Micah D. Halpern Headshot

U.S. Overreaction Handed Win to al Qaeda

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United States embassies in the Middle East are now open. It is back to business as usual. The terror alert that shut them down has dissipated. Now it is time for us to evaluate the actions and reactions of the United States that resulted in the decision to shutter those doors.

It is almost a year since the horrific attack at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi that left Ambassador Chris Stevens and his team dead, murdered. Foggy Bottom, the White House and the Pentagon are still reeling. Inaction in 2012 resulted in overreaction in 2013. Let's call it the Benghazi syndrome.

U.S. leadership is obsessed with making certain that Benghazi not happen again. And the most certain way to do that is to barricade the embassies and tell everyone to stay home, and in certain cases, as happened in Yemen, to air lift government personnel out of the country.

Human life is very precious. Protecting the lives of United States diplomats serving abroad may warrant unprecedented and drastic decision. These intercepted threats, the threats that resulted in the embassy closings, were real. We read the al-Zawahiri transcripts in which he charged the head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to "do something." Real, yes. But were they credible, was that threat by the head of al Qaeda as credible and actionable as we were led to believe. Let's call it the credible threat response.

Now we have the Benghazi syndrome plus the credible threat response. Compound that with the end of the month long Muslim fast of Ramadan. Add on the approaching 12th anniversary of 9/11. The result is the closing of U.S. embassies in the Middle East.

The Dutch have the best intel on al Qaeda. Their intelligence and security division is called the BVD. They have infiltrated al Qaeda on almost every continent and on almost every level. The Dutch were shocked by the U.S. reaction to the communiqué.

The Germans, too, have good contacts inside the al Qaeda movement. German Chancellor Angela Merkel received no special briefing about this threat and, in fact, when she asked her intelligence service about it she was told that the BND, the German Intelligence Service equivalent to the CIA. does not show any increase in chatter or, for that matter, any greater than normal actionable activity or heightened threat levels.

Israel was livid when the United States closed their embassies and consulates. There has never been any al Qaeda presence in Israel. The embassies and consulates were re-opened sooner than other embassies in the region and Tel Aviv did increase their embassy protection detail. But when Israel asked the United States for more details about the nature of the threat, Washington demurred and gave them no specifics.

Even NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly showed frustration saying that there was "a lack of specific information" about the nature of the terror threat. But none the less, NYC significantly increased its security. Let's call it the better safe than sorry syndrome.

In order to help clarify the issues and mollify the players National Security Adviser Susan Rice issued a statement on Saturday night, Aug. 3 saying: "Given the nature of the potential threat, throughout the week, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco has held regular meetings with relevant members of the interagency to ensure the U.S. Government is taking those appropriate steps."

We still do not know the nature of the threats.

There is an intrinsic problem with going on alert and closing embassies. The biggest drawback to responding to terror threats by creating a policy which includes the closing of embassies and an international media campaign explaining the closings is the message that is sent to al Qaeda. The message is clear: You have won this round.

Right now the terrorists are celebrating their success. On their websites terrorists are describing how they have brought the mighty United States to its knees without even embarking on an attack. They are gloating and they are certainly enjoying the coverage and the notoriety.

The United States now has a new challenge. The United States must find a happy medium between what they did and doing nothing.