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NYT: CIA Director Based Mubarak Congressional Testimony on Media Reports


The news for the Obama administration keeps getting worse. Or, more accurately, embarrassing.

After National Intelligence Director James Clapper erroneously said the Muslim Brotherhood was a "secular" organization, it's now been revealed that CIA Director Leon Panetta's testimony in front of Congress that Mubarak's resignation was a "strong likelihood" was based not on intelligence but rather media reports.

The New York Times explains:

Mr. Obama watched Mr. Mubarak’s speech on board Air Force One, returning from a trip to Michigan, the press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said. As soon as he arrived at the White House, Mr. Obama huddled with his national security aides. The administration appeared as taken aback by Mr. Mubarak’s speech as the crowds in Tahrir Square. The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon E. Panetta, testified before the House of Representatives on Thursday morning that there was a “strong likelihood” that Mr. Mubarak would step down by the end of the day.

American officials said Mr. Panetta was basing his statement not on secret intelligence but on media broadcasts, which began circulating before he sat down before the House Intelligence Committee. But a senior administration official said Mr. Obama had also expected that Egypt was on the cusp of dramatic change. Speaking at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, he said, “We are witnessing history unfold,” adding, “America will do everything we can to support an orderly and genuine transition to democracy.” [Emphasis added]

"Wait, what? The head of the CIA was giving information to congress that he was getting from the 'teevee'? Hmmm…I could have done that," writes Colby Hall over at Mediaite.

But according to the Wall Street Journal, the White House is just as much as fault for using the media to guide its message, as evidenced by its surprise when Mubarak did not step down:

All day, as rumors swirled Mr. Mubarak would step down, administration officials struggled to understand what was happening, and even U.S. intelligence officials appeared baffled at one point. At a Capitol Hill hearing, Leon Panetta, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers there was "a strong likelihood that Mubarak may step down this evening."

Mr. Panetta clarified later in the hearing that the CIA had received reports that Mr. Mubarak would "possibly" resign but said he saw a transition scenario under which Mr. Mubarak would shift powers to Mr. Suleiman, something closer to what appears to have happened.

A senior intelligence official defended Mr. Panetta, saying he was referring to press reports in his comments rather than to CIA intelligence reports.

"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," the official said. "That's the nature of the intelligence business."

After Mr. Mubarak's speech, the White House was consumed with a sense of "disbelief," one U.S. official said. [Emphasis added]

The administration's disarray is also evident by looking at the two foreign policy philosophies present within the White House. MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell pointed that out during a segment last night:

Tonight as the protesters in Tahrir Square demand revolutionary change from their government, another argument is taking place inside the Obama administration as it struggles with its message on Egypt. In one camp, say some reports, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Decretary Robert Gates are turned — concerned with regional stable and are pushing for a process led by Egypt’s Vice President, Omar Suleiman. In the other camp, younger voices from Obama’s presidential campaign including national security council staff members Ben Rhodes and Samantha Power have been arguing that Mubarak’s regime is finished and it’s time to fully support the protesters. Rhodes wrote President Obama’s “a new beginning,” that called for democratic reforms in the Arab world.

Power, who was in the running for cabinet position before she was let go for making derogatory remarks about Hillary Clinton during the 2008 campaign, is a staunch interventionist. Her book, "A Problem From Hell: American in the Age of Genocide," advocates for American involvement in foreign conflicts that involve human suffering.

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