Patterico's Pontifications

2/11/2011

(More) Amateur Hour in Foreign Intelligence

Filed under: General — Aaron Worthing @ 8:40 am



[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here.]

Of course one person who directly benefitted from the cluelessness of the Clapper was Leon Panetta, who could then claim he only said the second stupidest thing yesterday.  Let’s start with the New York Times spin on it:

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.

Ah, well, except read what he actually said:

CIA Director Leon Panetta said Thursday that it’s likely Egyptian President Hosni Mabarak will step down tonight.

“There’s a strong likelihood that Mubarak may step down in Eqypt tonight,” Panetta told a House Intelligence panel.

Later during the hearing, Panetta was more specific: “I’ve received reports that possibly Mubarak might do that [step down tonight]. We are continuing to monitor the situation…we have not received specific reports.”

“I would assume that [Mubarak] would turn over more of his powers to [Vice President Omar] Suleiman…[who would] direct more of the reforms that need to take place…,” Panetta added.

Or just listen to what he said:

Meanwhile Obama, perhaps because of what is CIA Director said, seemed to anticipate that Mubarak was about to resign:

Which of course led to great embarrassment when Barack Mubarak didn’t resign.  It is a bit of hyperbole to say that “The mystique of America’s superpower status has been shattered[.]”  But our government did look like a bunch of idiots.

And for what?  What did any of these people gain by saying this?  Panetta could have said, simply, “I am not going to speculate on the future.”  Obama could have saved those remarks for the moment Mubarak actually stepped down.  What did these people gain by sticking their necks out like this?

(By the way, as I wrote this, Cnn sent me a “breaking news” email claiming that Mubarak has stepped down.  I have no confidence in breaking news these days, so I will wait for confirmation.)

[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]

31 Responses to “(More) Amateur Hour in Foreign Intelligence”

  1. Aaron: it seems confirmed. Suleiman issued a statement that Mubarak had stepped down and handed power over to an army committee. AJE has had live streams of jubilant crowds in Cairo and Alexandria for 45 mins or so now.

    aphrael (9802d6)

  2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12433045 has the full text of Suleiman’s statement.

    aphrael (9802d6)

  3. Yep. Always better to wait 24-48 hours for events to unfold before jumping on them.

    Tully (62151d)

  4. So basically, Panetta was right. Off a bit, but basically right.

    Kman (d30fc3)

  5. kman

    except that it seems that the reason why mubarak had to resign in the end was because when he didn’t, after all the expectations were built up, the crowd went ape-sh*t.

    so the proper term isn’t prophesy, but self-fulfilling prophesy.

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  6. tully

    > Yep. Always better to wait 24-48 hours for events to unfold before jumping on them.

    clearly you have never read a blog before. :-)

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  7. except that it seems that the reason why mubarak had to resign in the end was because when he didn’t, after all the expectations were built up, the crowd went ape-sh*t.

    I think he basically pulled a bait-and-switch. He told his military that he would step down, and that got leaked to news sources (and of course, our government is well-connected to the Egyptian military), so everyone thought it was a done deal.

    Then just before he goes on TV he starts hedging and backtracking, and it turns out that his idea of “stepping down” is really “stepping back sorta kinda”.

    I don’t know if there’s an Egyptian translation of “D’oh”, but I bet it was heard all over the inner halls of Cairo’s government houses yesterday.

    So everyone ended up looking like a dick. But that’s only because Mubarak was acting like one himself.

    Kman (d30fc3)

  8. “So basically, Panetta was right. Off a bit, but basically right.”

    Kman – Everybody told me if I voted for McCain we’d get an idiot as President. They were basically right.

    daleyrocks (479a30)

  9. It used to be that “military intelligence” was an oxymoron. This can now be extended to “national intelligence”.

    Hrothgar (f051f0)

  10. 9.It used to be that “military intelligence” was an oxymoron. This can now be extended to “national intelligence”.
    Comment by Hrothgar

    If Obama gets re-elected, the term can be again changed to “American Intelligence”

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  11. MD

    smart diplomacy was a contradiction of terms when obama coined the term.

    Aaron Worthing (b1db52)

  12. Kman,

    But there was no indication the American government’s information came from the military or any intelligence source. I think it’s more reasonable to assume Mubarak’s departure resulted from a military coup that became more urgent after Friday’s large protests, and the protests were so large because Mubarak did not step down initially as the media predicted (and Panetta repeated).

    In other words, instead of reporting the facts, the media helped make history.

    DRJ (fdd243)

  13. DRJ – if that isn’t enough to worry someone, I do not know what is.

    Why are you insulting amateurs, AW?

    JD (ae44dd)

  14. DRJ: I would agree that your interpretation (military coup made more urgent after today’s protests, which were larger because Mubarak did not step down) is correct.

    I’m not sure how much of it I would hand to the media, however. Yesterday, an egyptian army officer told protesters in Tahrir square that their demands would shortly be met; that statement was disseminated through the crowd and would have been, even if the western media and AJ had said nothing.

    That statement, in and of itself, would have led to a feeling of betrayal after yesterday’s speech.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  15. I think it’s very important to recognize that Penetta did in fact largely cause this. He based his blabbing on something completely wrong, but led to changed and massive expectations, just as it appeared the protests were dying down.

    This administration is incredibly irresponsible. I hope we don’t see a radical theocracy, but if we do, it is Obama’s fault.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  16. I hope that Panetta and his folks have Slingbox on their Blackberries and iPhones so they can keep up with the networks.

    JD (ae44dd)

  17. . Yesterday, an egyptian army officer told protesters in Tahrir square that their demands would shortly be met; that statement was disseminated through the crowd and would have been, even if the western media and AJ had said nothing.

    It’s one thing to say that their demands would be met, vaguely, but Mubarak was too busy loudly denying Panetta’s ‘reports’. The entire world began buzzing after they learned the CIA was getting reports that Mubarak was stepping down yesterday. It was a major shift in the story.

    . Panetta had no idea what was going on, but wanted to act like he was relevant. The way he described the CNN story he watched was so inaccurate that it reminds me of Michael Scott. It was theater meant to make bureacrats look good, instead of the result of Panetta doing a great job for the past couple of years.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  18. Just watching Panetta speak is quite frustrating. He’s announcing this great revelation that if the ruler of the country steps down, it’s significant, and then lets us know it’s something he should pay attention to.

    This guy has no experience with this kind of work, and he doesn’t have the brainpower to talk about it intelligently. He probably watched CNN to cram before the big speech.

    We’ve got millions of lives at stake, and the government of a major ally in a crucial location turning towards our enemies in a war. We should have heard from someone qualified instead of an unqualified crony.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  19. Dustin: aye, I’m not seeking to defend Panetta here. I’m saying that the anger in the crowd wasn’t a result of the reporting on CNN; it was a result of a belief that they’d been lied to, to their faces.

    Which is to say: the changed expectations in Cairo weren’t due to Panetta, or the western media. They were due to a screwup by an Egyptian army officer.

    [I wouldn’t say it appeared the protests were dying down, either. Tuesday’s protest had been large, and the general expectation was that today’s protests would be large – they’ve been specifically staging larger protests on Tuesday and Friday. There’s a great article in today’s IHT about the organization and planning of the protests, but I can’t find the link on the website (I read it on my kindle, which doesn’t give me that information.)]

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  20. Barcky was smart in taking 12 positions over the last couple weeks, the odds were in his favor that eventually something would happen that would match with one of his positions.

    JD (ae44dd)

  21. “eventually something would happen that would match with one of his positions.”

    “And as I have always said…” classic Barky line

    luagha (5cbe06)

  22. Aphrael, I could be in error about the crowds. I read reports that it was dwindling, which I have to note means I have the same level of intel as the director of the CIA. Impressive, right?

    Also, I realize you’re not sticking up for Panetta. At any rate, they were more enraged at the idea they were lied to, and there was more than one ‘lie’. I think your POV is very understandable and reasonable regarding basic democracy being worth problems.

    However, I think retire’s predictions are damn good ones in this case. I also add that if democracy leads to misery and disaster in Egypt, that will retard progress in that region as other countries stick to dictators to avoid Egypt. I wish Iraq and Israel could be the democracy examples, instead of the Muslim Brotherhood.

    I will look into Tribune article you mentioned.

    [nick fixed. also it got stuck in moderation apparently for the word “retard.” obviously that was not meant as insulting anyone here, but you might avoid that word in the future to avoid getting caught in the filter.]

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  23. I’m not seeking to defend Panetta here. I’m saying that the anger in the crowd wasn’t a result of the reporting on CNN; it was a result of a belief that they’d been lied to, to their faces.

    Aphrael, it’s very clear that you’re not shilling for anybody, let alone this Panetta jackass. I think the CNN story on its own was of little significance, but a lot of people want to get ahead of the curve, so when the CIA says Mubarak is stepping down, that really did heat things up, and when he responded, that heated things up too.

    I guess you’re right that I can’t prove that but for Panetta, this wouldn’t have happened eventually, but my impression was that what time mubarak had left was going to foster a better transition, and heating things up was contrary to our interests.

    My other comment seems to have been eaten by a filter… sorry if I have two repetitive blathers.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  24. Hmm. I wouldn’t call Panetta a jackass, either; he clearly screwed this one up, but he’s been a respectable guy in the past. Back in the 80s and early 90s, he was one of the leaders of the movement to pull the Democrats back to the center on economic issues, and was the leading deficit hawk in the House. My vote for him as my Congressman in 1992 – before he resigned to join the OMB – was one of the few votes I’ve ever cast for a politician as opposed to against his opponent.

    That said, he clearly dropped the ball on this one, badly.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  25. I’m going to call him a jackass. He’s in a position of tremendous sensitivity.

    No doubt, there are less moral or capable people in government, but why is he in this particular role? He wants to be a pundit, when he should have been fixing the nuts and bolts in preparation for crises. I would love it if we could toss him in the VP slot, or House majority leader, but he’s running intelligence with his TV clicker.

    Anyway, I think this is less about democracy and more about food prices. A lot of the noise we’re getting from the media is hiding that this is a major step in a global economic crisis where people are desperate to feed themselves. Egypt isn’t the only country facing his problem, either. Vietnam, Iran, Syria, Yemen… we’re going to see major instability when people figure they have nothing to lose and a hungry family.

    Kinda makes me laugh that we ban McDonalds or riot at black friday deals.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  26. why is he in this particular role?

    skill at bureaucratic management. basically, the Obama administration believed the CIA under Bush was fubar and brought in someone with experience (director of OMB, former WHCS) to fix it.

    I have no idea if he’s succeeding. Just that that was the theory.

    this is less about democracy and more about food prices

    that’s contradicted by just about every protester i’ve heard or seen interviewed on any news source (NPR, AJE, ABC, NBC, NYT/IHT, BBC). Now, it could be that the news agencies are selectively picking protesters to interview, and there could be bias because they’re all english-speaking, but on some level i’ve got to place some credit in the words of the protesters themselves.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  27. @kman/9:02
    pretty close. i think PBO pressured him so he said he would announce his resignation knowing that it would leak back to Obama who would jump to his teleprompter to take credit. afterwhich mubarak took the opportunity to expose our esteemed president as clueless. worked, imho.

    SD John (f126ff)

  28. that’s contradicted by just about every protester i’ve heard or seen interviewed on any news source

    I grant this point. I am contradicting them.

    The fact is that people who are oppressed just happen to be rising up as food becomes difficult to obtain. I do not think it’s a coincidence. I think it is a very serious indication as to the direction the world is going to take over the next few years. For all the worries about unstable energy prices, unstable food prices in places where food is relatively expensive is far more powerful.

    The reason Egypt is erupting before Vietnam or wherever is directly related to the most important fact of their daily lives. It is the dominant theme of their lives that food is harder to come by.

    I do appreciate your point that we should take these people at face value. They are sick of this BS government of theirs. But I also want to note that I associate radical islam with basic human misery. The more of that we can relieve, the less of a problem with radical islam we will have. It’s not a perfect rule, though.

    If there were some good way to increase the world’s food supply a lot, I’d recommend it, but I think the real lesson is that there’s nothing Obama or anyone else can do about it, aside from run a competent administration that doesn’t push radicals.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  29. Well, Dustin, suspending QE 2, and redirecting food stocks from ethanol, might be a good first step,

    narciso (c8ccf1)

  30. This group of Huey, Louie, and Dewey’s (with apologies to Walt Disney) couldn’t even predict the sun-rise (cue Bricusse/Newley song: Candyman).

    AD-RtR/OS! (b8ab92)

  31. Достатно интересно конечно. Что я немогу подписаться почти каждым словом, только в общем соглашусь.
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