The Obama administration's weekend decision to evacuate all personnel from Yemen means the U.S. now has no way to effectively gather intelligence about possible terrorist threats against the United States, according to House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas).
As a result, McCaul said his biggest fear is that plots against the U.S. will be able to develop in Yemen without any way for the administration to stop them or act against them.
"Now, because we are withdrawn completely, we will have no intelligence footprint or capabilities to monitor what AQAP and ISIS and the Shia militants are doing in the region," McCaul told ABC News on Sunday. AQAP is a reference to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
"Good intelligence stops plots against the homeland," he said. "Without that intelligence, we cannot effectively stop it, that's what I'm most concerned about."
The State Department said Sunday that "due to the deteriorating security situation in Yemen, the U.S. government has temporarily relocated its remaining personnel out of Yemen." But that seemed to be putting it mildly, as violent terrorist attacks continue to plague the country, and many say these attacks are a sign that the AQAP and/or the Islamic State is quickly taking control of the country.
State argued that despite the evacuation, the government still has some ability to monitor the country for terrorist threats. "We also continue to actively monitor terrorist threats emanating from Yemen and have capabilities postured in the area to address them," it said. "As we have in the past, we will take action to disrupt continuing, imminent threats to the United States and our citizens."
But McCaul said he believes U.S. intelligence capabilities are severely limited without anyone on the ground, and with no real allies in the country.
"It's not in-country, and human intelligence value is not there," he said. "If you don't have the intelligence on the ground, how do you know who to hit and where and when?"
"All of North Africa seems to be falling to this power vacuum that is being filled by the terrorists," he added.
In February, the administration closed the U.S. embassy in Yemen, a move officials said again would be temporary. Both decisions came just months after President Barack Obama held up Yemen as an example of a successful U.S. foreign policy achievement.