Washington, Feb 11 (IANS) The embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s “shocking” refusal to resign as widely anticipated has set off another round of speculation: Was it a major intelligence failure or a deal gone awry?
Or was it simply “a rare misstep” by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Leon Panetta, “who had little intelligence experience before taking the CIA job two years ago,” as suggested by the Washington Post.
Panetta, it noted “helped touch off an avalanche of erroneous expectations Thursday when he testified that there was a ‘strong likelihood’ that Mubarak would step down by the end of the day.”
Within minutes, senior aides to Panetta sought to tamp down the impact, saying he was merely referring to media reports, the Post said.
“But by then, the comments had ricocheted around the internet, underscoring US confusion about events unfolding in Egypt, as well as the perils of publicly weighing in on such developments while serving as director of CIA.”
The explanation that Panetta was citing news accounts protected him from being on the hook if the prediction turned out not to be true, the Post said.
“But it also carried a more subtle public relations risk, suggesting that the CIA chief was not necessarily any better informed than others at Thursday’s hearing, scanning their cell phones for breaking news,” it said.
“His statements were not based on intelligence reports,” an unnamed senior US intelligence official was quoted as saying by the Post. And “i would be wrong for anyone to suggest that the CIA didn’t get things right on Egypt.”
Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. also defended the intelligence community Thursday saying that spy services have produced thousands of reports in recent years warning of instability in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East.
But he acknowledged that it was unclear what events might trigger a government overthrow. “I would give it at least a B-plus, not an A-minus,” said Clapper as cited by the Post.
Panetta also acknowledged that the agency needs to do a better job of spotting specific vulnerabilities for governments and of monitoring the Internet’s role in fomenting protests.
But apparently everyone took Panetta’s comments at face value. “All indications were that Mubarak would step down,” noted intelligence think tank Stratfor analyst Reva Bhalla.
“That was the message transmitted in Washington with … Panetta telling Congress he has heard that Mubarak would step down. Somewhere along the line that understanding unravelled,” she said.