The Obama administration shut down 22 diplomatic missions last weekend in response to a terrorist threat.
The drastic action was prompted by the interception "several weeks ago" of a conference call between al-Qaida leader Ayman al Zawahiri, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, who heads al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQIP) and other al-Qaida subchiefs.
"All you need to do is look at that list of places we shut down to get a sense of who was on the phone call," a U.S. intelligence officer told reporters Eli Lake and Josh Rogin.
Still, the broadness of the terror alert "mystifies experts," the McClatchy Newspapers said. "It's crazy pants," said former State Department counterterrorism adviser Will McCants.
It made sense to close down our embassy in Yemen, where AQIP is based, analysts told reporter Hannah Allam. But how "does it make sense for the State Department to close embassies as far afield as Mauritius or Madagascar, where there's been no visible jihadist activity?" she wrote. "And why is it that countries that weathered numerous terrorist attacks -- Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, for example -- were excluded or allowed to reopen quickly?"
Hyping the intercepted message is "basically just telling al-Qaida how we're onto them," former CIA officer Mike Baker told Fox News.
"We just showed our hand, so now they're obviously going to change their position on when and where" to attack, said former CIA analyst Nada Bakos, who was part of the team that hunted Osama bin Laden.
Al-Qaida knew we'd be listening in, and took advantage of it, said Boston University Prof. Angelo Codevilla, a former staffer on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The shutdown proceeds from "the assumption the terrorists 'chatter' amongst themselves blissfully ignorant of what anyone who cares to look knows about NSA's reach," he said. But "the terrorists who have bitten us have not chattered, while those who chatter do not bite."
If al-Qaida's objective was "to sow fear and disrupt U.S. operations, then its threat is already a success," said Sara Sorcher of the National Journal.
"There has been no large-scale attack, yet al-Qaida is reaping the benefits of a free public-relations boost as news reports swirl about an impending 'strategically significant' plot," she wrote.
The announcement came a day after CNN reported the CIA was going to extraordinary lengths to keep "dozens" of CIA operatives who survived the attack on our consulate in Benghazi on 9/11/2012 from talking. The administration is changing the names of survivors and hiding them around the country, charged Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-SC, a former federal prosecutor.
The day before that, CNN had broadcast an interview with Ahmed Abdu Khattala, the head in Benghazi of the Islamist militia which claimed credit for the attack. He'd be happy to talk to the Americans, but the FBI hasn't contacted him, he told reporter Arwa Damon.
The furor over closing the diplomatic missions diverted attention from the CNN scoops, and from a Reuters story Monday the DEA is using information gleaned from NSA data sweeps to launch prosecutions of American citizens.
The announcement's timing was so convenient for President Barack Obama, it reminded them of the 1997 David Mamet film "Wag the Dog," in which the president is caught in a sex scandal a few days before the election, said the editors of Investors Business Daily. To distract attention from it, a political spin doctor (Robert De Niro) works with a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) to concoct a phony war with Albania.
For some, life imitated art the following year, when President Bill Clinton ordered a cruise missile strike on the al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, where, it was suspected, chemical weapons were secretly being manufactured.
The cruise missile strike took place two weeks after our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed, three days after President Clinton admitted "an improper physical relationship" with Monica Lewinsky.
He was manufacturing aspirin, the owner of the al Shifa plant said. Evidence of that -- but not of nerve gas production -- was found in the wreckage.
Life may be imitating art again, IBD's editors suspect.
"If we're on the eve of a possible '9/11 junior,' what on earth is the president of the U.S. doing going on the 'Tonight Show' for the umpteenth time?" they asked.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (email@example.com, 412-263-1476).