US intelligence agencies are drawing criticism from the Oval Office and Capitol Hill for their failure to detect signs of unrest in the Islamic world and warn in advance of the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.
US President Barack Obama sent a letter to the National Intelligence Director, James Clapper, saying he was "disappointed with the intelligence community" over its failure to predict the outbreak of demonstrations that would lead to the ouster of President Zain al-Abedin in Tunisia. According to a US official familiar with such exchanges, which were expressed to Clapper through White House staff, there was little warning before Egypt's riots as well.
Top senators on the Intelligence Committee are asking when the president was briefed and what he was told before the popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
The committee's chairwoman, Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein, said "These events should not have come upon us with the surprise that they did." She said there should have been much more warning of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, in part because protestors were using the Internet and social media to organize.
The American senator asked: "Was someone looking at what was going on the Internet?"
Earlier, top CIA official Stephanie O'Sullivan told senators that Obama was warned of instability in Egypt "at the end of last year." She spoke during a confirmation hearing to become the deputy director of national intelligence, the No. 2 official to Clapper.
The leading Republican on the committee, Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, asked for a written record of the timetable of Obama's intelligence briefings. It's due to the committee in 10 days.
However, the White House publicly rejected charges that intelligence agencies underperformed on Tunisia and said the intelligence community warned the president that Tunisia's protests could inspire others.
As it seems, the US intelligence has been unable over the past decades to predict upheavals in different parts of the world. Over three decades ago, the CIA couldn't properly asses the firmness of the resolve of the Iranian people against the US-backed Pahlavi puppet regime. At the time, the US lost one of its key allies in the region. In the aftermath of the resounding triumph of the Islamic Revolution, American officials claimed an improved status of intelligence regarding the international issues, especially vis-à-vis developments in the Middle East.
However, the current upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt again caught the Americans off guard, and showed how weak the US is, even regarding the intelligence system.
The ground realities show that the US was blindly dependent on its clients in the region and any voice of opposition against these dictators was considered 'terrorist activities'. US observers thus lost the chance to study the culture and religion of the Islamic world, the two vital factors behind political and social developments.