Two hours after Mubarak's televised announcement that he was transferring some power to his hand-picked vice president, Omar Suleiman -- and staying in Cairo -- the White House issued yet another statement urging that "the voices of the Egyptian people must be heard." Now everyone is asking what's next. The truth is that nobody knows.
Good intelligence is essential, and poor intelligence is disastrous; it is a lesson American administrations have been relearning since Pearl Harbor. It was a problem that was supposed to get fixed after the U.S. Embassy was sacked in Tehran in 1979 -- and again after the failure of Operation Eagle Claw in the Iranian desert in 1980. We were told it really would be cured by the massive reorganization of our intelligence community after the terror attacks of 9/11. It clearly hasn't worked.
Our intelligence services are beset with attention-deficit disorder. In the aftermath of 9/11, we were told our "intelligence problem" would go away if we tore down "information silos" and "firewalls," created "fusion centers," and "streamlined" the dissemination of information among agencies. As we now know, that just made it easier for organizations such as WikiLeaks -- and foreign adversaries -- to gain access to classified information.
The Obama administration has compounded the problem by variously defining the major threats to U.S. national security as climate change, right-wing extremism, homegrown terrorists and economic collapse. Meanwhile, our risk-averse "intelligence managers" have all but eliminated the collection of human intelligence, the key to protecting U.S. troops fighting an insurgency in Afghanistan and anticipating events like the one we now see in Egypt.
Those who testified before the committee this week defended their work by claiming to have warned "for years" about "potential adverse consequences" in Middle East autocracies that deny their people economic and political freedom. But the inability to forecast how the present unrest was spreading east from Tunisia -- to Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and perhaps beyond -- is a direct consequence of a profound failure in human intelligence collection.
No matter what self-serving "leaders" now claim about forecasts of "Egyptian instability," nobody saw this fire coming. The entire Egyptian military hierarchy was in Washington when the riots began in Cairo. Our numbness on the Nile is the consequence of not having enough "boots on the ground" to even know who loosed the violence -- or the names, addresses and intentions of those who intend to take power. If it turns out to be the Muslim Brotherhood, we should be very alarmed indeed.
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.
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