US intelligence officials warned President Barack Obama’s administration of instability in Egypt at the end of 2010 but did not foresee what would trigger the unrest at that time, says a top US CIA official.
Stephanie O’Sullivan, nominated to be the principal deputy director of national intelligence, asked at her Senate confirmation hearing when the US intelligence community warned Obama and policymakers that protesters might threaten Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s grip on power.
“We have warned of instability,” she said. “We didn’t know what the triggering mechanism would be for that. And that happened at the end of the last year.”
Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been criticized for being slow to grasp the scale of the upheaval in Egypt, Reuters reports.
When pressed for details, O’Sullivan, currently the associate deputy director at the CIA, said she could not elaborate.
“I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to satisfy your specific question,” she said. “My duties involved a more general understanding of the debates that were going on and not the face-to-face briefing of the president over this past year.”
O’Sullivan stressed US officials had been working tirelessly to analyse the broader, strategic impact of Arab unrest ever since the protests that ousted Tunisia’s president after 23 years in power on January 14.
“The events in Egypt are rapidly unfolding and the intelligence community is working flat-out to track them on the ground,” she said. “But the minute things started earlier on in Tunisia, the intelligence community started looking at the long-term strategic impacts.”