The threats that led to the U.S. closing almost two dozen embassies abroad this weekend is based on intelligence that is reminiscent of the "chatter" preceding the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, a top senator on intelligence matters said Sunday.
"The one thing we can talk about is the fact that there's been an awful lot of chatter out there," Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." He said the chatter is "very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11."
The United States has closed more than 20 embassies for the weekend, mostly in north Africa and the Middle East, in response to unspecified intelligence assessments about a mounting terrorist threat. Lawmakers offered their first glimpse of the seriousness of the threat in their public comments on Sunday.
"This specific threat, that we've been briefed about over and over again, have reached a new level," said Sen. Richard Durbin, Ill., the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. Durbin said on Meet the Press that Vice President Joe Biden briefed him and other senators this week, during which the administration identified 25 embassies overseas that are particularly vulnerable.
"This is the most serious threat that I've seen in the last several years," said Chambliss.
President Barack Obama has been briefed throughout the weekend about the evolving threat, most recently on Saturday, when he met with counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco. The White House said that Obama would continue to receive briefings throughout the weekend.
The sweeping security precautions, in some ways, represent the lessons learned from the attack against a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya less than a year ago.
In that attack, suspected terrorists sieged a compound in Benghazi and killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Critics of Obama, mostly Republicans, have vocally complained that the administration was caught flat-footed by those attacks, accusing the White House of having suffered an intelligence failure.
The period of heightened alert coincides with the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Aug. 7 also marks the 15-year anniversary of the deadly, coordinated attacks against U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998.
By Michael O'Brien, NBC News