US agencies did not issue high alert prior to Middle East protests


Egyptian protesters at the US embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012.


Khaled Desouki

US authorities believe protests that erupted on Tuesday in Egypt, along with the attacks that lead to the death of Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, were triggered by an Arabic talk-show broadcast three days earlier. At the time, no warning was issued on the possibility of violence. 

Three US officials, all speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the broadcast did not prompt strong warnings from intelligence agencies or the State Department. One official added that there was one warning of possible unrest, but did not lead to a major upgrade in security for a possible emergency.

Paul Pillar, former top US intelligence analyst for the Middle East and South Asia, told Reuters that it is nearly impossible to predict the kind of reaction seen in Cairo, Benghazi and other parts of the Middle East. Pillar added, "The number of potentially inflammatory things that are said or broadcast every week (is so large) ... that warning about all of them would be useless." Another official added, "You can't freak out on everything that's broadcast."

Following the death of Ambassador Stevens, several more cities in the Middle East and North Africa began protesting outside US Embassies and consulate buildings including those in Yemen, Afghanistan and Indonesia, over the film "Innocence of Muslims" that depicts the Prophet Muhammad. According to France24, US Embassies around the globe are now placed on high alert. 

Beyond issuing a warning, the US has also sent a war ship to the coast of Libya along with the Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team made up of 50 marines, according to CNN.