Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 24, 2014

Attention, distraction, and Yemen

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 24, 2014

Gulf_of_Aden_mapWikipedia Commons

Sometime between mid-February and late March al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) held a combination pep rally and planning conference.  The specific location is contested, but almost certainly somewhere in Yemen.  On March 29 a video was released of the event.

Nasir al Wuhayshi, the AQAP chief — and “general manager” of AQ-Core — is shown speaking, “We must remember, oh brothers, that we are fighting the greater enemy: the leaders of disbelief. We must bring down their leaders. We must eliminate the cross. The bearer of the cross is America!”

The video is a spit-in-the-eye of Yemeni, Saudi, US, and other intelligence services that would dearly love to have targeted such an event. It is also a rallying activity for far-flung affiliates.

In this context, threat is the outcome of capability and intention. AQAP has consistently demonstrated both.  It was behind the attack on the USS Cole. The Yemen-based AQ affiliate was the long-time host and sponsor of Anwar al-Awlaki, a premier English-speaking evangelist of attacks on the United States (see related story). AQAP continues to support the bomb-making specialist Ibrahim al-Asiri, mastermind of a wide range of attacks on the US and object of a February warning to air travelers.

Ibrahim al Rubaish, a former Guantanamo detainee, now serves as the AQAP “chaplain”.  Early last year he released a video that included, “It is my duty to spur the Muslims to kill the Americans, to get them out of the Muslims’ land.”

In 2012 John Brennan, then Deputy National Security Advisor now CIA Director, told the Council on Foreign Relations, “Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is al-Qaida’s most active affiliate. It has assassinated Yemeni leaders, murdered Yemeni citizens, kidnapped and killed aid workers, targeted American interests, encouraged attacks in the United States and attempted repeated attacks against U.S. aviation.”

Sunday and Monday saw  a series of assaults on AQAP by Yemen and the United States. The US operates a significant fleet of Reaper drones out of bases in Djibouti, just across the narrow Bab-el-Mandeb (Gate of Tears) from Yemen.  Several reports indicate more than fifty AQAP fighters have been killed.   The Yemen Post reports the military operation had an “intensity and violence never witnessed before.”

See especially Bill Roggio’s and Oren Adaki’s reporting at Long War Journal .

The ground and air operation follows the visit of a Yemeni military delegation to Washington DC in early April.  It is also well-timed to demonstrate Yemeni government resolve and capability in anticipation of the April 29 meeting of the “Friends of Yemen” in London.


Apples and oranges I suppose, but on Wednesday morning I typed into my English-language US-based Google webpage the word “Yemen” — non-specific, all-inclusive.  Google tells me I can choose from among 82,800,000 results.  Plenty.

When I type in “Malaysia Airlines Flight 370” Google gives me 117 million results.  254 million without quotation marks.  Forty to 300 percent more than anything related to Yemen. Is Google content a proxy for public interest… or media coverage… or what?

In a March 20-23 survey the Pew Center for the People and the Press found that the loss of Flight 370 was attracting the most attention of Americans following any news.  Interest regarding the missing plane far surpassed the Ukrainian crisis, a distant second with less than half the level of attention given the plane.  Nothing related to Yemen or Nigeria or Central African Republic or even Afghanistan made the list of seven top stories offered by respondents.

The human mind is attracted to mysteries.  I understand the intrigue with Flight 370.  I don’t understand the disinterest in Yemen and similar.

The Twentieth Century political-economist John Kenneth Galbraith said, “Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.” Given options available in Yemen, Ukraine, Egypt or even the Jersey Shore, that seems a fair assessment.

But is it possible a significant block of the voting public may actually prefer the clearly disastrous to the ambiguously unpalatable?

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Print
  • LinkedIn


Comment by Donald Quixote

April 24, 2014 @ 9:46 am

Is the AQAP threat just too far away or too minimal to be an immediate concern for our interests or is it part of our short attention span theater? Beyond the very significant cable media coverage for MH 370 to sell soap and pharmaceuticals, the missing airliner may be more relevant to our citizens and others because many more people will fly in the next year as compared to travel to the Arabian Peninsula or Africa. With the rise of old state foes, the recent non-state ones may not be as threating or so important anymore. Hopefully, we will not look back on the good old days of non-state actor threats for their lesser impact on our nation, economy and citizens.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 25, 2014 @ 5:36 am

So we might say that even self-interest is limited by the scope of our empathetic imagination?

Comment by Donald Quixote

April 25, 2014 @ 8:52 am

Our memories are short and our imagination is limited. We too often realize that we are prepared for and fighting the last war until we are knee deep into the next one.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>