WASHINGTON -- On Thursday morning, the heads of America's intelligence services went to Capitol Hill to testify before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on worldwide threats to the United States. We won't know what was said in the committee's closed sessions until it's leaked by one of the participants. But to paraphrase former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, based on their public testimony, what we now know about what our intelligence services don't know ought to alarm us.
The director of national intelligence, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper, stunned the committee by describing Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood -- the organization that has co-opted pro-democracy protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square -- as "a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried al-Qaida as a perversion of Islam. ... They have pursued social ends, a betterment of the political order in Egypt."
This statement was so at variance with reality that DNI spokeswoman Jamie Smith subsequently was compelled to issue an explanation: "To clarify Director Clapper's point, in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood makes efforts to work through a political system that has been, under (Hosni) Mubarak's rule, one that is largely secular in its orientation. He is well aware that the Muslim brotherhood is not a secular organization."
Shortly after Clapper's astounding claim, CIA Director Leon Panetta told the committee, "There is a strong likelihood that Mubarak may step down this evening." He then went even further by noting that such a development "will be significant in terms of where the hopefully orderly transition in Egypt will take place." It turns out he was dead wrong on both counts.
In response to Rep. Sue Myrick's question about the Muslim Brotherhood's role in perpetrating violence against the U.S. and our allies, FBI Director Robert Mueller contradicted the DNI by observing, "Elements of the Muslim Brotherhood here and overseas have supported terrorism." He then had the good sense to decline going further in public, offering instead to "provide further information" in closed session.
Less than six hours after this drama unfolded in Washington, Mubarak went on government-controlled television to tell the world he isn't going anywhere any time soon. The protesters in Tahrir Square were stunned. So was the Obama administration, thanks to yet another dramatic failure on the part of our intelligence services.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.