Dianne Feinstein (D-Clalif.), Chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, took the US intelligence community to task Wednesday Feb. 16 for missing the early warning signs of the upheaval that ended Hosni Mubarak's presidency on Feb. 11.
"I mean, I'm not a big computer person, but I looked at Facebook, and I am not a member of Facebook, but you could get right in and you could see everything about it," she said.
However, American intelligence officials don't resort to the Internet to cull information – only to disseminate it. To find out what was going on in Egypt after the first disturbances, US officials phoned their contacts in the Egyptian military and intelligence services. The trouble was that Egyptian army chiefs did not know themselves where the protest movement was going. Having been let down by their inside sources in Cairo, US intelligence was left stumped.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources, the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA routinely confined themselves to a single channel of information on Egypt, Intelligence Minister Gen. Omar Suleiman, the man responsible in the Mubarak regime for military and foreign intelligence (on other Middle East countries) and information on domestic political currents and the Muslim Brotherhood, in particular.
US intelligence agencies also gathered impressions from the hundreds of American military advisers stationed in Egypt as part of the US military aid package, who talked with the Egyptian officers and soldiers they trained every day. Another important source was American businessmen who met frequently with Egyptian bankers, businessmen and industrialists.
All their intel eggs in one basket
But the fact is that none of the Egyptian groups familiar to Americans imagined for a moment that an unstoppable popular protest movement was about to sweep the Mubarak regime away.
The groups with more useful information were not approached: The counterterrorism agencies of the CIA and FBI had few contacts in the internal security and intelligence agencies controlled by Egypt's Interior Ministry, then headed by Habib Ibrahim El Adly. The slight data gleaned from those sources was pre-processed by Gen. Suleiman's aides before it reached Washington – if at all.
It was only 10 days to two weeks into the uprising that US intelligence personnel began tapping into opposition groups. Even then their data was of questionable credibility and accuracy.
Our intelligences sources say that US intelligence agencies are not free of their old quandary. While publicly declaring US commitment to a democratic Egypt, the Obama administration is working at double speed to strengthen the military junta which has assumed power for the sake of stabilizing the country.
Once again, dependency on a single source, Egyptian military intelligence sources, is being generated – the same mistake made when Mubarak was in power repeated.
Now that the Egyptian Interior Ministry's security services have broken down, US intelligence does not have much choice. Establishing a good, broadly-based information network which does not rely on a single source cannot be achieved in weeks or even months. In a country torn by political and social turmoil, it could take years.
Israel neglected intelligence-gathering on Egypt
Israel, its intelligence agencies and its armed forces– the IDF, find themselves in exactly the same predicament.
Its intelligence feed also depended solely on the personal ties between Gen. Suleiman and the Defense Ministry's Political Coordinator, Maj. Gen (res.) Amos Gilead. Four years ago, the Egyptian desk of the IDF Intelligence Division – MI – was downgraded: It was moved out of General Staff Intelligence headquarters in Tel Aviv to a small office in the IDF's Southern Command in Beersheba, its only task to coordinate with the Egyptian forces deployed on the Israel border.
As a result of this negligence, the new IDF Intelligence Director, Maj. Gen. Aviv Cochavi, was not updated when an Egyptian Air Force helicopter finally evacuated Mubarak and his family from his palace in Cairo on Feb. 11 and was late in finding out that the president had been deposed in a military coup.
Israel's intelligence blindness on Egypt has not been rectified by the failure to foresee its revolution.
Monday, February 14, another 2,200 Egyptian troops – two and a half brigades of the 18th Mechanized Division – were permitted to enter Sinai despite the 1979 peace treaty's ban on an Egyptian military presence.
Israeli intelligence officials had not managed to identify the officers commanding this force, their precise mission or how long they would stay – although Cairo handed their names to Israel beforehand.