The other day we were discussing the strange case of the U.S. government crying "Wolf!" Now, it's getting really weird!
Today the Daily Beast reported that an intercepted conference call between "more than 20 al Qaeda operatives" led nearly two dozen U.S. embassies scattered across Southwest Asia and North Africa to shut down over the weekend, a precautionary measure that American officials later extended through August 10. Based on testimony from three unnamed U.S. officials, reporters Eli Lake and Josh Rogin say al Qaeda lieutenants in Nigeria, Uzbekistan, Egypt and Islamic Maghreb discussed vague plans of attack with al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri and the terrorist group's Yemeni leader, Nasser al-Wuhayshi. One of the unnamed officers compared the call to a meeting of the "Legion of Doom."
Within hours of publication, however, a bevy of national security journalists began casting doubts on the leaked information contained within the Beast's report. Two theories were quickly born. Adam Goldman of the Associated Press wondered if the leak was manufactured to protect human intelligence (that is, a leaker within al Qaeda), while Ken Delanian of the Los Angeles Times suggested that it was intended to glorify the NSA's signals intelligence capabilities at a politically vulnerable moment. Barton Gellman of the Washington Post, meanwhile, failed to see how the entire story — the leak, the method of intercept, and the contents of the call — added up.
Me neither, for what it's worth. I feel like we're in the middle of a Great Unraveling, that now that the lid has been lifted on the extent of government spying on law-abiding American citizens (thank you, Ed Snowden), there's a frantic effort to put the lid back on. What's happening with the official reaction to the alleged al-Qaeda plot is clearly a part of that effort -- regardless of whether the actual plot is bogus or all too real.