Late Thursday, news broke of the State Department ordering numerous U.S. embassies across the Middle East closed on Sunday, August 4 due to terror threats from Al Qaeda. While the Big Three network evening newscasts all covered the important development that night, not one of them made any mention of the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the consulate in Benghazi, the perpetrators of which remain at large.
By Friday morning, the networks managed to add brief mentions of Benghazi to their reporting. On NBC's Today, chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell noted: "... in the aftermath of Benghazi, the State Department is not taking any chances....Amidst ongoing turmoil across the Middle East, from Cairo's Tahrir Square to the civil war in Syria, and past attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts, from Benghazi, Libya last year..."
On CBS This Morning, Pentagon correspondent David Martin squeezed in a reference at the very end of his report: "The fact that so many posts are being closed reflects, one, the vagueness of the intelligence and, two, the bitter memories of the four Americans who were killed in that attack on the Benghazi compound on September 11th last year."
The Bengahzi mention that was most critical of the Obama administration came from correspondent Martha Raddatz on ABC's Good Morning America: "These closures, of course, come after the tragedy at the U.S. mission in Benghazi, where the State Department continues to be harshly criticized for not taking more precautions."
None of the networks took the opportunity to revisit the scandal surrounding the administration's handling of the attack, despite several recent developments.
On Wednesday, CNN aired an exclusive interview with one of the suspected terrorists responsible for the attack, who remains a free man in Libya. The networks have so far completely ignored the story.
Here is a full transcript of the August 2 report on Today:
7:00AM ET TEASE:
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: High alert. New details on the threat linked to Al Qaeda that is forcing the U.S. government to take a rare step, closing multiple U.S. embassies around the globe. How long could it last?
7:01AM ET SEGMENT:
GUTHRIE: We're going to start with the news and we have a drastic move by the State Department to tell you about this morning. They have ordered the shutdown of multiple U.S. embassies and consulates. Andrea Mitchell is NBC's chief foreign correspondent, she's got the latest. Andrea, good morning to you.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Terror Threat Closes Embassies; Al Qaeda Link Leads State Dept. to Make Move]
ANDREA MITCHELL: Good morning, Savannah. This is highly unusual. The threat is from one source, officials say, related to Al Qaeda in the Middle East. Mentioning a threat to diplomatic posts overseas. Admittedly vague, but in the aftermath of Benghazi, the State Department is not taking any chances.
Announcing the closing of all U.S. embassies normally open for business Sunday, largely in the Middle East and North Africa, State Department officials cited a security threat.
MARIE HARF [STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON]: The department has been apprised of information that, out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting our installations, indicates that we should institute these precautionary steps.
MITCHELL: U.S. Officials tell NBC News the closures are in response to Al Qaeda-related intelligence, specifying a period of time beginning Sunday, August 4th. Officials say it may be tied to the end of the month-long Muslim observation of Ramadan.
ROGER CRESSY [NBC NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST]: The end of Ramadan is a significant time. It is the time where you might see a potential for additional attacks, so certainly the intelligence community and the State Department are going to pay even closer attention to the threat environment right now.
MITCHELL: Of the 284 U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide, the biggest posts effected are in Cairo, Tel Aviv, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Baghdad, Kuwait City and Bahrain. The key question for the U.S., whether the shutdown will have to extend past Sunday. A State Department notice says, "It is possible we may have additional days of closings as well, depending on our analysis."
Amidst ongoing turmoil across the Middle East, from Cairo's Tahrir Square to the civil war in Syria, and past attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts, from Benghazi, Libya last year to Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and Beirut back in 1983. Analysts say closing the outposts is a smart move no matter how vague the threat. Officials are now working with allied spy agencies trying to narrow down the possible targets to avoid what could be extended to worldwide closures, even of all America's 284 diplomatic posts starting as soon as Monday. Savannah.
GUTHRIE: Andrea Mitchell, thank you so much.
Here is a full transcript of the This Morning segment:
NORAH O'DONNELL: And we begin this morning with a new terror threat from al-Qaeda that's prompting the U.S. to take major security precautions overseas.
ANTHONY MASON: More than a dozen embassies and consulates are being ordered to close this Sunday. David Martin is tracking developments from the Pentagon. David, good morning.
DAVID MARTIN: Good morning. U.S. Intelligence has picked up signs of an al-Qaeda plot and that has prompted the state department to close all its diplomatic posts in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. The intelligence does not mention a specific location, so all embassies and consulates that would normally be open on Sunday have been ordered to close. Sunday is the start the work week in the Muslim world. The State Department released a statement telling CBS News we have taken this measure out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees. It went on to explain the department when conditions warrant take steps like this to balance our continued operations with security and safety. Embassies have started announcing their closings on their websites. And so far the list includes Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Sudan. Now officials say this appears to be a real plot in the making and not just the normal chatter among terrorists talking about plots they would like to carry out. The fact that so many posts are being closed reflects, one, the vagueness of the intelligence and, two, the bitter memories of the four Americans who were killed in that attack on the Benghazi compound on September 11th last year.
MASON: All right. David Martin. Thanks, David.
Here is a full transcript of the Good Morning America coverage:
7:00AM ET TEASE:
JOSH ELLIOTT: High alert. The terror threat right now causing a mass closing of many America's largest embassies around the world. More than a dozen closing their doors this weekend as officials try to figure out the exact target at this hour.
7:02AM ET SEGMENT:
ELLIOTT: But we're going to begin with that threat to American embassies and consulates now in more than a dozen predominantly Muslim countries. U.S. officials taking this very seriously, ordering those offices closed on Sunday. And ABC global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz joins us now with more from Washington. Good morning to you, Martha.
MARTHA RADDATZ: Good morning, Josh. This morning, the U.S. intelligence community is doing everything possible to try and find out exactly what the target is. But the State Department is not taking any chances, shutting down embassies across the Muslim world. The concern is so great, the threat so specific, that some of America's biggest and most important embassies in the world are closing their doors. From Egypt, to Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Afghanistan. Every embassy and consulate in Muslim countries will be closed on Sunday. A senior U.S. official telling ABC News, "there is a specific threat, a concerted effort against a U.S. embassy or consulate. We just don't know what the specific target is." Another U.S. official adding, "there could be other targets, not just embassies. We just aren't sure." Not since the first anniversary of 9/11 has there been a mass closing of embassies, due to an intelligence threat.
MARIE HARF (Deputy spokeswoman, U.S. Department of State): The department has been apprised of information that, out of an abundance of caution, indicates we could institute these precautionary steps.
RADDATZ: And the closures may continue well beyond Sunday, depending on what more the intelligence community can find. These closures, of course, come after the tragedy at the U.S. mission in Benghazi, where the State Department continues to be harshly criticized for not taking more precautions. Josh?
ELLIOTT: Martha Raddatz in Washington. Thank you for that. Obviously cannot be too careful.