Is there an element of anti-Snowden PR in the current US security alert?

We shall never know of course.

Edward Snowden has revealed the absolutely massive scale on which the NSA gathers information – almost indiscriminately. The UK government and German government agencies are apparently complicit in this dredging of information. But in spite of this the US and its allies were not capable of anticipating events in North Africa and the Middle East. The Arab spring in particular seems to have caught all the Western intelligence agencies napping. The apparent lack of intelligence analysis about Egypt is particularly interesting. The threat to Mubarak – as close an ally of the US as you could get outside of Israel – was not anticipated. The threat of the Muslim Brotherhood was not anticipated. The dethronement of Mursi by the Army was not anticipated. The attack on the US Embassy in Libya – which was not some spontaneous mob action, but a planned attack  – was not anticipated.

The indiscriminate volume of intelligence gathering does not seem to be matched by the analytical capabilities of the intelligence gatherers. But they did find Osama – even if it took ten years. They did find the Boston bombers – very quickly but only after the event. But the intelligence for the drone attacks does not seem – from the number of civilians and children killed – to be very precise.

Post Snowden there is now considerable criticism even within the US about the level of intelligence gathering and leaves Obama and the Democrats looking like the enemies of civil liberties. The “escape” of Snowden and his asylum application in Russia leaves the Democratic administration in Washington looking inept at worst and severely embarrassed at best. After Snowden was granted a years residence in Russia, the White House media response was mere thrashing about. A summit meeting to be held this fall was threatened (does Putin even care?). Even the venue of next G20 meeing planned for St. Petersberg was “questioned” by a blustering White House spokesman.

And now comes this announcement of a Security Alert and an Al Qaida threat (unspecified) in North Africa and the Middle East. Perhaps there is a real threat. If it does not materialise then the NSA can take credit for thwarting the threat (even if it never existed). If some act of terror does materialise during August, the intelligence agencies will pat themselves on the back (but someone else will be blamed for not preventing the event).

BBC: The US state department has issued a global travel alert because of an unspecified al-Qaeda threat.

In a statement, the department said the potential for an attack was particularly strong in the Middle East and North Africa. It comes shortly after the US announced nearly two dozen embassies and consulates would be shut on Sunday.

The alert expires on 31 August 2013, the department said. It recommended US citizens travelling abroad be vigilant. “Current information suggests that al-Qaeda and affiliated organisations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August,” the statement said.

Maybe there is a real threat — and maybe there is not. Certainly the track record of the intelligence agencies correctly forecasting events in the Middle East and North Africa is not terribly impressive.

The White House clearly does see an increasing need to justify the scope of its intelligence gathering activities. Obama needs to show his own left wing that he is not a “bad guy”. The Administration also needs to show that Snowden is not a hero and a defender of civil liberties and that he has actually put national security at risk. All these are matters of perception and can be addressed by “spin”.  I just observe that this current Security Alert – whether the threat is real or not – does achieve that – if only partially.

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2 Responses to “Is there an element of anti-Snowden PR in the current US security alert?”

  1. midya Says:

    Great train of thought. You may have parsed the this announcement perfectly.

  2. Internet chatter leads to US diplomatic lockdown | The k2p blog Says:

    […] Following my post a few days ago, it would seem that others also question the US Global Terror Alert and discern a whiff of alarmism. […]

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