On Friday, President Barack Obama scolded National Intelligence Director James Clapper, saying he was "disappointed with the intelligence community" for not predicting unrest in Tunisia that has spread to Egypt and other Arab countries in the region, the Associated Press reported.
An Obama administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the AP that the White House received "little warning" before riots began to break out in Egypt.
The criticism from the White House comes as Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., demanded to know the details of when Obama was briefed about the unfolding crises. “These events should not have come upon us with the surprise that they did,” Feinstein told the AP. “There should have been much more warning.”
“Was someone looking at what was going on the Internet?” she asked, referring to protesters' use of social media outlets to organize demonstrations.
The criticism for the intelligence community from the White House and Capitol Hill just one day after the CIA's associate deputy director testified to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that U.S. intelligence agencies warned President Obama last year that Egyptian instability threatened the rule of Hosni Mubarak.
"We have warned of instability," Stephanie O'Sullivan told the committee. "We didn't know what the triggering mechanism would be for that. And that happened at the end of the last year." Intelligence reports about protests in Tunisia began in mid-December, she added.
Also during the hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked O'Sullivan specifically about how and when Obama was briefed on Egypt. "I am interested in when the president was told how serious this was," he said. "This goes to the function of intelligence. ... I want to get a general sense of when you told the president we were faced with something that was as serious as what we have seen in recent days."
"The events in Egypt are rapidly unfolding and the intelligence community is working flat out to track them on the ground," O'Sullivan responded. "But the minute things started earlier on in Tunisia, the intelligence community started looking at the long-term strategic impacts."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Friday downplayed the back-and-forth finger-pointing. "The president expects that, in any case, that he will be provided with relevant, timely and accurate intelligence assessments and that's exactly what's been done throughout this crisis."