Week In News: Terror Alert

The U.S. State Department issued a warning to Americans traveling abroad this weekend, as well as to many embassies and consulates, that it has learned of the possibility of a terrorist attack. Host Jacki Lyden speaks with James Fallows of The Atlantic.

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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Coming up, why Major League Baseball is teaming up with the U.S. Forest Service. But first...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARIE HARF: Now that's it's in the public domain that the embassies will be closed and there's a travel alert for Americans traveling abroad, there's some understanding of the seriousness of the threat.

REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI: It is possible we may have additional days of closing as well, of course, depending on our analysis.

LYDEN: The voices of State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us as he does most Saturdays. Hello there, Jim.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Jacki. It's nice to talk to you.

LYDEN: Great to talk to you.

Jim, this announcement by the State Department that it is shutting down operations at a number of U.S. embassies in the Middle East and North Africa tomorrow. This is really curious. We're once again reminded of this balance between privacy and security.

FALLOWS: Indeed. And probably we should note two cynical or at least practical contacts to this announcement. One is, of course, in the midst of the controversy over the NSA surveillance programs and the Edward Snowden asylum in Russia and the Bradley Manning verdict. This is a reminder from the government side of what these programs were originally set up to do. Also in the wake of the Benghazi attacks and killings, I think any American government would want to show that it was ahead of any threat rather than behind it.

But beyond that, I think there are signs that you have to take this warning seriously. I think the government's in a genuinely difficult position. When it has some indication of danger that is specific enough to want to let people know about it but vague enough that you can't say do this differently tomorrow, do this differently next week. The fact they're closing down so many embassies suggest, though, that something real we need to take seriously.

LYDEN: Yeah. Jim, I know that you're familiar with the recent Pew Research Center poll that says that Republican voters actually want their leaders to be more conservative and less compromising. Did that surprise you?

FALLOWS: It was notable. What's interesting is over the past year, especially since last year's presidential election, you'd seen all this national level punditry led by Republicans, saying that for the party to revive itself at the presidential level, it needed to broaden its appeal more to women, more to minorities, more to young people, et cetera. And yet at the state level, most of the momentum seems to be pushing the other way, which is what this Pew poll seems to indicate.

We have the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky who most Democrats view as the epitome of obstructionism. He now has a Tea Party challenger in his state, it seems, in addition to a Democratic challenger. The same may happen to Lindsey Graham in South Carolina. So the repositioning struggles of the Republican Party as it goes forward will go on for a while.

LYDEN: Yeah. Well, Jim, for the last four years, you've been our constant pilot here through these friendly skies. And we are heading west in mid-September and so are you, but regrettably not with us. Tell us about your new adventure.

FALLOWS: It has been, Jacki, a wonderful privilege over these past four years to talk with you and, before you, with Guy Raz and with various other people who have been in the chair from time to time. Starting this month, actually, my wife and I are going to be doing for The Atlantic where I work and for Marketplace Radio, also on a public radio station, a project we're calling American Future.

So it's essentially a road trip by air through a small airplane to small-town parts of America that we feel have under-covered developments, economically, socially, demographically and all the rest. This is an old American tradition of reporting the country by road trip with the new innovation of our small plane. So the only thing I regret about this transition is not being able to talk with you and your listeners anymore.

(LAUGHTER)

LYDEN: James Fallows is national correspondent with The Atlantic. And you can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com and follow his new adventures in American Future.

Jim, I just want to say, we cannot thank you enough for your presence on this show this past four years. Thank you again. Bon voyage. Good luck.

FALLOWS: Thank you. The honor has been mine, and I will see you soon.

LYDEN: You'll be missed.

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