Intelligence regarding al Qaeda plans to attack U.S. embassies, officials, and interests last Sunday was known for months by U.S. intelligence agencies but was used only recently to trigger the closure of embassies and issuance of public warnings of impending attacks.
Al Qaeda “chatter” about coming terrorist operations, mainly against 22 U.S. embassies and consulates, and threats to attack or bomb officials in the Middle East and elsewhere was widely reported in classified intelligence reports over several months. The report said an attack was planned for Sunday, although no attack was carried out.
The intelligence was based on electronic surveillance of al Qaeda communications indicating some type of spectacular bombing or other attacks was being planned and would in fact be carried out very soon.
The timing of the administration’s announced closure of numerous U.S. embassies in the Middle East has raised concerns among some U.S. officials that the Obama administration is politicizing intelligence to distract attention from the Benghazi and other scandals.
“Why is this coming out now?” asked one official with access to terrorist threat data. “Is the administration trying to suck up news coverage with the embassy threats to distract attention from what the CIA was doing in Benghazi?”
Press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at the White House Monday that “we take the threat very seriously and have taken action because of that.”
“I’m not in a position to discuss specific intelligence, but we believe that this threat is significant, and we are taking it seriously for that reason and have taken the actions that the State Department announced out of an abundance of caution and will continue to monitor this and take action as necessary,” Carney said.
Former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra said he is concerned that the administration may be politicizing intelligence because “they have politicized everything.”
“If there is any hint at all that this [latest terror threat] was politicized, it would be absolutely outrageous,” Hoekstra said in an interview.
“In an era of ‘phony’ scandals, let’s hope no one is playing politics with national security and threat alerts,” Hoekstra told the Washington Free Beacon, referring to President Obama’s recent dismissal of Benghazi and other administration scandals as “phony.”
A former White House intelligence official said suggestions the terror alert was hyped deserve the attention of the House and Senate intelligence oversight committees.
The former official said national security policymakers traditionally weigh what to do in response to indications and warning intelligence through careful internal discussion.
“There usually comes a time when you have to decide whether the intelligence is something you act on, and that can always be a tough call, even without politicization,” the former official said.
For the Obama administration, the type of politicization of intelligence that has taken place under the president has created a situation where the average person has little confidence in claims that terrorists are planning major attacks.
“They have debased the coinage of the realm: trust,” the former official said.
The former official said the administration’s response to the Benghazi attack of Sept. 11 is a case in point.
“If you would lie about Benghazi and make up the story about the cause being a YouTube video, what else wouldn’t you do?” he asked.
Great harm has been done to the credibility of U.S. intelligence agencies by politicizing intelligence and one effect is that when terrorist alerts are issued, people question the government’s motives, the former official said.
“In that context, I think we’ve reached the point where the two congressional intelligence oversight committee should take a look into this, just to put the public’s mind at rest,” the former official said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” that he met recently with Vice President Joseph Biden on the terrorist threat.
“It is scary,” Graham said. “Al Qaeda’s on the rise in this part of the world. The [National Security Agency monitoring] program is proving its worth yet again.”
Graham praised the administration for announcing the terror threat that he said was different than its response to Benghazi.
“Benghazi was a complete failure,” Graham said. “The threats were real there. The reporting was real and we basically dropped the ball. We’ve learned from Benghazi, thank God, and the administration is doing it right.”
However, one U.S. official compared the recent terrorism alert to the Clinton administration’s cruise missile strike on Afghanistan Aug. 20, 1998.
That attack came three days after then-President Bill Clinton testified before a federal grand jury about his sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
The cruise missile strike missed killing al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and was widely viewed by pundits as a “wag the dog” political attempt by the president to divert public attention from his sex scandal.
Clinton administration officials at the time and years later defended the missile attack as a legitimate attempt to kill the al Qaeda leader.
Full article: Terror Threat Intelligence Not New — Agencies knew of threat to embassies, officials for months (Washington Free Beacon)