The nation's leaders say the al Qaeda threat that closed more than 20 U.S. diplomatic posts in the Middle East on Sunday is the most serious in years -- and they claim the NSA helped them detect it.
Counterterrorism policy leaders describe the "chatter" among suspected terrorists as reminiscent of what preceded the attack on Sept. 11, 2001. In response, the State Department closed 21 embassies and consulates in the Arabian Peninsula and issued a global travel warning that will remain in effect through August.
The National Security Agency's programs that collect and store electronic communications data have been under scrutiny since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden disclosed documents related to the practices in June. The debate over personal privacy concerns and the public interest is still in full swing, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss said Sunday that the controversial surveillance uncovered information about the current threat.
Yet, little information about the nature of the threat has been released. FOX 9 News spoke with Jack Rice, a criminal defense attorney and former CIA agent, about how the secrecy surrounding these agencies may impact the discussion going forward.
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Q: There's a theory that the Obama administration might have issued the warning to bolster its case for the NSA's surveillance programs. Is that a likely scenario?
A: I would certainly hope not. One of the biggest concerns I have is that when you turn it into a political thing -- I don't care where you are, left or right, in this case -- and you start to try to justify things for political gain, you can have very serious problems. One of the biggest concerns I had as a former CIA case officer was the exposure of an asset … That's one of the things I'm certain the NSA, CIA, different aspects of the [Department of Defense] are concerned about too. I'm certainly hopeful that's not the case, at least not this time around.
Q: Why aren't we hearing more about the details of potential attacks? What about the possibility of a terror attack taking place inside the United States?
A: One of the reasons, and this is difficult any time you're dealing with democracy: We all want transparency. Frankly, I want it too. At the same time, if we have operations that we're running, the more we make public, the harder it is to do the job we're trying to do.
One of the things that we're seeing right now is: these [threats] have to be more general in nature because we closed so many embassies. If it's specifically tied to Cairo or Oman or parts of North Africa, they would have closed specifically those [posts]. Rather, it's more broad than that, which tells me that they don't have any specifics to say, "It's going to happen here."
When it comes to the U.S., that's another game. Nobody's saying anything at this point.