the death of Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda has been on the run far more than it was before 911. But this does not mean the group is lacking in numbers:
While Al Qaeda has by some measures become larger since 9/11, it has become less cohesive, according to a recent study by the RAND Corp., a defense and security consultancy. This means that the goals and capabilities of the various branches have shifted from attacking the American homeland to achieving narrower goals.
“They want to establish Islamic emirates in specific countries or regions, though they may be agnostic about a broader violent jihad,” RAND terrorism expert Seth Jones said in congressional testimony last month.
Attacks on Western embassies in the Mideast fit the profile, with the bolder Al Qaeda franchises hitting the US closer to home – operations that are both easier to carry out and achieve local aims.
In some ways, this is not unlike the pre-9/11 Al Qaeda. Before the attacks on New York and Washington, Al Qaeda’s biggest strike was against the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, which killed more than 200 people.
But post-9/11 political realities have reshaped America’s response.
Sen. Lindsay Graham says the current threat is scary — and that Al Qaeda is now emboldened in the wake of Benghazi:
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Sunday called the latest terror threat “scary,” and said that an emboldened al Qaeda has been “on steroids” since the last year’s deadly strike on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya.
“I had a briefing with the vice president and it is scary,” Graham said. “Al Qaeda is on the rise in this part of the world.”
“They attacked our consulate, they killed an ambassador, a year has passed, and nobody has paid a price,” he added. “After Benghazi, these al Qaeda types are really on steroids thinking we’re weaker and they’re stronger.”
Top administration officials huddled at the White House late Saturday over a terror threat that provoked the State Department to close more than 20 diplomatic posts and issue a worldwide travel alert.
According to multiple media reports, U.S. officials say they’ve obtained new intelligence suggesting that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is in the final stages of planning attacks against a handful of U.S. and Western targets across the Middle East and Northern Africa.
“The goal is to drive us out of the Middle East…they want to drive the West out of the Mideast and take over these Muslim countries and create an al Qaeda-type religious entity in the place of what exists today,” Graham said. “So this is an effort to terrorize us, to drive us out of the Mideast, and if we ever take the bait and try to come and home and create fortress America, there will be another 9/11.”
CNN’s Candy Crowley Challenges GOP Senator: Doesn’t Terror Alert Mean Al Qaeda ‘Already Won?’ http://t.co/yndNIfx8kd (VIDEO)
— Mediaite (@Mediaite) August 4, 2013
‘Wake Up Call’: Rep. Peter King Declares ‘Al-Qaeda Stronger Than Before 9/11,’ Warns Of U.S. Attack http://t.co/8ynrV68U3v (VIDEO)
— Mediaite (@Mediaite) August 4, 2013
Former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden says embassy shut downs could throw Al Qaeda off its game: http://t.co/DWkIzhpKzE
— POLITICO (@politico) August 4, 2013
our country is on a very high terrorist alert?…. i just wanted to eat my bacon & waffles in peace ????
— Justice Samuel (@lifeofalegend_) August 4, 2013
graphic via shutterstock.com