Monday, September 17, 2012

State Department 9/11 Anniversary Warnings Dropped Off Significantly from 2011 to 2012

    My investigation published last Friday garnered a significant amount of attention over the weekend.  The only pre-9/11 anniversary warning from the government had come via the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), part of the U.S. Department of State.  The report was issued on 9/6 and subsequently disappeared from the OSAC website sometime on 9/13, possibly due, as I have speculated, to the rather optimistic tone of the report that in retrospect looked rather unjustified:
Terrorism and Important Dates
OSAC currently has no credible information to suggest that al-Qa'ida or any other terrorist group is plotting any kind of attack overseas to coincide with the upcoming anniversary of September 11. However, constituents often have concerns around important dates, holidays, and major events, Often times, these concerns are the result of increased media attention to the issue, rather than credible evidence of a terrorist plot.
    Over on the main State Department website, I found no alerts, warnings, or other communication regarding the 9/11 anniversary for 2012.  However, last year, the occasion of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 was a different story.  On 9/2/11, the State Department issued the following Travel Alert, also called a Worldwide Caution:

Travel Alert
Bureau of Consular Affairs
9-11 Anniversary
September 02, 2011 
As we mark the 10th Anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Department of State informs U.S. citizens traveling and residing abroad of the continued threat posed by al-Qa’ida and its affiliates.  While we have not identified any specific threats from al-Qa’ida affiliates and allies to attack the United States or our interests on the 9/11 anniversary, U.S. citizens should be aware that al-Qa’ida affiliates and allies have demonstrated the intent and capability to carry out attacks against the United States and our interests around the world.  In the past, terrorist organizations have on occasion planned their attacks to coincide with significant dates on the calendar.  This Worldwide Travel Alert supplements the July 26, 2011, Worldwide Caution, and expires on January 2, 2012.
    Granted, the 10th anniversary of 9/11 was bound to attract more attention due to its milestone status, plus the killing of bin Laden in May 2011 had already prompted the State Department to issue a special Worldwide Alert.  But notice the reference at the end to "significant dates":
In the past, terrorist organizations have on occasion planned their attacks to coincide with significant dates on the calendar.  
    This stands in contrast to wording in this year's OSAC report [emphasis added]:
[C]onstituents often have concerns around important dates, holidays, and major events, Often times, these concerns are the result of increased media attention to the issue, rather than credible evidence of a terrorist plot.
The OSAC report made the anniversary concern sound more like media hype than a legitimate threat.  In further contrast, most recent Worldwide Caution issued by the State Department on July 18, 2012, sounds more like the 2011 warnings than this more recent OSAC report:
The Department of State has issued this Worldwide Caution to update information on the continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against U.S. citizens and interests throughout the world. U.S. citizens are reminded to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness. This replaces the Worldwide Caution dated January 24, 2012, to provide updated information on security threats and terrorist activities worldwide.
The Department of State remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations, and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests overseas. Current information suggests that al-Qaida, its affiliated organizations, and other terrorist organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in multiple regions, including Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics including suicide operations, assassinations, kidnappings, hijackings, and bombings.
Extremists may elect to use conventional or non-conventional weapons, and target both official and private interests. Examples of such targets include high-profile sporting events, residential areas, business offices, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, public areas, and other tourist destinations both in the United States and abroad where U.S. citizens gather in large numbers, including during holidays.
U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Extremists have targeted and attempted attacks on subway and rail systems, aviation, and maritime services. In the past, these types of attacks have occurred in cities such as Moscow, London, Madrid, Glasgow, and New York City.
The report then goes into more detail on specific areas of the world, including:
MIDDLE EAST and NORTH AFRICA: Credible information indicates terrorist groups also seek to continue attacks against U.S. interests in the Middle East and North Africa. 
    There is no explanation in the Alert as to the timing, or what prompted the State Department to choose July 18, 2012 to issue it rather than more proximate to the anniversary of the worst attack on the United States in recent memory.  This seems even more curious in light of a September 7, 2011 press briefing given at the State Department:
QUESTION: Pentagon this morning said that the level of vigilance and security at U.S. bases in United States and around the world has been increased, not because of any direct threat but as a precaution. Do you see any such threat in your interaction with other countries’ attacks on 9/11 anniversary in other countries and installations like in Pakistan and Afghanistan or elsewhere?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I think you know that it is normal and usual for us to be vigilant both at home and at our facilities abroad around September 11th given what al-Qaida has said in the past about the anniversaries. That said, I’m obviously not going to speak about intelligence issues one way or the other, and I’m going to refer you to DHS with regard to our posture here. With regard to our posture overseas, we are always vigilant on September 11th and we will be so again this year.
QUESTION: You put out a Worldwide Caution, didn’t you, just a couple days ago?
MS. NULAND: We always do. We always do.
    "Always" did not include 2012.  As I have reported, the only caution issued by the State Department this year was withdrawn after the fact.

    My initial report on September 12th included a quote from an unnamed administration official that asserted the State Department had prepared in advance for the 9/11 anniversary:
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, again, I’m not going to get into the specifics of how we were postured in terms of security at our mission in Benghazi beyond what I said. So – because we don’t ever talk about the details of those kinds of things.
What I would say, though, is that we did, as we did in missions around the world, review the security there in the context of preparing for the anniversary of September 11th. And at that point, there was no information and there were no threat streams to indicate that we were insufficiently postured.
However, the details of whatever "security review" was conducted are not public information, so the lack of public statements regarding the 9/11 anniversary is even more glaring.

    Lisa Myers of NBC News reported Monday night about the growing evidence of the lack of adequate security in Benghazi prior to the 9/11 assault that left four U.S. citizens dead.  The demonstrable decrease in public statements from the State Department from 2011 to 2012 only lends credence to those assertions.

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