Remember when President Obama was telling us in his 2012 re-election campaign that he had "decimated" al Qaeda and it was "on the run"?
It turns out that's not true and probably never was. The al Qaeda network has grown much larger, and more lethal and dangerous than ever, with expanded franchises in a number of Muslim countries and outposts, which right now are threatening to attack us, according to "intercepted communications" picked up by the National Security Agency.
That's right, the same National Security Agency that has been irresponsibly attacked by its critics in Congress and elsewhere for its narrowly selected, court-approved use of telecommunications data both here and abroad to protect us from another Sept. 11.
Despite Mr. Obama's exaggerated, swaggering claims that he had all but destroyed al Qaeda, they are the ones who are on the offensive, targeting embassies, consulates and possibly key targets in the United States. We're the ones on the defensive, shuttering our posts in foreign capitals across the Middle East and North Africa — more than 20 of them at last count.
The administration wasn't taking any chances, after the severe political beating it got over its attempted cover-up of terrorist attacks that led to the massacre at our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where our ambassador and three other Americans died in 2012.
What message does the administration's latest move send in response to al Qaeda's latest terrorist threats? They now can shut our embassies down in the Muslim world without firing a shot. It's especially dangerous at a time when we're rapidly pulling out of Afghanistan in the face of a reinvigorated Taliban offensive and have left the Iraqis to fend for themselves against a growing wave of terrorist bombings by al Qaeda and its accomplices in murder and mayhem.
Despite Mr. Obama's election-year braggadocio that he'd all but crushed al Qaeda, the lengthening list of countries where our embassies were closed shows the extent to which their forces have grown throughout the Middle East and beyond: Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Pakistan, and much if not most of North Africa, including Kenya and Tanzania.
Notably, this week is the anniversary of the bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi in Kenya and in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania in 1998, when more than 200 people were killed.
"Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is probably the biggest threat to the homeland. They're the al Qaeda faction that still talks about hitting the West and hitting the [U.S.] homeland ... . So we are on a high state of alert," says Rep. Michael McCaul, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. The threat, he adds, is "very imminent."
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden, has ordered an attack by his Yemen affiliate, according to "intercepted communications," The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
In one of those telecommunications intercepts, al-Zawahri sent "clear orders" to Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and bin Laden's former personal secretary, to conduct a major attack.
Al-Wuhayshi was recently promoted to the No. 2 post in the al Qaeda command structure. His affiliate is thought to have been responsible for the foiled plot to explode a bomb aboard a passenger jet on its way to Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009 and attempts to blow up cargo planes in 2010.
These communications intercepts have revealed the most detailed attack orders in years and demonstrate the growing confidence of al Qaeda's high command to inflict yet another massive attack on the United States or our Western allies.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has compared the intercepts to the kind of messages being heard before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "This is the most serious threat that I've seen in the last several years," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday.
The senator isn't being hyperbolic about the intercepts' threats. Terrorism experts point out that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is considered to be the most dangerous and most effective affiliate of the global terrorist network. That al Qaeda's second in command is in charge of this new offensive has set off red flags at NSA's command posts.
What isn't known or revealed thus far about al Qaeda's next terrorist attacks is where, when and what kind of attack it will be. They're likely to be carried out in a highly coordinated, multitarget offensive.
What we do know for sure at this point is that Mr. Obama's politically driven assurances during the course of his re-election campaign that, thanks to him, al Qaeda is "on the run" was totally bogus.
For the president to make such an extravagant claim throughout his campaign, based in part on the death of Osama bin Laden, was naive at best and duplicitous at worst.
Meantime, the debate over the NSA's surveillance methods may be the first casualty of this new information. Thus far, no one is saying specifically how these early threats were discovered, except that they were "heard" from terrorist "chatter" on some kind of electronic surveillance by NSA.
If these attacks are foiled as a result of NSA's use of its telecommunications program, that debate will come to an abrupt end.
Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.
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