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August 04, 2013

Washington Week: Obama Administration Focused on Terror Threat

by Michael Bowman

America’s military, diplomatic, and intelligence apparatus is on high alert amid a terror threat that prompted the closing of many U.S. embassies and a worldwide travel warning. The security focus comes during an otherwise quiet week in Washington with Congress starting a month-long recess.

President Barack Obama is getting regular briefings and updates from his national security team, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey. “There is a significant threat stream, and we are responding to it. It is an al-Qaida affiliated threat," he said.

U.S. embassies and consulates are closed across the Muslim world, including in Egypt, where American citizens are taking precautions.

U.S. officials have provided few details about any imminent terrorist plots or specific intelligence they have received. But the Obama administration appears determined to avoid a repeat of last year’s deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Probes of the incident revealed that security warnings prior to the attack went unheeded.

Even America’s best-protected diplomatic posts, like the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, are vulnerable to attack, according to Iraqi-based security analyst Amir al-Saadi. “The American embassy in Iraq is the biggest embassy in the world in area, staff and fortifications, but it is not entirely safe from rockets and mortars," he said.

At U.S. airports, many departing for the Middle East say the travel alert did not cause them to change their plans.

President Obama will continue to get regular updates on the situation. Meanwhile, Congress is idle until September, allowing lawmakers to hear from constituents on issues ranging from immigration reform to recent revelations about the federal government’s domestic surveillance capabilities.