Where NOT to Travel This Month

The State Department closed 21 U.S. embassies over the weekend and issued a travel alert for Americans regarding the Middle East and northern Africa, warning of possible terrorist threats in the region.

Where did the intelligence come from that prompted the caution?

As NBC’s Brian Williams said, “It all began with an intercepted communication.”

Al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and Yemen were talking about a possible terrorist plot around the date of August 4—and U.S. intelligence was listening.

This type of intercept is the reason programs like the National Security Agency’s (NSA) PRISM monitoring exist, says Heritage’s James Carafano, the E. W. Richardson Fellow. Carafano notes:

At least 60 Islamist-inspired terrorist plots have been aimed at the U.S. since the 9/11 attacks. The overwhelming majority have been thwarted thanks to timely, operational intelligence about the threats. Congress should not go back to a pre-9/11 set of rules just to appeal to populist sentiment.

We need these programs, and we also need to make sure they are being used appropriately. Carafano says “Congress and the White House have an obligation to protect our liberties and to safeguard our security—in equal measure.” On both fronts, Congress should not be complacent in its responsibility to exercise responsible oversight.

U.S. Consulate in Benghazi after the building was raided by gunmen who set it on fire.
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U.S. Consulate in Benghazi after the building was raided by gunmen who set it on fire.

The Obama Administration’s response to this intelligence shows it has learned one of the lessons of the terrorist attack in Benghazi. However, Heritage expert Helle Dale says that while “the Obama White House has learned to play it safe when credible terrorist threats are detected,” the “failure of the Obama Administration to retaliate in any way against those who attacked our consulate and killed a U.S. ambassador has emboldened the enemies of the United States.”

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“By adopting a risk-averse strategy against al-Qaeda, we emboldened resurgent terrorists,” Dale says.

And President Obama’s campaign claim that al-Qaeda was “on the run” has been disproven again and again. As Heritage’s Peter Brookes puts it, “We’re in a post-Osama bin Laden era, but we’re not in a post-al-Qaeda era.”

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