For Egypt Clues, Intel Watches Web
If you believe that the intelligence community blew it on Egypt and missed the early signs of the popular uprising, your opinion is not shared by the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
“Our intelligence professionals are working diligently to provide the latest, real-time intelligence about the evolving situation in Egypt,” Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland said in a statement several hours after Hosni Mubarak resigned as president of Egypt. “The protests are part of an unpredictable, popular uprising using social media. They do not have a crystal ball and can not predict the future, but they are working around the clock to collect and analyze as much information as possible in the world of Facebook, Twitter and Myspace. As Ranking Member on the Intelligence Committee, we are always pushing the community to give us more intelligence.”
One of the interesting stories sure to come out of the last few weeks is the role of the DNI’s Open Source Center in all this. The OSC, which combs unclassified sources in any language for information of use to policymakers and analysts, must become a central asset to the intelligence community in these times of Facebook– and Twitter-driven uprisings from Tunisia to Iran. (As a reminder — although it relies on unclassified material, the OSC usually classifies its analysis and other products.) It must work hand in glove with the National Security Agency, home to the greatest assemblage of computer and human translators, as well as the center for US cyber operations. The Director of National Intelligence, Jim Clapper, One of the questions sure to be addressed over the next few months is just how closely is the IC watching these increasingly important open sources on the web. Also, how effectively are they combing through ostensibly private SMS and cell phone traffic for clues to what is happening in crucial countries such as Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Jordan and the Gulf States.
After Leon Panetta, CIA director, told the HPSCI yesterday that it appeared likely Mubarak would soon leave Egypt, his aides scrambled to correct any misapprehensions that might have arisen — especially any that smacked of that most hated shibboleth, an intelligence failure.
“It would be wrong for anyone to suggest that the CIA didn’t get things right on Egypt. The agency has been tracking developments very closely, and there were very real and rapidly unfolding changes over the course of the day in what has been — by any measure — an extremely fluid situation. That’s the nature of the intelligence business, and U.S. intelligence agencies will continue to follow events in Egypt and the region closely,” according to a quote in the Washington Post attributed to a senior intelligence official.