Information about a threat to an embassy or other facilities can come from a variety of places and sources. It can come from a local source, such as a friendly host country service, an embassy source, or from a friendly embassy or third country service, usually, in my experience, British or Australian (BTW, Americans do not appreciate that the Aussies are VERY good; they are very under appreciated allies; I loved working with them; no Aussie will ever have to buy his own drink if I am around.) The information can also come from Washington. We might get the raw info, or more usual, we would get an analysis that highlighted the threat. The big issue then becomes how specific we find the threat, and whether we think we can counter it quietly, in the shadows. If, for example, we get information that the bad guys are planning an attack against a specific embassy or other target, get a time frame, maybe some other data that identifies the terrorists, we might keep the information confidential and see if we, perhaps working with the local service, can nip the threat early. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one such incident in my career. The Aussies and we had collected very specific information about a planned attack, the nature of the attack, i.e., a truck bomb, the proposed date of the attack, and even who was going to do it. We tipped off the local service and its specially vetted counter-terror unit, working with US and Aussie help, nabbed the bastards in the midst of putting the final touches on a huge truck bomb. As noted, that is extremely rare.
Most of the time, the threats are vague, something along the lines of "Abdul plans his wedding very soon." We then have a problem. How do we counter that? What can we do to head that off? This sort of vague information also sets bells ringing among the legions of lawyers at State, CIA, DoD, NSC, and all across DC. It also puts the Consular Affairs bureau into a high state of anxiety, as well as the Congressional Relations and Public Affairs people--all terrified of being accused of not disseminating information that could save the life of an American citizen. That leads to the issuance of those fairly worthless "travel advisories" all of you have seen, "The Department of State urges Americans planning on traveling to or residing in Upper Jihadia to exercise great caution and to remain in touch with the nearest US Embassy or consulate . . . " Sort of akin to when your mother would yell as you went out the door with your new bicycle, "Be careful!" These advisories, by the way, often cause great irritation in our relations with Upper Jihadia, as they could cost it tourist dollars and imply that the government of UJ is unable to ensure its own public order. The wording of the advisories is a matter for considerable negotiation within the bureaucracy, and, often, consulted with close allies before being issued. In general, the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and many other Western countries issue almost identical warnings.
If the threat is deemed "imminent" or "fairly specific" that raises the issue of closing those diplomatic facilities seen at greatest risk. We cannot quietly close a diplomatic facility. The State Department is required to inform the American public that the facility is closing due to a credible threat. In even touchier cases, the issue becomes whether to have our official personnel, and perhaps even regular Americans (depending on the nature and scope of the threat), removed from the country and flown back to the US or to a safer place elsewhere. That is a huge and very costly step. It also raises the issue of who, if anybody, remains at the post, and, of course, when and under what conditions you re-open, e.g., do you allow dependents to return? How sure are you of when the threat has abated?
As you can surmise, all this involves a lot of guessing, shooting in the dark. These are not easy matters. What, of course, makes them even more difficult is politics. Are the politicians in DC playing games with the information? Are they steering us to keep a place open by downplaying the threat, e.g., Benghazi, or are they fostering a sense of crisis to distract from something else, perhaps the case these last few days? I don't know.
Turning to some of the information that has come out about the current threat level, I am appalled, absolutely appalled by the apparently deliberate leaking by senior Obamistas of, if true, highly sensitive information, and the methods used to obtain it. That sort of irresponsible leaking can get people killed. It also, presumably, tips off the bad guys as to what we know and how, and can lead them either to switch to other methods of communication or to play games by feeding us bad information. In other words, in a world already filled with dozens of "X" factors, the dopes in the Obama misadministration are pumping more variables into the equation.
The Obama misadministration, despite the denials, has had its "Mission Accomplished" moment. We heard repeatedly that AQ was on its last legs, that we could not continue to fight this endless war on terror, etc. Now--"Suddenly!" as Professor Reynolds would state--AQ is everywhere in the Middle East and Africa, our personnel are fleeing their posts, and our 21st century version of Davy Crockett, the Predator drone, is swatting militants off the parapets.
|Early American drone at work|