Essential Pittsburgh
5:18 pm
Mon August 5, 2013

Terror Threat Closes American Embassies & Consulates in the Middle East

The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi is one of the many embassies and consulates that have been closed following terror threats.
The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi is one of the many embassies and consulates that have been closed following terror threats.
Credit Ryan Lackey / flicr

Last weekend the US Government issued a worldwide travel alert for Americans abroad, and closed American embassies in the Middle East. It's been called the “most serious” terrorist warning post 9-11. Dan Simpson, former US Ambassador and Editorial Editor for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, weighs in on the government’s decision, the NSA involvement and why he feels the alert is a political game.

Many believe that issuing these alerts is an attempt by the government to show support for the NSA wiretapping leaks.  Simpson agrees, saying that he can see the government wanting to identify a serious terrorist attack regardless of whether one is likely, in order to justify the NSA surveillance.

But is this skepticism healthy for Americans? Simpson notes that even if this were some sort of trick, it would cost the government money and security.

“It’s like blinding yourself and sticking your fingers in your ears in the place where you have your embassy.  If the place is closed, the American officers that are normally finding out what’s going on aren’t doing so.”

Still, Simpson can see the government possibly exaggerating the seriousness of the intercepted conversations in order to validate wiretapping.  But this exaggeration could have potential for a “cry wolf factor” in which citizens begin ignoring the warnings. The Department of State indicates that the end of Ramadan could be motivation for attacks by al-Qaida groups.

Since the attacks in Benghazi, Simpson believes that security has been beefed up at most of the U.S. Embassies.  He lived in Benghazi for a period of time and speaks to the extreme case of the Libyan city.

“Benghazi has remained lawless,” he says, adding that because of the post-Gaddafi justice system, the city would be dangerous no matter what.  Regardless of how much security is put in place around an embassy, Simpson believes that a determined crowd would eventually succeed.  Luckily more money has been allocated to military personnel and security training to help prevent future attacks.