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.
This in turn was meant to trigger policymakers “fearful of being blamed for an attack on their watch preceded by such ‘chatter,’ ” Mr. Codevilla argues in a piece entitled “Manipulating the US Intelligence Community Shouldn’t Be This Easy” for the Library of Law and Liberty. “The lesson to be taken from all this,” he warns, is that the NSA is “at the mercy of any of its targets that wishes to feed it disinformation and then watch the US government’s self-discrediting reactions.”
In response to the overheard chatter, the US has launched four drone strikes in Yemen in the past 10 days, which US officials say have killed at least four Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) operatives. These US strikes have been credited by terrorist leaders for helping to mobilize anti-American jihadist fighters in the region.