Wednesday, August 7, 2013


That worldwide terrorism alert? Those sweeping U.S.embassy closures?call triggered alert?

Al-Qaida ‘Legion of Doom’ conference call triggered alert.

A policeman checks a car at the entrance of Sanaa International Airport, in Yemen, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. The State Department on Tuesday ordered non-essential personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Yemen to leave the country. The department said in a travel warning that it had ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government personnel from Yemen "due to the continued potential for terrorist attacks" and said U.S. citizens in Yemen should leave immediately because of an "extremely high" security threat level. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
A policeman checks a car at the entrance of Sanaa International Airport, in Yemen, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013.
The State Department
That worldwide terrorism alert? Those sweeping U.S. embassy closures? All because American intelligence intercepted a — get this — "conference call" led by al-Qaida supremo Ayman al-Zawahiri that included al-Qaida affiliate leaders around the world.

In today’s must-read scoop, the Daily Beast reports that the call included more than 20 of the terrorist group’s top operatives.

“This was like a meeting of the Legion of Doom,” one U.S. intelligence officer told the Daily Beast:

It included representatives or leaders from Nigeria’s Boko Haram, the Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda in Iraq, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and more obscure al Qaeda affiliates such as the Uzbekistan branch. Also on the call were representatives of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates such as al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, according to a U.S. intelligence official.

The jokes write themselves. 

It’s like finding out that Zawahiri and the other al-Qaida leaders created a vivacious Facebook group and all liked each other. Or that the Egyptian-born al-Qaida leader is trying to get the group an IPO and listed on the NASDAQAP. How could they be this dumb? (Marcy Wheeler has an interesting theory.)

But there are serious lessons to take from this, too.

First, ever since The Guardian newspaper started publishing bombshell revelations about America’s global spying operations, government officials have warned that disclosures like this will cripple U.S. intelligence. It's like the old argument that if terrorists know that their cellphone calls can be intercepted, they’ll stop using cellphones. That does not appear to be the case, though Wheeler’s piece hints at why al-Qaida might have been confident of confidentiality despite the worldwide publicity garnered by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks.

Second, despite President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign message that “core” al-Qaida is on the run, apparently American intelligence officials feel strongly enough about Zawahiri’s ability to control the group that they sounded a worldwide alert and closed some 20 diplomatic posts.

The disclosure came on the 15th anniversary of the devastating bombings targeting the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

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