U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson said visiting Yemen was “like going back in time.”
The Middle East nation has been in the spotlight in recent days, with the United States closing nearly two dozen embassies and consulates because of a terrorism threat and U.S. drone strikes targeting suspected al-Qaida operatives there.
Yemeni officials on Thursday said they had foiled a major terror plot in their country, with al-Qaida planning attacks that were to include blowing up gas and oil pipelines, according to media reports. That followed a U.S. evacuation of nearly 100 government workers stationed in Yemen.
Thompson, R-Howard Township, has toured Yemen, located on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. He called the nation “a very dangerous place.”
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“Yemen has one of the largest al-Qaida movements in the world,” Thompson said in a meeting Wednesday with the Centre Daily Times. “Saudi Arabia had a crack-down on al-Qaida, which pushed them into Yemen.”
The U.S. buildings, in Africa and the Middle East, are expected to reopen this weekend. After announcing the closures Sunday, U.S. officials reported intercepting communications among al-Qaida leaders, including Nasser Wuhayshi, reportedly a former aide to Osama bin Laden.
“For the most part, we’re looking at credible intelligence based on monitoring of known terrorist organizations and known terror individuals,” Thompson said. “There was a very real threat of an imminent attack.”
He added: “We need to be concerned. … We’re at high alert in this country.”
The congressman did contrast the Yemen intelligence efforts with some domestic programs run by the National Security Agency, which became controversial when Edward Snowden leaked information to the media. Snowden had access to “top secret” information through his job with a private contractor that did government work.
Thompson called Snowden “a traitor,” but said he has concerns about the NSA’s reach into the private lives of citizens.
“The NSA does a good job, if they just focus on threats that are known,” Thompson said. “I do have concerns that we have seen government creep with intelligence agencies. Have we crossed a line? I fear we have.
“I get concerned about the collection of data on U.S. citizens when there’s no warrant for the information and no reasonable cause. It’s a balance. You have to be very careful with it, in terms of how many of our civil liberties we’re willing to give up.”