There’s a part of me that thinks this might be credible and serious.
After all, between Iraq, Pakistan, and Libya, up to 1,750 men have just escaped prison, and extremists claim responsibility for the first two prison breaks. That’s a lot of men running around who might make mischief (though you’d think it would take a bit of time to organize after the breaks).
That said, there are aspects of this that remind me of the politicized alert surrounding the April 2012 thwarting of our own plot in Yemen (which was rolled out in May 2012, well after any threat had subsided). There’s John Pistole’s ostentatious boosting of AQAP bomb-maker Ibrahim al-Asiri as “our greatest threat.”
The use of a new explosive has been previously reported, but Pistole continued with less familiar details about Underwear 2 that reflect the growing sophistication of Asiri’s sinister craftsmanship. He said the device included redundancy, by mean of two different syringes to mix liquid explosive compounds–”a double initiation system,” apparently a response to a failure of Abdulmutallab’s initiation process. In essence, Pistole said, “they made two devices.”
Finally, Pistole said, the new bomb was encased in simple household caulk in an effort to trap vapors that might alert any bomb-sniffing machines or dogs that did happen to be capable of identifying the explosive.
“So you really have a twisted genius in Yemen,” Ross observed. “That is our greatest threat,” Pistole replied. “All the intel folks here [at the forum] know that is a clear and present danger.”
Similar sensationalized reporting preceded and followed the exposure of the UndieBomb 2.0 plot last year.
The security state and its many, many warts is Marcy’s beat and she’s really good at it. When I wrote that the Obama Administration “ha[s] not played fast and loose with issuing alerts like this,” I was thinking about Bush’s habit of raising terror alert levels any time his domestic approval ratings started to decline, but she points out that they may have played around with terror alerts in order to make the security apparatus look good, which I hadn’t considered. She also makes an excellent point, that with the administration declaring war on the AP’s sources over national security leaks there’s conveniently little independent reporting being done on this stuff, so we’re all stuck taking the government’s word for it.
Still, I’m inclined to agree with Andrew Lebovich (and Marcy, as she says above) that it’s probably wise to treat this warning at least as though it may have something serious behind it:
6/? And while I agree that there are cynical reasons for overreaction to terrorist threats, I don’t see how so many can not entertain…
— Andrew Lebovich (@tweetsintheME) August 5, 2013
7/? Even the possibility of a genuine threat, based on intelligence gathered by this massive security apparatus.
— Andrew Lebovich (@tweetsintheME) August 5, 2013
Of course, making the “massive security apparatus,” coincidentally under a bit of fire at the moment, look useful/important may be the impetus behind issuing the alert, if you’re inclined to be cynical about it.
And then there’s the Republicans.
In the normal world, as well as in the Republican world, when a US embassy is attacked by terrorists, and people are hurt and killed in the process, that’s a terrible thing. However, here is where reality and Republicanality diverge, as they so often do: when the administration gets wind of a potential terrorist plot against one of our embassies, and takes the step of closing one or more embassies to minimize the risk of casualties, normal people would say that’s a prudent thing to do. Republicans, however, see an administration (for all cases when the “administration” is run by a Democrat) taking steps to save lives by closing embassies and declare that this is horrible! There are terrorists! Because America is weak under this Democrat liberal appeaser! The terrorists have already won! To wit:
As you’ve heard, the administration ordered a number of embassies, mostly in the Middle East, closed for a few days because of some “chatter” relating to a potential al Qaeda attack. Republican Congressman Peter King said that this demonstrates that “Al Qaeda is in many ways stronger than it was before 9/11,” which is kind of like saying that the fact that the Backstreet Boys are currently touring shows that they’re even more popular than they were in the 1990s. And for some unfathomable reason, Rick Santorum was invited on Meet the Press on Sunday, and when he was asked about the significance of this potential attack, here’s what he said:
Oh, I think it’s a huge deal. And I think it’s really a consequence of the policies of this administration. I mean, if you look at Benghazi and what happened there. We had an attack on our embassy. We’ve seen really nothing other than cover-ups. We haven’t seen anything from this administration really go after the people who are responsible, or the network behind it. And I’m sure if you’re looking at it from a terrorist perspective, you say, “Well, here’s an administration that’s pulling back, that’s timid, and an opportunity to go after additional embassies.” So this is to me a direct consequence from what we saw in Benghazi.
Oh for pete’s sake. Now let’s think about this for a moment. What actually happened here? Well, American intelligence agencies, through whatever combination of techniques they’re employing, picked up information leading them to conclude that some kind of an attack or series of attacks was imminent. The government then decided to take action to make it more difficult for those attacks to take place, in a highly public way that no doubt had as one of its purposes letting the potential perpetrators know that we’re on to them. Unless there is an attack, this would seem like exactly what we want the government to do. Success, right?
But Santorum wants us to believe that this is actually a terrible failure! Sure, we may have headed off the attack, but just the fact there are still terrorists in the world who would even contemplate committing acts of terrorism shows how weak Barack Obama is.
This alert just proves that Obama has failed because Benghazi! Of course if no alert had been issued and an embassy was attacked, then that would prove that Obama has failed because Benghazi! The narrative never changes. It’s impervious to actual events or provable fact, because the implications of events are shaped to fit the narrative rather than the narrative being shaped to fit events.
All is not lost, however. Paul Waldman found this exchange to be quite stupid, but I actually think it’s profound:
But hey, it isn’t just Republicans! Here’s Candy Crowley asking Lindsey Graham, “Since the mission of terrorists is to terrorize, in some sense do you feel as if they’ve already won?” Because we temporarily closed some embassies! Of all the reactions to the threat of terrorism you could come up with, that’s about the least terrorized you could imagine. Something about this topic seems to turn so many people into idiots.
Sure, you could argue that Candy Crowley’s question was idiotic, but I think the fact that she had Lindsey Graham on to answer it, for his 357th Sunday show appearance of the year, is demonstrable proof that the terrorists have, indeed, already won.