The top US intelligence officials deflected charges on Thursday that their single-minded pursuit of al-Qaeda meant they had missed signs of revolts unfolding in Arab countries.
US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper gave US 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.
However, 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 Mubarak would make concessions.
Hours later, Mubarak told his nation he would delegate power, but stay in office until September.
Clapper says al-Qaeda’s core in Pakistan and its offshoots continue to be damaged by US counterterror efforts. Intelligence cooperation has averted potentially deadly attacks during the past year, like the package bombs sent on two US-bound cargo planes, he said.