The latest in a long series of US terror scares since the September 11, 2001 attacks has unfolded over the last three days, following a well-worn pattern.
Top officials of the executive branch issue vague and ominous alerts. Congressional leaders, after closed-door briefings by the intelligence agencies, echo the warnings. The media amplifies the alarm uncritically, seeking to stampede the public. Not a single voice is raised to question the claims or essential premises of the scare campaign.
A number of questions are raised by the global travel alert and closure of US diplomatic facilities throughout the Middle East announced on Friday.
First, there is the timing of the measures. They come after nearly two months of nonstop revelations about massive US government spying on the American people, including the collection of both metadata and the content of the telephone conversations and e-mail of virtually every person in the United States.
The Obama administration has been thrown on the defensive by the information made public by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, with the assistance of Guardian newspaper columnist Glenn Greenwald.
Only two days before the State Department alert, the White House received a rebuff when Russia granted one-year temporary asylum to Snowden. This allowed him to leave the transit zone at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and take up residence in Russia, freeing him from the threat of immediate deportation to a US prison cell or torture chamber.