Monday, August 5, 2013

Embassy Closings, Al Qaeda, and Looking Ahead

Embassy closings were in the weekend's news, but I decided to wait at least a day before starting this post. The State Department acting out of "an abundance of caution" is sensible. Jumping to conclusions based on what little I'd seen in the news, not so much.

So far the United States has closed 22 embassies, and issued a travel warning running through August.

England, Germany and France closed their embassies in Yemen on Sunday and Monday.

Canada apparently closed their embassies in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

England is pulling some of their embassy staff from the British embassy in Yemen.

This is a big deal: much more than something to keep folks reading late-summer news.1

Making Points, Making Sense

Taking one set of assumptions, and the fact that the countries with closed embassies are all 'Western,' I could rant about Western capitalistic imperialistic oppression.

Other knee-jerk reactions, coupled with the closed embassies being in Islamic countries, would let me denounce Muslims as being the cause of all problems from Detroit's bankruptcy to Palo Alto's looming parking shortage.

Or I could accuse the 'other' political party of everything from malfeasance in office to high treason.

If I took Frank J. Fleming's advice, I might even get taken seriously:
Since I'm more interested in making sense than making points with diehard followers of some intellectual preference, I'll do 'none of the above.'

Beware Malignant Virtue

I think there's probably a sort of Islamic connection behind the embassy closings and travel warning. The embassies are all in predominantly Muslim countries.

But I don't accuse all Muslims of being part of an Islamic conspiracy to take over the world: partly because many or most of Islamic terrorists' victims are Muslims.

As I've said before: I think Al Qaeda and like-minded outfits have the same sort of relation to Islam that the Ku Klux Klan has to Christianity. Folks with a sort of malignant virtue seem unable to sort out personal preference, cultural values, and eternal principles.

In the short run, executing your neighbors for wearing the 'wrong' clothes or playing soccer may feel good: and may even result in surviving neighbors being 'proper.'

After a while, though, I think folks become dissatisfied with that sort of rigid conformity: even if they had preferred the 'right' clothes and didn't play soccer. Even if the 'proper people' can't be voted out of office, totalitarian regimes don't seem to fare well in the long term. Afghanistan's Taliban was an example.

Looking Ahead

We'll have troubles, as we have for all of recorded history: but I'm cautiously hopeful about the next few centuries and beyond.

That's cautiously hopeful, not naively optimistic. Folks in Egypt are experiencing the sort of occasionally-lethal trouble that goes with changing a society.

Folks who cling desperately to ways of life that were ancient when Abram moved out of Ur won't be happy. Others who prefer being one of a privileged few who control their subjects' lives are almost certainly seeing the end of their era: and, possibly, their lives.

Societies are changing: fast. Too many of us have had a taste of freedom, and know that there's a world beyond our homeland's borders. Worse, for folks who like the status quo, Information Age technology makes communication easy, inexpensive, and nearly instantaneous.

Traditional information gatekeepers have lost control over what 'the Masses' are allowed to see. That's one reason that I'm very concerned about misguided responses to real online threats: and that's another topic.

Related posts:
In the news:

1 Excerpts from the news:
"U.S. extends embassy closures after intercepted al Qaeda message"
Barbara Starr. Chris Lawrence and Holly Yan, CNN (August 5, 2013)

"What started as an unprecedented move to close almost two dozen diplomatic posts for a day has broadened to week-long closures for most of them as the United States mulls the threat of a possible attack.

"A trio of factors prompted officials to extend most of its embassy and consulate closures until Saturday: an intercepted message among senior al Qaeda operatives, the end of Ramadan, and concerns over several major prison breaks in the region.

"Originally, officials decided to close 22 embassies and consulates this past Sunday -- a day when they would normally be open for business.

"But Sunday afternoon, the State Department extended embassy and consulate closures in 15 of the locations through Saturday, and added four other posts -- all in Africa -- to the list. This brings the total to 19...."

"US to extend some embassy closures over security concerns"
BBC News (August 5, 2013)
"The US says it will keep a number of embassies in north Africa and the Middle East closed until Saturday, due to a possible militant threat.

"Twenty-one US embassies and consulates closed on Sunday.

"The state department in Washington said the extended closures were 'out of an abundance of caution', and not a reaction to a new threat.

"The UK said its embassy in Yemen would stay closed until the Muslim festival of Eid on Thursday.

"The decision to close the embassies comes as the US government battles to defend recently disclosed surveillance programmes that have stirred deep privacy concerns.

"Security at US diplomatic facilities also remains a concern following last year's attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where the US ambassador and three other Americans were killed.

"While details of the threats are unspecified, the BBC's David Willis, in Washington, says members of Congress who have been briefed about the intelligence seem to agree it amounts to one of the most serious in recent years - all pointing to the possibility of a major attack, possibly to coincide with the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which ends this week.


"A state department global travel alert, issued on Friday, is in force until the end of August.

"The department said the potential for an al-Qaeda-inspired attack was particularly strong in the Middle East and North Africa.

"Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has tried to carry out several high-profile attacks in recent years, including one on Christmas Day in 2009 when a man attempted to blow up a trans-Atlantic jet over Detroit, using explosives sewn into his underwear.

"Months earlier, the group tried to kill the Saudi intelligence chief with a bomb on the attacker's body.

"The UK Foreign Office had earlier announced it would shut its mission in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, until Tuesday.

"Meanwhile, US diplomatic missions in Algiers, Kabul and Baghdad are among those which will reopen on Monday, Washington said.

"But its diplomatic posts in Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Riyadh, Dhahran, Jeddah, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait, Manama, Muscat, Sanaa and Tripoli will remain closed until Saturday.

"The US state department also added African missions in Antananarivo, Bujumbura, Djibouti, Khartoum, Kigali and Port Louis to the list, meaning a total of 19 US embassies will remain closed this week.

"Embassies closed on Sunday, a working day in the Muslim world, included Amman, Cairo, Riyadh and Dhaka...."

"19 US posts to remain closed this week, as lawmakers say terror threat 'specific' and 'serious'" (August 5, 2013)

"The State Department has announced that it will keep 19 embassies and consulates in the Middle East and Africa closed throughout the week 'out of an abundance of caution' in the wake of terror threats that shut them down.

"Posts in Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Riyadh, Dhahran, Jeddah, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait, Manama, Muscat, Sanaa, Tripoli, Antanarivo, Bujumbura, Djibouti, Khartoum, Kigali and Port Louis have been instructed to close for normal operations from Monday through Saturday, department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"The State Department also said some of those embassies were already going to be closed in accordance with local customs marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

"Those authorized to reopen Monday are in Dhaka, Algiers, Nouakchott, Kabul, Herat, Mazar el Sharif, Baghdad, Basrah and Erbil.

"Capitol Hill lawmakers, including top-ranking members of intelligence committees, on Sunday described the terror threat that closed 22 U.S. embassies and consulates across the Muslim region as the most serious one since before the 9/11 attacks and related to specific act or plot.

"Florida Republican Rep. Tom Rooney, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told Fox News that U.S. intelligence agents detected a 'very specific' threat and suggested they have known about it for at least several weeks.

"He was among several congressional lawmakers Sunday who said the threat was gleaned from so-called 'chatter' from phone lines, computer outlets, websites and other communication outlets.

"Rooney also said the information is not what intelligence committee members 'see on our regular briefings.'

"The Obama administration's decision Friday to close the U.S. outposts Sunday came the same day as the State Department issued a worldwide travel alert.

"Rooney suggested Sunday the travel warning will not be lifted soon.

" 'If I had plans to travel to certain places in the Middle East, I would probably go ahead and cancel them,' he said.

"Rooney's comments followed Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, telling NBC's 'Meet the Press' that the threats are 'very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11.'

"He also described the threats as 'the most serious … I've seen in a number of years.'

"Sources confirmed with Fox News the chatter was picked up over the past two weeks and exceeds anything in the past decade. They also said the extraordinary volume of chatter was preceded by months of 'absolute quietness.'

"The sources said the chatter included Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri demanding that key leaders of the terror network in the Arabian Peninsula step up their activities in the wake of recent killings of top terrorists.

"A Mideast diplomat said al-Zawahiri's 'pressuring' of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to launch new terrorist attacks on American and other Western targets is 'unprecedented.'

"The sources also said the U.S. outpost closings and the travel alert were prompted in part by a series of recent Al Qaeda-led prison breaks that have freed hundreds of operatives over the last month, including one this weekend in Aleppo, Syria. Other recent breaks have been orchestrated in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan and Abu Ghraib, in Afghanistan.

"Maryland Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, also said the intercepted threats came from 'high-level people' in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

"He told ABC's 'This Week' the information was about a 'major attack.'...

"...The administration's announcements Friday said the Al Qaeda network might target either U.S. government or private American interests.

"The intelligence intercepts also prompted Britain, Germany and France to close their embassies in Yemen on Sunday and Monday. British authorities said some embassy staff in Yemen had been withdrawn 'due to security concerns.'

"Canada also announced it was closing its embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh."

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.