While we wait for the other boot to drop
in the Arabian Peninsula
we have this...
Best. Headline. Ever. MT @gregorydjohnsen: quote of the day from @will_mccants: "It’s crazy pants – you can quote me" http://t.co/Ht4TMPWTkwBroad U.S. terror alert mystifies experts; ‘It’s crazy pants,’ one says
— Kathryn Peters (@katyetc) August 7, 2013
By Hannah Allam
McClatchy Washington Bureau
U.S. officials insisted Tuesday that extraordinary security measures for nearly two dozen diplomatic post were to thwart an “immediate, specific threat,” a claim questioned by counterterrorism experts, who note that the alert covers an incongruous set of nations from the Middle East to an island off the southern coast of Africa.
Analysts don’t dispute the Obama administration’s narrative that it’s gleaned intelligence on a plot involving al Qaida’s most active affiliate, the Yemen-based Arabian Peninsula branch. That would explain why most U.S. posts in the Persian Gulf are on lockdown, including the U.S. embassy in Yemen, which on Tuesday airlifted most of its personnel to Germany in an “ordered departure,” the government’s euphemism for an evacuation.
[...] If ordinary Americans are confused, they’re in good company. Analysts who’ve devoted their careers to studying al Qaida and U.S. counterterrorism strategy can’t really make sense of it, either. There’s general agreement that the diffuse list of potential targets has to do with either specific connections authorities are tracking, or places that might lack the defenses to ward off an attack. Beyond that, however, even the experts are stumped.
Take this sampling of reactions from prominent al Qaida observers:
“It’s crazy pants – you can quote me,” said Will McCants, a former State Department adviser on government extremism who this month joins the Brookings Saban Center as the director of its project on U.S. relations with the Islamic world.
[...] In the absence of specifics about what the Obama administration refers to as a “specific threat,” seasoned analysts were reluctant to comment because there’s so little insight into the government’s decision-making. Instead, a mix of speculation and conspiracy theory fills the void.
Online pundits parsed the timing: Did it have to do with President Barack Obama’s birthday Sunday? (Doubtful.) Or the 15th anniversary of terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa? (But none of the three targeted embassies are closed this time.) Perhaps the closings were timed to the Islamic holiday coming up this weekend? (Posts in Muslim countries would be closed, anyway.)
[...] One tweet making the rounds in the counterterrorism Twitter sphere suggested that al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula “used to have a director of external ops, one of whose overseas recruits was from Mauritius.” That claim – based on the IP address of a user in a now-defunct jihadist forum – was impossible to corroborate.
“There have been cases where jihadis have shown up in random countries,” Zelin said. “But who really knows, honestly?”
Even darker scenarios were floated: Did recent al Qaida prison breaks free veteran fighters who’d be eager to carry out a sophisticated, multi-country attack? Was the U.S. government drumming up a threat to justify the extensive surveillance network of the National Security Agency? Or, conversely, was it jihadists planting a decoy threat now that they’ve been tipped off to the existence of the NSA programs?
Analysts said they’d hold out for hard facts before commenting.
“I’ve been ignoring all of it because there’s an infinite range of possibilities,” said Gartenstein-Ross. “It would be like speculating on the reboot of the ‘Star Wars’ series.”