- The Washington Times - Monday, August 5, 2013

The Obama administration’s decision to shutter 20 embassies and consulates across the Arab world this week had nothing to do with the deadly attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year, State Department officials insisted Monday, while offering little new information on what prompted the extraordinary security measures.

The department’s deputy spokesperson, Marie Harf, told reporters that U.S. authorities moved to close such a “wide swath of embassies and consulates” across the Arab World and Africa purely “out of an abundance of caution.”

Asked whether officials were being more vigilant than normal as a result of the carnage that unfolded on Sept. 11, 2012, when armed militants stormed the U.S. diplomatic post and CIA house in Benghazi, Ms. Harf asserted that “we’ve always been very vigilant about security.”

“Clearly post-Benghazi, we’ve made it clear, from the [secretary of state] on down that security is an utmost concern to us,” she added. “But it always has been.”

Several senior State Department security personnel lost their posts following an internal review of the handling of the incident, in which U.S. Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

Ms. Harf pointed to four examples when U.S. authorities have made “large-scale embassy closings,” including on the day after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

On the first anniversary of those attacks, there were four embassies closed “after receiving specific and credible threats,” she said. “In June of 1999, we closed embassies in six African countries because of security concerns for three days. And in December of 1998, we closed 38 embassies in Africa for two days to protect employees against possible terrorist attacks.”

With regard to the nature of the threat that prompted the current wave of closures, Ms. Harf said: “I’m not going to further characterize it or outline the specificity and the intelligence that folks are looking at internally.”