Closing US embassies not right message to send

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U.S. diplomatic missions throughout the Middle East were closed Sunday in response to the threat of terrorist attack from al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) which may involve bombs surgically implanted in suicide bombers.

Intelligence warning came from "chatter" among al Qaida leaders intercepted by the National Security Agency, and a tip from Yemeni intelligence.

It was "specific and credible," said administration officials and Members of Congress who had been briefed.

Nothing bad happened Sunday. But closing 21 diplomatic missions sends the wrong signal, worries Rep. Ted Poe, R-Tex, who chairs a House subcommittee on Terrorism and Non-Proliferation.

"Terrorism works -- because we're closing all of our embassies and consulates on one day," he said. "We'd rather be safe than have somebody hurt but the long term answer is every time someone gets information, we can't shut them all down all over the world."

Britain closed only its embassy in Yemen.

"I find this pre-emptive cringing unworthy of a great country, even humiliating," said Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum. "Why do we allow a bunch of extremist thugs to close us down, rather than the reverse? For what purpose do we pay for the world's best military and largest intelligence services if not to protect ourselves from this sort of threat?"

The State Department said 19 diplomatic missions will be closed all week.

"Haven't the terrorists already won?" CNN's Candy Crowley asked Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, Sunday.

They have if the "chatter" on which the closures were based was disinformation, said Boston University Prof. Angelo Codevilla, a former staffer on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

"The intelligence on the basis of which the policy was made suffers from a lack of quality control -- counterintelligence in the language of the trade -- so serious as to expose US policy makers to being manipulated by foreign enemies," he said.

So it could be that "enemies of the United States, well knowing that NSA is listening, decided to give it an earful," Prof. Codevilla said.

Authorities were "stunned" al Qaida leaders talked about the plot knowing they were likely to be overheard, one official said.

Did AQAP discuss an elaborate plot just to see how we'd react?

It might be better if this is a hoax, because administration spokesmen and Congressional leaders were so specific in describing the threat they may have tipped off terrorists about our sources and methods, some intelligence officials worry.

"Militants are now likely searching for the sources of the information to both the U.S. and Yemeni officials, and almost certainly will kill anyone they suspect of working with Western intelligence," said former CIA analyst Lisa Ruth.

There aren't many who know about the planned attacks, "so it won't be hard for al Qaeda leaders to pin-point the sources of information," a former high ranking intelligence officer told Ms. Ruth. "Once that happens, they certainly won't be working with us anymore."

Officials may have said more than they should have about this threat because of what happened at our consulate in Benghazi on 9/???11/???2012, where Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed. The administration is covering up negligence, or worse, Republicans charge.

Another reason for so much specificity may have been to bolster support for the NSA's data mining programs, which have been under attack since their disclosure in June by Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor.

"The fact that these intercepts leaked is disturbing, but the fact that the intercepts are taking place is heartening," said Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations.

But civil libertarian concerns may be heightened by the Reuters News Service report Monday the Drug Enforcement Administration has been using information gleaned from the data mining programs to launch criminal investigations of U.S. citizens -- and is concealing the source of its information.

Benghazi "provided an enticing blueprint for Islamic jihadists," said Erick Stackelbeck, author of a new book on the Muslim Brotherhood.

"If you can't hit America in a dramatic way on its own soil, hit symbolic government targets abroad, like embassies, that are lightly guarded, and watch the U.S. government go weak in the knees and scramble to respond."

Benghazi "made the United States look vulnerable and weak," Mr. Stackelbeck said. Closing the diplomatic missions "just adds to the impression that America is on the run.

Jack Kelly writes for The Pittsburgh Press and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

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