While it's tempting to suggest the whole thing was deliberately overblown to avoid some kind of political unpleasantness one should remember there are a lot of people in the intelligence apparatus that would be knowledgeable about such a stunt. Unless of course there was just enough credible and compartmentalized information to get away with it. But whenever a red flag is raised and nothing happens it's impossible to determine whether the red flag contributed to that nothing, or whether nothing would have happened anyway.
Anyway, since this is a blog let's construct a crude timeline of what might have triggered a conspiracy. Here we go..
1. Thursday August 1: Edward Snowden granted asylum in Russia. Keep in mind this is a HUGE slap in our American faces. It's equivalent to a giant, middle-finger shaped rocket launched from Moscow and landing on the White House lawn, filled with poop.
2. Later Thursday August 1: during the State Department Daily Briefing the same day a reporter asked spokeswoman Marie Harf about a 'rumor' of embassy closings. She then confirmed that some embassies were being closed:
QUESTION: There are some, I guess you could call them, rumors that I was hoping you could address that some U.S. embassies may be closing or closed?
MS. HARF: Yes, just one second. So the Department of State has instructed certain U.S. embassies and consulates to remain closed or to suspend operations on Sunday, August 4th. The Department has been apprised of information that, out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting our installations that indicates we should institute these precautionary steps. The Department, when conditions warrant, takes steps like this to balance our continued operations with security and safety.
QUESTION: Which embassies and --
MS. HARF: I don’t have a full list of that in front of me. I can endeavor to get that.
QUESTION: Well, do you have a partial list?
MS. HARF: I don’t have a list in front of me.3. Friday August 2: State Department officially clarifies embassy closings. They don't do briefings on Fridays in August but White House spokesman Jay Carney confirmed the closings to widespread press interest during his Friday presser. The embassies were to be closed on Sunday concurrent with the end of Ramadan due to some kind of special day that anonymous experts said would be a particularly good one for a terrorist to martyr himself. It was also Obama's birthday. Someone also leaked that the threat was triggered by AQ activity within AQAP and that attack preparations were underway.
4. Saturday August 3: Somebody leaked further details about the plot, which supposedly came from an intercepted message between AQ leaders. News orgs admitted they were withholding info on request from the administration. Sounded dire! It was further announced that nineteen of the closed embassies will remain closed through Saturday August 10, further deepening the threat. Obama played golf with a guy from Chicago who's associates are being investigated. Then he went to Camp David for a party.
5. Sunday August 4: All the talking heads lined up on the Sunday shows to outline the worst threat since 9/11.
6. Monday August 5: White House and State gave pressers, no change in status. No updates. Fox News reporter asks State Department rep whether White House is "outraged" over the recent leaks about the threat. It was not taken seriously of course.
7. Tuesday August 6: More intel leaked about the intercepted message--it was between Ayman Zawahiri and Nasser Wuhayshi. The president goes on a late night comedy show and provides important information.
8. Wednesday August 7: Another leak in support of the threat, this time to Daily Beast writers Josh Rogin and Eli Lake, describing the communications between AQ leaders as a 'conference call'. There is no White House briefing again.
9. Thursday August 8: Nothing significant happened. White House briefing featured normal filibustering.
10. Friday August 9: Obama gave an afternoon press conference where he got few if any questions about the threat. He got several about the NSA and surveillance, which dovetailed nicely into his announcement that he was actually ahead of Snowden on calling for reform of the NSA spying. He announced a panel to investigate and report back to him. He got asked about how the Benghazi investigation is coming along and possibly committed a crime in revealing sealed charges against some of the perps. Then he left Washington for a vacation trip to Martha's Vineyard. Later that evening the State Department announced the nineteen affected embassies would reopen the next day, Saturday the 10th. No explanation was given as to why they were reopening (whether the threat had lessened, etc).
11. Saturday through the weekend: Press remained focused on story of California kidnapping. President played golf. President allowed press to follow him for a hole and take pictures, which Greta Van Sustern thought was purposeful, ie, stick in your bunghole, America, I'm playing golf. Stories began to surface about whether threat was warranted or not on the usual sites.
12. Monday August 12: State Department Daily Briefing; question was asked about the threat, not much was revealed. Every embassy except in Yemen and Pakistan are back open. Obama announced that DNI James Clapper, who lied to Congress about the spying, will be in charge of the panel and will be reporting findings about himself back to Obama.
So, from the time Snowden was given asylum through the weekend following and throughout the subsequent week there was very little talk about Russia thumbing their nose at the Obama administration, or whether Snowden may have given them further sensitive or top secret information. The AQ embassy attack story took all the air out of Snowden and now the president is on vacation.
Meanwhile the previous thoughts on this blog about whether the government might have burned some intelligence secrets because they were covering a big story, like maybe the capture or killing of Zawahiri, looks less likely each passing day. And the thought someone might have used terror threats to divert attention from a bigger more embarrassing story looks more and more possible.