Obama Administration Steps Up Weekend Response to Terror Threats

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Photo: Getty Images

This holiday weekend saw some significant developments in the Obama administration's response to the thwarted Christmas Day airplane attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. First, the United States (and Britain) took the extreme step of shutting down embassies in Yemen, where the Western outposts in the capital of Sana had been targeted by known terror plots by the group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Recent planned attacks had been thwarted by preemptive military strikes, but threats have continued. Also, Obama’s counterterrorism boss, John Brennan, took to the Sunday-morning shows and vigorously defended the president's policy in that field. He specifically swatted back at scathing comments by former vice-president Dick Cheney (also Brennan's former boss) that Obama "is trying to pretend we are not at war" and that his attitude "makes us less safe." "Either the vice-president is willfully mischaracterizing this president's position — both in terms of language he uses, and the actions he's taken," Brennan said on Meet the Press, "or he's ignorant of the facts."

Also this weekend, President Obama eased regulations on American travelers returning from fourteen nations where terrorism is seen to be brewing. Those countries include ones that the government considers to be "state sponsors of terrorism," like Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria, and "countries of interest" like Algeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Since the events of Christmas Day, Americans traveling through those countries have been subjected to intense scrutiny in foreign airports before returning home, including pat downs and, where available, full-body screening.

But citizens of those fourteen nations will still be subjected to the highest level of screening in world airports before they depart for the United States, the administration announced. This is consistent with policy since Christmas, but more restrictive than the policy before that.

U.S. Intensifies Screening for Travelers From 14 Nations [NYT]
U.S. and British Embassies in Yemen Remain Closed [NYT]
Related: Read the Washington Post's account of the key role Jordan is playing in the American battle against terrorist groups.