Donald Lambro

"Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is probably the biggest threat to the homeland. They're the al-Qaeda faction that still talks about hitting the West and hitting the [U.S.] homeland... So we are on a high state of alert," says GOP Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee. The threat, he adds, is "very imminent."

Al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden, has ordered an attack by his Yemen affiliate, according to "intercepted communications," the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

In one of those telecommunications intercepts, Zawahiri sent "clear orders" to Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the head of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and bin Laden's former personal secretary, to conduct a major attack.

Wuhayshi was recently promoted to the No. 2 post in the al-Qaeda command structure. His affiliate is believed to have been responsible for the foiled plot to explode a passenger jet on its way to Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009, and attempts to blow up cargo planes in 2010.

These communications intercepts have revealed the most detailed attack orders in years and demonstrate the growing confidence of al- Qaeda's high command to inflict yet another massive attack on the U.S. or our Western allies.

Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has compared the intercepts to the kind of messages being heard before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"This is the most serious threat that I've seen in the last several years," he said on NBC's Meet The Press Sunday.

"What we have heard is some specifics on what's intended to be done and some individuals who are making plans, such as we saw before 9/11. Whether they are going to be suicide vests that are used, or whether they're planning on vehicle-borne bombs being carried into an area, we don't know. But we're hearing some kind of that same chatter that we heard pre-9/11," Chambliss said.

The senator isn't being hyperbolic about the intercepts' threats. Terrorism experts point out that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is considered to be the most dangerous and most effective affiliate of the global terrorist network. That al-Qaeda's second in command is in charge of this new offensive has set off red flags at NSA's command posts.

What isn't known, or revealed thus far, about al-Qaeda's next terrorist attack is where, when, and what kind of attack it will be. They're likely to be carried out in a highly coordinated, multi- target offensive.

What we do know for sure is that Obama's politically-driven assurances during the course of his re-election campaign that, thanks to him, al-Qaeda is "on the run," were totally bogus.

For the president to make such an extravagant claim throughout his campaign, based in part on the death of Osama bin Laden, was naive at best and duplicitous at worst.

Meantime, the debate over NSA's surveillance methods may be the first casualty of this new information. Thus far, no one is saying specifically how these early threats were discovered, except that they were "heard" from terrorist "chatter" on some kind of electronic surveillance by the NSA.

If these attacks are foiled as a result of the NSA's use of its telecommunications program, that debate will come to an abrupt end.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.