Deep Background

Article excerpt

The back-and-forth response of the United States government to the growing crisis in North Africa has resulted in the usual finger pointing, this time in search of whom to blame for the failure to predict developments. A major shake-up in the intelligence community is expected in response to congressional and White House complaints that no one anticipated the popular revolts in Tunisia and Egypt and, worse, that there were no indications that they might produce anything like regime change. Vice President Biden was so misled by the available intelligence that he described the Hosni Mubarak regime in positive terms and as a "strong" ally shortly before massive demonstrations took control of a number of Egyptian cities. President Obama has privately expressed his dismay at the quality of intelligence product to National Intelligence Director James Clapper, noting in particular that recent estimates had failed to consider the depth of the anger against Tunisia's Xine el-Abidine ben Ali and Egypt's Mubarak, supporting instead the idea that the two regimes were too well entrenched to be challenged.

The intelligence community has made little effort to defend itself, but midlevel officers who are actually involved in collecting and analyzing information are angry, noting that it is the U.S. government itself that has made their task much more difficult. They remark that just a couple of well-placed sources in the opposition movements in Egypt and Tunisia would have sufficed to reveal that major protests were impending. But the sources had never been developed because of State Department unwillingness to collect information on banned parties and leaders in countries that are ostensibly friendly. The stigmatization of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as a quasiterrorist group declared illegal by ally Mubarak meant that U. …


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