WASHINGTON -- The closing of U.S. embassies in 21 predominantly Muslim countries and a broad caution about travel during August that the State Department issued on Friday touched off debate Sunday over the National Security Agencys sweeping data collection programs.
Congressional supporters of the program, appearing on Sunday morning talk shows, said the latest rounds of warnings of unspecified threats showed that the programs were necessary, while detractors said there was no evidence linking the programs, particularly the massive collection of cell phone records of hundreds of millions of Americans, to the vague warnings of a possible terrorist attack.
Meanwhile, there were no reports of violence or unusual activity in any of the countries where the United States had kept its embassies and consulates closed when they would have ordinarily been open on Sunday. Nevertheless, the State Department announced that embassies and consulates in 16 countries would remain closed throughout the week, including four African nations that had not been on the original list. Diplomatic posts in five other countries would reopen Monday, the State Department said, including those in Afghanistan and Iraq, where terrorist attacks have been frequent.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the extended closures were not an indication of a new threat stream.
Given that a number of our embassies and consulates were going to be closed in accordance with local custom and practice for the bulk of the week for the Eid celebration at the end of Ramadan, and out of an abundance of caution, weve decided to extend the closure of several embassies and consulates, she said.
An official whod been briefed on the matter in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, told McClatchy that the embassy closings and travel advisory were the result of an intercepted communication between Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the head of the Yemen-based Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, and al Qaida leader Ayman al Zawahiri in which Zawahiri gave clear orders to al-Wuhaysi, who was recently named al Qaidas general manager, to carry out an attack.
The official, however, said he could not divulge details of the plot. AQAPs last major attack in Sanaa took place in May 2012 when a suicide bomber killed more than 100 military cadets at a rehearsal for a military parade.
Al-Qaida is on the rise in this part of the world and the NSA program is proving its worth yet again, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told CNNs State of the Union.
This is a good indication of why theyre so important, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on NBCs Meet the Press.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a leading critic of the program, took the opposing position on CNN, saying the program that has raised the most opposition in Congress, the daily collection of so-called cell phone metadata that details numbers called, the location where a call originated, and the length of a call, appears to have had nothing to do with either the closing of the U.S. diplomatic outposts or the travel advisory.
If you look at the one thats most at issue here, and thats the bulk metadata program, theres no indication, unless Im proved wrong later, that that program, which collects vast amounts of domestic data, domestic telephony data, contributed to information about this particular plot, he said.