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Top US spy gives Intelligence agencies B+ on Egypt

Top US spy gives Intelligence agencies B+ on Egypt

The top U.S. intelligence officials deflected charges Thursday that their single-minded pursuit of al-Qaida meant they had missed signs of revolts unfolding in Arab countries.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper gave U.S. intelligence agencies a "B+" on Egypt, in remarks to the Intelligence committee of the House of Representatives laying out intelligence priorities for the coming year.
But he and CIA Director Leon Panetta said while they can forecast unrest they cannot predict the spark that would drive a long-suppressed group of people into the streets.
"We can reduce the uncertainty," but cannot eliminate it, Clapper said. "We are not clairvoyant."
Their testimony amounted to a real-time demonstration of the pitfalls of predicting what might happen in a crisis like the one unfolding in Egypt.
At the hearing, Panetta said he had seen indications Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak might resign that very day. News reports said he would make concessions.
Hours later, Mubarak told his nation he would delegate power but stay in office until September.
Clapper's prepared remarks focused foremost on the fight against terror, before backing into an exhaustive laundry list of potential threats, from the instability issues among the Arabs, to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, to cyberterror. Clapper says al-Qaida's core in Pakistan and its offshoots continue to be damaged by U.S. counterterror efforts. Intelligence cooperation has averted potentially deadly attacks during the past year, like the package bombs sent on two U.S.-bound cargo planes, he said.
Even as the intelligence chief tried to focus on terror, events in Egypt outside the hearing room drove the discussion, and the congressmen's questions.
The new House Intelligence chairman, Republican Mike Rogers, led the questioning, offering Clapper and Panetta, the chance to address the "800-pound gorilla in the room." That is, he said "the finger-pointing happening in this town about the lead-up of intelligence on Egypt."
Clapper and Panetta led the defense of the intelligence community's performance even as they both vowed to do better.
That left other witnesses at the table a chance to sit back and watch others get grilled. Among them was National Counterterrorism chief Mike Leiter, who had a much tougher hearing the previous year, just as the intelligence community was scrambling to figure out how a Nigerian man, Omar Farouk Abdumutallab, had boarded a plane headed for Detroit, Michigan, allegedly wired with explosives, despite being on a State Department watch list.
Clapper said he had reviewed "thousands" of intelligence reports, and concluded that intelligence community had done "yeoman's work" tracking the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, providing detailed accurate reports on a "very dynamic, fast-changing situation."
He insisted that specific triggers as to how and when instability will tip into revolution cannot always be spotted.
CIA Director Panetta, at Clapper's side, compared it to predicting an earthquake.
"People can tell you where the tremors are ... and even that the threat is close," Panetta said, "but they can't tell you when an earthquake is going to take place."
Panetta said some 400 intelligence reports during the past year warned of the potential for revolt throughout the region.
But he conceded that the CIA needed to do better at spotting those "triggers that ignite" revolution, and that they already had learned from Tunisia what to watch for in Egypt.
The spy chief said he established a 35-member task force to look into it, and asked all his station chiefs to examine issues like the "popular sentiments, the strength of the opposition," and "the role of the internet" in their countries, as social media sites like Facebook and Twitter were crucial tools for the organizers of the Arab revolts.
That was no promise they would predict the next revolt, however, Panetta said.
"Our biggest problem is always, how do we get into the head of somebody?"
He explained why the intelligence community had incorrectly predicted Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali would stay, a mistake that angered President Barack Obama.
"I think everybody assumed the dictator was going to basically crush any kind of demonstration," he said. "I don't think (Ben Ali) even knew he was going to get the hell out of town until he decided to jump on a plane and leave."


Updated : 2021-10-29 06:02 GMT+08:00