State Department Global Alert Shows ‘New Normal’ of Terrorism

Al-Qaeda and its allies eye "softer" targets in their own neighborhoods

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JIM HOLLANDER / EPA

A United States flag flies behind a tall fence at the United States Consulate General building in Jerusalem, Israel, 03 Aug. 2013.

Updated Aug. 4, 2013, 5:10 p.m. E.T.: The U.S. State Department announced on Sunday that 19 embassies throughout the Middle East and Africa would remain closed through Saturday “out of an abundance of caution.” Spokeswoman Jen Psaki says the decision was “not an indication of a new threat.” Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday the warning involves “the most serious threat that I’ve seen in the last several years.”

Shortly after militants took hostages and killed 37 people in a January attack on a BP gas facility in Algeria, a White House official told TIME that attacks on Westerners in North Africa and the Middle East could represent a “new normal” in Islamic terrorism. Several weeks later, the bombing of the Boston marathon refocused attention on the threat of self-radicalized lone-wolf terrorists within the U.S. But the State Department’s worldwide travel alert announced on Friday, along with the closure of several U.S. embassies and consulates in and around the Middle East, is a reminder of the new normal scenario.

While cautioning that al-Qaeda and its affiliates continue to plot attacks around the world, the State Department alert specifically cites the Middle East and North Africa, and singles out the risk of attacks “occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula.” CNN’s reporting on Friday suggested that the U.S. officials are particularly focused on Yemen, home to what is now considered al-Qaeda’s most dangerous branch: al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

American officials consider AQAP a greater threat than al-Qaeda’s core Pakistan-based leadership, which has been crushed by a relentless drone campaign. And AQAP certainly aspires to strike the mainland U.S., as detailed in TIME’s recent story on the intense hunt for the group’s master bombmaker, who has repeatedly tried to down U.S.-bound airliners.

But in general, the prospects of a 9/11-style attack within America’s borders have diminished, analysts say, thanks to new domestic security measures and a degradation of al-Qaeda’s capabilities. Localized attacks are easier to stage, requiring less money, planning and international communication. Here’s President Obama making the point in his May address on counterterrorism at the National Defense University:

Today, the core of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on the path to defeat. Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us. They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston. They’ve not carried out a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11.

Instead, what we’ve seen is the emergence of various al-Qaeda affiliates. From Yemen to Iraq, from Somalia to North Africa, the threat today is more diffuse, with al-Qaeda’s affiliates in the Arabian Peninsula — AQAP — the most active in plotting against our homeland. And while none of AQAP’s efforts approach the scale of 9/11, they have continued to plot acts of terror, like the attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009 …

While we are vigilant for signs that [local extremist groups] may pose a transnational threat, most are focused on operating in the countries and regions where they are based. And that means we’ll face more localized threats like what we saw in Benghazi, or the BP oil facility in Algeria, in which local operatives — perhaps in loose affiliation with regional networks — launch periodic attacks against Western diplomats, companies, and other soft targets, or resort to kidnapping and other criminal enterprises to fund their operations.

As the Tsarnaev brothers demonstrated, the terrorist threat within America’s borders has hardly passed. But freelance radicals are a different kind of problem from terrorist groups abroad. The State Department’s alert is a reminder that those groups pose a much greater threat to Americans in their own neighborhoods than they do to major U.S. cities. Welcome to the new normal.

33 comments
Adam_Smith
Adam_Smith

"New normal", if true, carries important implications. The government has indicated that it lacks specific where, when or how details but is acting upon intelligence that as a strategic objective AQAP intends attacks on American interests including embassies and consulates. How does this justify temporary closures, on the order of a week, of the embassies and consulates? It seems to me the logical alternatives are to either close them permanently pending decisive defeat of AQAP or fortifying them as best as may be and standing ground in the interests of maintaining their essential functions. Can we afford to let AQAP decide if our embassies and consulates are allowed to operate? Are they not being given a tool to disrupt our foreign policy without actually lifting a finger other than to send messages for the NSA to intercept?

BobDevaughn
BobDevaughn

What "new normal?" Ambiguous reports of a nonspecific threat in some country in Africa or the Middle East? There are, and have been, regular terrorist attacks in those places for a pretty long time now.


Or better yet, what "terrorism?" If you say there is going to be an attack and there isn't does it seem like you are crying wolf? What about if you are facing a crisis of public confidence in the program that produces the ambiguous nonspecific threats?

What happens if you say there is going to be an attack and there isn't one?

And how on earth does closing embassies prevent terrorism?

a) the terrorists can just wait until you reopen them, and

b) they now know you have intelligence on their plans, and can adjust their communications and tactics accordingly

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

Crying Wolf, Wolf, Wolf

After weeks  under heavy pressure for limitless spying on people everywhere the U.S. intelligence services conviniently detect a "threat" of some undefined future attacks. The "detection", we are of course told, was only possible because of limitless spying on people everywhere

Even some "analysts and Congressional officials" the NYT mentions in one short paragraph find this somewhat suspicious:

Some analysts and Congressional officials suggested Friday that emphasizing a terrorist threat now was a good way to divert attention from the uproar over the N.S.A.’s data-collection programs, ...

http://www.moonofalabama.org/2013/08/crying-wolf-wolf-wolf.html#comments

justagemhere
justagemhere

Why does the U.S. have so many embassies in the MidEast?  I am just curious as to what value-add they provide us?

roknsteve
roknsteve

President Obama never struck a terrorist he didn't like.  Pass the ammo.  The repukes are asleep.

ShawnArscott
ShawnArscott

The new normal is that most people know that the terror attacks are manufactured - the "illite" are up to their old tricks that don't work. The time on planet Earth is for people of peace. All terrorists one and all join us - we are way more fun.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

These attacks are happening, because the terrorists don't fear Obama and the Western Powers. 

jmac
jmac

I'm surprised this article doesn't mention the 500 prison break in Iraq and Abu Ghraib.  Al Qaeda isn't standing still as Syria continues to fester.  

johnff
johnff

Good thing the terrorists are being considerate enough to hold their events on a Sunday, so no one misses work. 

And it helps to have it right after Manning's trial and during the Hunt For Snowden, so that we will all know how valuable it is for our government to pry inot our private affairs. (Yes, I am aware that the government will be using high tech and maybe even Google to read this comment.)

ViableOp
ViableOp

Civilian casualties in the war on terrorism have been excessive.Despite President Obama's assurances that the use of drones to eliminate threats is keeping civilian losses to a minimum, as shown here, the exact opposite is true:

http://viableopposition.blogspot.ca/2013/07/drones-and-civilians-deadly-combination.html


Has anyone in Washington thought that maybe, just maybe, the killing of innocent civilians has annoyed more than a few family members who are looking for reprisal?

PacificSage
PacificSage

"But in general, the prospects of a 9/11-style attack within America’s borders have diminished, analysts say, thanks to new domestic security measures and a degradation of al Qaeda’s capabilities." - Michael Crowley, Time

So when Fox screams "Benghazi" endlessly, and everybody else screams about the invasion of privacy believing the NSA is reading every word they type on their computer......remember.....the USA should thank President Obama for taking the War on Terror, which was successful in New York, and returning it to the Middle East. 

Oooooooh.....so radical!!!!!

09_tm1
09_tm1

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mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@Sibir_Russia Crying wolf? Is that like Russian claims of an open and transparent democracy while they kill and jail reporters who report the reality of life in Putin's gangster state?

Openminded1
Openminded1

@justagemhere It keeps spyies in those countries with diplomatic  status. most countries do the same. 

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

@mrbomb13  

Did they fear Reagan when they blew up half the American Embassy in Kuwait?  Or when they blew up the embassy in Beirut?  How about when they attacked the Marine barracks in Lebanon, in which 241 Marines lost their lives?

You should really think before you moo your talking points.

 

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@mrbomb13 So did they fear us when they blew up the twin towers? How about all the other attacks on embassies during Bush's years?

jmac
jmac

@mrbomb13  Be careful what you write, Mrbomb, or Rand Paul's drone will take you out as you sip your tea in your garden cafe.  (oh, I forget, he only likes the Drone when it can take out those on the border).

jmac
jmac

@johnff  No one is hunting for Snowden.  We know exactly where he is.   He's where he belongs.  

Thankfully, no one was concerned about those wanta-be pilots taking lessons during the Bush years, except the guy who said - oh, blank, it was the pilots.   Certainly, not the President who said to his terrorist tsar, "Tell me Saddam did this."  

Openminded1
Openminded1

@GroverSage Obama had nothing to do with returning the war on Terror to the middle east your time line is wrong  and maybe a bit bias. Now the NSA reading our computers and listening to calls is a good thing and i have no problem with it but again Obama has nothing to do with that. That is just the american intelligence community doing there job and due dilligence , not Obama

Openminded1
Openminded1

@09_tm1 what a moron is that your attempt a humor, that is lost on most of the people reading your crap so why bother. grow up dummy.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@Openminded1@GroverSage 

If you use a laptop, I don't recommend that you stick with an adhesive tape integrated camera and spoil the built-in microphone. It is not prohibited, but may arouse suspicion.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@Openminded1@Sibir_Russia@GroverSage 

Sometimes terrorists  steal with a hobby knife airplane, and RAM them Pentagon.
They want to secretly smuggle a bomb on the plane in body and to harm the United States. This is so or not?