US President Barack Obama makes his way over to greet well-wishers upon arrival at Phoenix International Airport on August 6, 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona. Obama is in Phoenix to speak on home ownership for the middle class. Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Three days into the closures of 19 U.S. embassies and consulates in the Middle East and Africa, and a day after reports surfaced of more specific threatening messages being exchanged between Al Qaeda officials, President Barack Obama has yet to offer a public statement on the matter.
White House officials and State Department officials have spoken on the issue, but nothing directly from the president since the closures were announced on Sunday.
Asked if Obama would be speaking about the closures, White House national security spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told TheBlaze only, “I don't have anything to announce at this point.”
Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about the president's lack of a direct response during a press gaggle Tuesday afternoon aboard Air Force One. Carney responded by saying that the administration continues to take the threat "very seriously" and reaffirmed the need to stay vigilant. He did not, however, indicate if the president would be addressing the threat specifically in the future.
The reporter asked, "We haven’t heard him make public comments thus far. Does that give any insight as to exactly what this threat may be?"
Carney said the administration has taken strong "seen and unseen" action.
"The President has directed his national security team, including Counterterrorism and Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco, as well as other members of that team, to take all steps necessary to ensure the security of American citizens and American personnel abroad," Carney said.
"As we've said, and I said yesterday, we have been living in a world for some time now where we face an organization in Al Qaeda and in its affiliates that aspires to do harm to the United States, aspires to do harm to the American people and we have to maintain constant vigilance in the face of those threats to do everything we can to disrupt them, to do everything we can to bring to justice those who would perpetrate them," Carney continued.
The White House schedule for Tuesday has Obama speaking about housing issues in Phoenix, and then appearing on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Some have speculated a comment could come then.
On Wednesday, Obama will travel to the U.S. Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton, Calif. – which holds potential for a national security statement.
Other ally countries have closed diplomatic missions in the regions as well. The Associated Press reported that secret messages were intercepted between Ayman al-Zawahri, the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and his deputies in Yemen indicating a potential large scale terrorist attack.
Closing so many diplomatic missions is highly unusual, but not unprecedented when there is a sign of a potential terrorist threat, according to State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.
Numerous embassies closed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack, Harf told reporters at the State Department press briefing Monday.
On Sept. 11, 2002, four embassies were closed after receiving “specific and credible threats,” Harf said. In June 1999, the State Department closed embassies in six African countries for three days because of security concerns. In December 1998, the State Department closed 38 embassies in Africa for two days “to protect employees against possible terrorist attacks,” she added.
Obama broke his silence about the embassy closings during his interview with Jay Leno that aired on Wednesday. Transcript below:
Jay Leno: As I'm married 33 years, I know exactly what you're saying. (Laughter.) I've got to ask you about this. Everyone is concerned about these embassy closings. How significant is this threat?
President Obama: Well, it's significant enough that we're taking every precaution. We had already done a lot to bolster embassy security around the world, but especially in the Middle East and North Africa, where the threats tend to be highest. And whenever we see a threat stream that we think is specific enough that we can take some specific precautions within a certain timeframe, then we do so.
Now, it's a reminder that for all the progress we've made -- getting bin Laden, putting al Qaeda between Afghanistan and Pakistan back on its heels -- that this radical, violent extremism is still out there. And we've got to stay on top of it. It's also a reminder of how courageous our embassy personnel tend to be, because you can never have 100 percent security in some of these places. The countries themselves sometimes are ill-equipped to provide the kind of security that you want. Even if we reinforce it, there are still vulnerabilities.
And these diplomats, they go out there and they serve every day. Oftentimes, they have their families with them. They do an incredible job and sometimes don't get enough credit. So we're grateful to them and we've got to do everything we can to protect them.
Leno: This global travel warning, this is for Americans all around the world? Are we telling people don't take that European vacation just yet? What are we saying?
Obama: I think the general rule is just show some common sense and some caution. So there are some countries where you're less likely to experience a terrorist attack. There are some where there are more dangers. And if people are paying attention, checking with the State Department or embassy, going on the website before you travel, find out what kind of precautions you should be taking, then I think it still makes sense for people to take vacations. They just have to make sure that they're doing so in a prudent way.
Leno: What do you say to those cynics who go, oh, this is an overreaction to Benghazi -- how do you respond to that?
Obama: One thing I've tried to do as President is not over react, but make sure that as much as possible the American people understand that there are genuine risks out there. What's great about what we've seen with America over the last several years is how resilient we are. So after the Boston bombing, for example, the next day folks were out there, they're going to ball games. They are making sure that we're not reacting in a way that somehow shuts us down.
And that's the right reaction. Terrorists depend on the idea that we're going to be terrorized. And we're going to live our lives. And the odds of people dying in a terrorist attack obviously are still a lot lower than in a car accident, unfortunately. But there are things that we can do to make sure that we're keeping the pressure on these networks that would try to injure Americans. And the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I go to bed is making sure that I'm doing everything I can to keep Americans safe. (Applause.)
Leno: It's safe to say that we learned about these threats through the NSA intelligence program? Is that a fair assessment?
Obama: Well, this intelligence-gathering that we do is a critical component of counterterrorism. And obviously, with Mr. Snowden and the disclosures of classified information, this raised a lot of questions for people. But what I said as soon as it happened I continue to believe in, which is a lot of these programs were put in place before I came in. I had some skepticism, and I think we should have a healthy skepticism about what government is doing. I had the programs reviewed. We put in some additional safeguards to make sure that there's federal court oversight as well as congressional oversight, that there is no spying on Americans.
You can watch below starting at the 1:40 mark: