UPDATE (12:50 PM EST):
In addition to embassy closures reported earlier, the US State Department on Friday issued a "global travel warning" for US citizens, with special emphasis on North Africa and the Middle East region.
The alert covers the complete month of August.
“The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula,” read the bulletin, by the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. “Current information suggests that Al Qaeda and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August.”
EARLIER: The US State Department, citing unspecified security concerns, has ordered many of its embassies around the world to be closed on Sunday.
“It’s not often that we close a bunch of embassies at once,” one State Dept. official told the New York Times, who added that the threat was being taken "particularly seriously" by US intelligence.
According to the Times, the unnamed official said the plan is
to have nearly all American diplomatic facilities in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia closed through the weekend, including missions in Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. In much of the Muslim world, diplomatic facilities are generally closed on Friday and Saturday, but open on Sunday.
Whereas mysterious proclamations of ominous yet vaguely-described "security threats" by the government have become a rather well established ritual of the post 9/11 era, the latest announcement comes at a time of elevated concern by the US public related to the manner in which US intelligence agencies are collecting digital and telephonic communications both domestically and internationally.
The NSA in particular has been under increased scrutiny since revelations revealed a much broader surveillance dragnet apparatus than was previously known. NSA supporters have defended the programs by saying that such efforts are necessary to "keep Americans safe," but critics of the programs say that government officials have used fear-mongering over terrorism to establish far-reaching authorities that threaten constitutional rights and civil liberties.
This Sunday, ironically, a coalition of groups and individuals concerned about the depth and reach of NSA spying are holding their second "Restore the Fourth" rally which refers to the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, designed to protect citizens against unlawful search and seizures by the government.