The crucial intercept that prompted the U.S. government to close embassies in 22 countries was a conference call between al Qaeda’s senior leaders and representatives of several of the group’s affiliates throughout the region.Now that's fodder for some dark humor. Imagine: Zawahiri calls a GoToMeeting of the boys so they can discuss their lack of success reaching their terrorist goals, complete with charts and using the Tsarnaev brothers to shame the regional captains. "Do something!" the exasperated terror leader screams. All completely oblivious to the massive NSA spying scandal thing in the news and the fact that all AQ members know they've been spied on since the 90s. Wonder if anyone fell asleep in the meeting?
Seriously, should anyone believe this? One, it seems to destroy the administration's carefully constructed paradigm that 'AQ Core' is somehow removed from "AQ affiliates' for the purposes of saying Obama has decimated AQ, (Core, but they always said there were affiliates, ahem). As has been previously mentioned, leaking this has now burned the mode of connection they used along with burning our intelligence snoopers' ability to snoop on it. So was it worth it just to explain the embassy closings? Or is there something more going on? Lake mentions that Zawahiri apparently thought his lines were secure:
Al Qaeda leaders had assumed the conference calls, which give Zawahiri the ability to manage his organization from a remote location, were secure. But leaks about the original intercepts have likely exposed the operation that allowed the U.S. intelligence community to listen in on the al Qaeda board meetings.It's hard to imagine any commercial comms being thought of as 'safe' by anyone these days so perhaps it was a non-commercial venue workaround or some other super secret workup. Maybe somebody felt it was worth leaking, but why? Only a fool would leak this kind of thing--even if they were trying to explain our embassy closings. Obama didn't elaborate on his Leno appearance so we don't know what we don't know.
Of course all of this strongly suggests we know the potential whereabouts of Zawahiri. Early reports characterized the call between him and Nasser al-Wuhayshi was from the Pakistani tribal areas to Yemen but in today's State Department briefing there was an interesting moment between spokeswoman Jen Psaki said AP reporter Matt Lee. First, Psaki's answer to a question about whether Core AQ is really not world AQ with this new revelation, emphasis added:
As we talked a little bit about yesterday, as the result of the enormous pressure we’ve put on the group, we have eliminated all of al-Qaida’s senior leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And because the current leaders of al-Qaida core are so worried about their personal safety, they’re far less able to plan attacks.She said ALL. Matt Lee caught that little gem and responded as such:
QUESTION: Jen, I’m confused here. You opened that answer by saying you’ve eliminated all of core al-Qaida leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Where do you think --
MS. PSAKI: I said almost all.
QUESTION: Oh, okay. I didn’t hear the word “almost.” I’m not sure – but you meant to say almost, if I didn’t mishear you. You did mean to say --
MS. PSAKI: Almost all.
QUESTION: -- almost all. Okay. So that would include Zawahiri?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve eliminated almost all.
QUESTION: Okay. But you still believe that he is in Afghanistan or Pakistan, that rough area?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have any intel or anything --
QUESTION: Okay. And then the second --
MS. PSAKI: -- to share on his whereabouts.Over the weekend the administration was asking media outlets to sit on some of the information to protect something. Then they allowed news reporters to report that Zawahiri was calling from the tribal regions to Yemen, now today we learn it was a conference call to a whole bunch of leaders. Then when asked today the spokeswoman, on a question about AQ Core being "decimated", says "all" in relation to the leadership being wiped out, then pretends she didn't say it.
So the burning question is what are they still not telling us? Is it possible we have already eliminated Zawahiri and they are sitting on the info in an effort to round up the other leaders who were on the call, of which they potentially know some locations. Many in the intel community wanted to do just that after the Bin Laden takedown and criticized the administration for spiking the football right away.
Or was this just a gaffe in an effort to protect a political narrative with the entire embassy closing exercise just a diversion to make everyone stop talking about Snowden, Benghazi and all the other phony scandals©?
The latter seems very hard to buy considering the amount of people that would have to be involved, but with this administration one can never say never. Time will tell.