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Special Report

All-Star Panel: Does new threat prove Al Qaeda not really 'on the run'?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," August 5, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August. The threat emanates from and may be focused on occurring in the Arabian Peninsula, but it could potentially be beyond that.

REP. DUTCH RUPPERSBERGER, D – MD: This threat is credible.  I've seen the intelligence information. It comes from high level operatives in Al Qaeda. And it also talks about where some of the locations that we're concerned about, the Arabian Peninsula. But what concerned us about this threat is when higher level operatives in Al Qaeda talked about a serious threat, making a change in policy, being out there and trying to be in a situation where they will kill anyone from the West.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Senior Al Qaeda leaders, the McClatchy Newspapers on Sunday were first to report that it was Ayman al Zawahiri, the head of the Al Qaeda global operation believed to be inside Pakistan, we don't know for sure, talking via an electronic communication to the head of the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, that leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi the head of AQAP. Here is how The New York Times wrote it up, there you see the two men, "When the intercepts between the two senior Al Qaeda leaders were collected and analyzed last week, senior officials at CIA, the State Department, and the White House immediately seized on their significance." Quote, "'This was significant because it was the big guys talking, and talking about very specific timing for an attack or attacks, ' said one American official who had been briefed on the intelligence reports in recent days." Let's start there. Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, Kirsten Powers, columnist for The Daily Beast, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Steve?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, I think this is very clearly a serious threat, and the fact that you're having high level discussions and that we know about these high level discussions between the leader of core Al Qaeda, as the Obama administration describes him, Ayman al Zawahiri, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, who runs AQAP.

But I would say that this is also a problem for Obama administration's conception and description of how Al Qaeda operates. If you go back to the president's speech at National Defense University in May, he separated core Al Qaeda on the one hand and Al Qaeda affiliates on the other. And this is exactly the way the administration has approached the broader threat from Al Qaeda, broadly understood going back really years. Critics will call it the disconnect- the-dots theory -- the idea that the affiliates are their own operators. They don't take direction much from core Al Qaeda, they're not associated much from core Al Qaeda. And what this, I think, revelation tells us is that that's not true.

Now we have known that that's not been true from a number of other things, and if you go back and you look, we know that Ayman al Zawahiri has been communicating with a looser front with Al Qaeda in Iraq just over the past three, four months.  We also know going back to the days preceding the attacks on not just Benghazi consulate on 9/11, 2012, but consulates, U.S. interests across the region. Zawahiri was in communication with a number of affiliate types at that point, including Muhammad Jamal al Kashef, who was one of the ones training people involved in the attacks on Benghazi. Zawahiri's brother was involved in the protests in front of the U.S. embassy in Cairo.

So I think, taking a step back, the idea that Al Qaeda core is diminished and basically separate and now presents much less of a threat is really challenged by this reporting and that brief history.

BAIER: What we don't know, the thousands and thousands of documents recovered in the bin Laden raid that we have not seen that could shed some light on the communications and interaction between Al Qaeda core and these other groups.

HAYES: That's exactly right. And there's actually one document in particular that was released, one of 17 documents that now has been made public that actually talks about where you have Usama bin Laden saying in effect we don't want to leave everybody out on the field in Pakistan where they're droning us, where they're taking shots at us. We want to spread people out. So it actually points in the opposite direction than the administration suggested.

BAIER: Kirsten, what about this move to close all these embassies, the threat was said to be on Sunday, now they're extending it through the week. What about the move when you get to the end of the week? God willing that there's not an attack.

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK POST: Yes. Well, the Obama administration has gotten a lot of criticism for this, but I think it is better that we're talking about this than the fact that one of our embassies was blown up.

BAIER: Of course, and we should point out bipartisan support, Republicans and Democrats saying it was the right move.

POWERS: But there are some people saying this is showing weakness, or should we be doing this, or being so talking about it so much? But of course when you close that many embassies, people are going to notice. I think they did the right thing, obviously, and maybe they have learned some lessons from Benghazi because there's a holiday coming up where there could be violence also. So the fact that they're making attempt to check embassies is a good thing.

But I think Steve raises probably the most important point about this, which is, what is the Obama administration broader view of Al Qaeda and the War on Terror, because it is just not the story they've been telling us really, I think what we are looking at now?

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: And it isn't only what Obama said during the campaign, that Al Qaeda was done and they were on the run. It's what he said in a speech just a few weeks ago, it was about war and where we're going on this. And he said this war must end. All wars end. This war must end.

And what was the big issue he raised? Closing of Guantanamo. Is that really the biggest issue when it comes to terror? Here he is shutting 19 embassies, and in the big speech he gives on terrorism, it's about shutting down Guantanamo and how we have to end the war because we can't stay perpetually in a war footing. What is --

BAIER: There you see all the embassies , by the way, and consulates.

KRAUTHAMMER: What is this if a country not on a war footing but cowering, essentially? Didn't we hear from the former secretary of state and the current, Clinton and Kerry, that all the recommendations of the review of the Benghazi attack are being implemented. They received a billion and a half dollars to beef up our security, and here we are with embassies shutting.  What is it that they have done to secure our embassies that renders the United States utterly helpless in the face of a threat that it actually has to shut everything down?

BAIER: Kirsten, what about the leak of this particular communication between these two high ranking Al Qaeda members? It is pretty unique that we know that this electronic communication between the leader of Al Qaeda core and the leader of AQAP, and we have this much specifics and an American official on background quoted, talking about it?

POWERS: Well, it feels a little bit like they're saying see, we told you so, we needed to be listening to all these things and, look, we found this. That's the way it feels to me. It also is stunning to me to know that they're still having these conversations after the fact that it has been global news that the Obama administration is listening to everything. But to me, it seems like them sort of trying to show us that they're on top of things, unless it was an unsanctioned leak, in which case someone will be prosecuted for it.

BAIER: Do you wander if Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt are going to get a call like James Rosen.

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: I bet they won't.

KRAUTHAMMER: Was that an unintentional leak? I doubt it. It was a way to justify this attack. But I can assure you that these two guys are not going to be having the conversation. That phone line between Yemen and Pakistan is shut down.

HAYES: I have a different view. I think this is probably not a planned leak from the White House because it so fundamentally upsets the case that the administration has been making about Al Qaeda going back for the better part of four years. I think it is much more likely you have a local official or somebody who is talking to reporters inside Yemen, which is what the original McClatchy report says, that's where the leak came from, who in effect was having trouble getting reporters to take this seriously --

BAIER: One American official has been briefed on the intelligence reports in recent days.

HAYES: The McClatchy story, which was the original story that broke this, said he had been briefed on reports in Sana'a, Yemen. So it sounds like that's where the leak came from. I don't know. But to me it is much more likely that you had reporters that were not taking this maybe as seriously as the administration wanted or officials want, as Kirsten suggests, and then somebody was trying to make the point, look, you need to take this seriously, because these were the top guys.

BAIER: More with the panel on this topic and the big picture when we come back.

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