Yemen plot foiled, but the intercepted chatter that preceded it has raised a few eyebrows. Some think it might have been an attempt to goad the US into action. Others reject that theory.
Yemeni authorities claimed to have foiled a major Al Qaeda plot Wednesday, one that apparently involved a planned attack on Yemeni oil pipelines and ports that would have killed or held hostage any foreigners there.
It was, presumably, the same terrorist operation that prompted the State Department to ask for the Pentagon’s help in flying Americans out of Yemen Tuesday, to close 18 other American embassies and consulates in the region, and to issue a month-long travel alert to US citizens abroad.
The alerts and closures have led to widespread speculation about a potential resurgence of Al Qaeda, suddenly changing the conversation about National Security Administration (NSA) programs brought to light by leaker Edward Snowden. Senior US officials have noted that the Al Qaeda chatter was picked up by signals intelligence, which happens to be an NSA job.
The revelations – if not driven by a concerted effort to distract from the NSA’s data-collection controversies, as some of the more cynical commentators suggest – certainly offer a serendipitous opportunity to highlight the merits of NSA practices, analysts say.
But there skepticism in some quarters about whether everything is as it seems. Perhaps Al Qaeda was doing some manipulating of its own, intentionally letting its chatter be overheard to gauge US capabilities and responses, say some analysts, who emphasize that they are not suggesting a conspiracy theory. Rather, they posit that terrorists might have been testing the waters in the wake of the NSA leaks.
“The embassy shutdowns and the traveler warnings resulted from intercepts of terrorist communications devices – phones and computer links that the terrorists surely knew are being monitored,” notes Angelo Codevilla, a professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University.