New Castle News


August 15, 2013

Our Opinion: Embassy warnings show the threat remains

NEW CASTLE — A decision by the United States government to temporarily shut down embassies in various Islamic nations generated considerable debate.

And well it should, because there are serious national security matters to consider here. But you may have to wade through some nonsense to get to them.

Although the details are nebulous — in part because they involve secretive national security intelligence gathering and in part because the government still isn’t sure of the scope of any plot — we know officials were concerned that a major terrorist attack was imminent.

This was based on some disseminated threats by al-Qaida leaders and apparently supported by communications among terror suspects that were intercepted in some fashion.

The Obama administration’s decision to shut down the embassies drew a rare round of bipartisan praise in Washington. However, Republicans were quick to cite the failure to do so regarding earlier attacks on the U.S. embassy in Libya. We’re not sure the two cases can be compared.

And the embassy warnings have been used by administration critics to mock President Obama’s earlier claims that al-Qaida’s power was waning. This is a valid criticism, but in a sense, it’s not just the president who’s at fault.

Through military actions and beefed up surveillance efforts, the central operations of al-Qaida have been disrupted. But the organization still exists, and much of it functions as smaller, localized terror efforts.

And in many ways, that makes it more dangerous and more difficult to thwart. While these smaller groups may not be able to launch an attack similar to the one on Sept. 11, 2001, their diffuse nature poses a greater monitoring challenge. They may be able to operate under the radar.

While high-tech surveillance obviously has value when it comes to anti-terrorism efforts, the changing face of al-Qaida demonstrates that human intelligence — undercover operatives, tips and the like — are crucial. For that, America needs allies in the Islamic world.

But it’s also worth noting that despite all the resources directed at anti-terrorism, the threat has not vanished.

Why? Mainly because terrorists are zealots, and through ongoing policies, the United States and its allies demonstrate they are afraid of acts of terror. In a sense, efforts to stamp out terror serve to encourage it, because all the attention empowers the extremists.

Obviously, the West cannot simply ignore al-Qaida and its ilk. But officials ought to understand that the international obsession with terrorism serves to glamorize it. And this has repercussions as extremists see this as success.

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