Monday, August 5, 2013

7 Thoughts on the US Diplomatic Threat

For a number of diplomatic facilities, the US Government has extended the shutdown until Friday. I have a number of thoughts here.

1) The US Intelligence Community appears seriously concerned by the present terrorist threat environment. Media reports suggest that this alert was precipitated by intelligence 'chatter' of a significant nature. To me, this indicates that the target/s of the intercepts (IE - the individual/s being surveilled) are regarded as serious players. Or, in other words, they're not viewed as average dickheads - wannabe Jihadis with a loud mouth. To precipitate such a wide shutdown, the intelligence source would have to be of significant reputability in terms of an existing threat picture (IE - someone who has been linked to verified terrorist plots). Which leads me to point (2)...

2) The available evidence suggests that AQAP is responsible for this latest plot. For a start, ABC News has reported that at least some of the motivating intelligence has been sourced from AQAP's leader, Nasir al-Wuhayshi* (which would gel with my (1) thoughts). In addition, note the specific decision by the UK, France and Germany to close their embassies in Yemen (At least in part, this decision will have been driven by US intelligence sharing + Yemen is AQAP HQ). Regardless, as I've argued before, AQAP has shown an impressive ability to plan, fund and pursue significant terrorist plots. Further, in the context of recent Al Qa'ida linked prison breaks in Iraq and elsewhere (albeit not in traditional AQAP areas of operation), we know that there are a significant number of skilled and ideologically committed terrorists on the loose. In short, this is not an ideal situation.

3) The terrorist cell responsible appears to be active. The extension of the Embassy shutdown provides the best evidence for this supposition. In addition, the absence of announced detentions (if they had occurred the information would have probably leaked by now) suggests that the US also lacks a complete understanding of the cell/s formation - identities, strength, locations.

4) Linking to (3), the unprecedented diplomatic shutdown suggests that the US picked up the plot late on. Had the threat been identified earlier, it's likely we would have seen a more organized and less overtly dramatic increase in security.

5) It's very likely that the ongoing political fallout from Benghazi (please see my thoughts earlier this week) is motivating part of the security response. The Obama Administration is desperate to avoid allegations of a cavalier attitude towards terrorism. At the same time, post-Benghazi, an abundance of caution makes physical sense as well as political.

6) It's also probable that the excited Congressional reaction to this plot has a sizable measure of political motivation. As evidenced by the House's upholding of the NSA's data intercept program, most members of Congress remain committed to providing robust counter-terrorism capabilities to the IC. Yet, these officials are also keenly aware of growing concern among Americans over the civil liberty implications of those same programs. In this sense, by pointing to the apparent seriousness of this latest threat and by suggesting that the plot was discovered by signal intercepts (hint hint... NSA), politicians are trying to defend their continued support for the NSA.

7) Although the diplomatic shutdown was necessary, it nonetheless created another problem- signalling to the cell/s that they have, at least to some degree, been detected. In that sense, the US will worry that those terrorists may re-orientate onto another target before they can be detained or confronted. This concern is at the core of why counter-terrorist agencies are traditionally highly reluctant to publicize warnings on suspected threats.

* - Assuming it's true, I would like to know how ABC News (see video below) found out that al-Wuhayshi was the subject of a communications intercept. If it is true, it represents another massive leak. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be the first time that some attention seeker has leaked highly classified AQAP related intelligence. Let's be clear, when it comes to the callous and unlawful provision of secret information to outside parties, the consequences are often profoundly negative.

Link page for some of my other MENA security focus pieces.

No comments:

Post a Comment