WASHINGTON — Remember when President Obama was telling us in his 2012 re-election campaign that he had “decimated” al-Qaida and they were “on the run?”
Well, it turns out that’s not true and probably never was. The al-Qaida network has grown much larger, and more lethal and dangerous than ever, with expanded franchises in a number of Muslim countries and outposts. They are now threatening to attack us, according to “intercepted communications” by the National Security Agency.
That’s right, the same National Security Agency that has been irresponsibly attacked by its critics in Congress and elsewhere for its narrowly selected, court-approved use of telecommunications data both here and abroad to protect us from another 9/11.
Despite Obama’s exaggerated, swaggering claims that he had all but destroyed al-Qaida, they are the ones who are on the offensive, targeting embassies, consulates and possibly key targets in the United States. And we’re the ones on the defensive, shuttering our posts in foreign capitals across the Middle East and North Africa — more than 20 of them at last count.
The administration wasn’t taking any chances after the severe political beating it got over its attempted cover-up of terrorist attacks that led to the massacre at our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where our ambassador and three other Americans died last year.
What message does the administration’s move send in response to al-Qaida’s latest terrorist threats? That they now can shut our embassies down in the Muslim world without firing a shot. Especially at a dangerous time when we’re rapidly pulling out of Afghanistan in the face of a reinvigorated Taliban offensive and have left the Iraqis to fend for themselves against a growing wave of terrorist bombings by al-Qaida and their accomplices.
Four years ago President Obama gave a much-heralded speech as outreach to the Muslim world. And now, four years later we are closing embassies throughout the Muslim world.
“A year ago, the president said al-Qaida is on the run. And now we seem to be on the run,” political analyst William Kristol, editor in chief of the Weekly Standard, said on Fox News Sunday.
The lengthening list of countries where our embassies were closed shows the extent to which al-Qaida’s forces have grown throughout the Middle East and beyond: Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Pakistan, and much, if not most, of North Africa.
Notably, this week is the anniversary of the bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1998, when more than 200 people were killed.
“Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is probably the biggest threat to the homeland. They’re the al-Qaida faction that still talks about hitting the West and hitting the (U.S.) homeland. So we are on a high state of alert,” says GOP Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee. The threat, he adds, is “very imminent.”
Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden, has ordered an attack by his Yemen affiliate, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
In one of those telecommunications intercepts, al-Zawahri sent “clear orders” to Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the head of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and bin Laden’s former personal secretary, to conduct a major attack.
Al-Wuhayshi was recently promoted to the No. 2 post in the al-Qaida command structure. His affiliate is believed to have been responsible for the foiled plot to explode a passenger jet on its way to Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009 and attempts to blow up cargo planes in 2010.
These communications intercepts have revealed the most detailed attack orders in years and demonstrate the growing confidence of al-Qaida’s high command to inflict yet another massive attack on the U.S. or our Western allies.
Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has compared the intercepts to the kind of messages being heard before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“This is the most serious threat that I’ve seen in the last several years,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday.
“What we have heard is some specifics on what’s intended to be done and some individuals who are making plans, such as we saw before 9/11. Whether they are going to be suicide vests that are used, or whether they’re planning on vehicle-borne bombs being carried into an area, we don’t know. But we’re hearing some kind of that same chatter that we heard pre-9/11,” Chambliss said.
The senator isn’t being hyperbolic about the threats. Terrorism experts point out that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is considered to be the most dangerous and effective affiliate of the global terrorist network. That al-Qaida’s second-in-command is in charge of this new offensive has set off red flags at NSA’s command posts.
What isn’t known, or revealed thus far, about al-Qaida’s next terrorist attacks is where and when and what kind of attacks they will be. They’re likely to be carried out in a highly coordinated, multi-target offensive.
What we do know for sure at this point is that Obama’s politically driven assurances during the course of his re-election campaign that, thanks to him, al-Qaida was "on the run," were totally bogus.
For the president to make such an extravagant claim throughout his campaign, based in part on the death of Osama bin Laden, was naive at best and duplicitous at worst.
Meantime, the debate over the NSA’s surveillance methods may be the first casualty of this new information. Thus far, no one is saying specifically how these early threats were discovered, except that they were “heard” from terrorist “chatter” on some kind of electronic surveillance by the NSA.
If these attacks are foiled as a result of the NSA’s use of its telecommunications program, that debate will come to an abrupt end.