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U.S. intelligence on Arab unrest draws criticism

U.S. intelligence agencies are drawing criticism from the White House and Capitol Hill that they failed to warn of revolts in Egypt and the downfall of an American ally in Tunisia.

President Barack Obama sent word to the national intelligence director, James Clapper, that he was disappointed with the intelligence community over its failure to predict the outbreak of demonstrations would lead to the ouster of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunis, the Associated Press reported Friday, citing unnamed U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence. The officials said there was little warning before Egypt's riots as well.

Top senators on the Intelligence Committee — Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia — are asking when Obama was briefed and what he was told before the revolts in Egypt and Tunisia.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said it was unrealistic to expect intelligence agencies to predict what would happen in either country.

Al-Jazeera endures

Though few foreign news organizations have escaped the onslaught of attacks against journalists in Cairo by supporters of Egypt's regime, none has faced quite so many challenges as the pan-Arab al-Jazeera satellite network. Since the country's pro-democracy protests first erupted Jan. 25, the network's phone lines have been cut, nine of its staffers have been detained at various times, its satellite signal has been repeatedly blocked and on Friday, Al-Jazeera said in a statement, a "gang of thugs" stormed its bureau, smashing equipment and setting it ablaze.

Yet throughout, Al-Jazeera has remained on air, broadcasting live pictures of the masses gathered on Tahrir Square with pre-positioned cameras and airing phone interviews with analysts and correspondents.

Journalist dies

An Egyptian reporter who was shot during clashes a week ago died of his wounds Friday, his employer said, in the first reported death of a journalist in the chaos surrounding Egypt's antigovernment protests.

Ahmed Mohammed Mahmoud, 36, was taking photographs of fighting between protesters and security forces from the balcony of his home in Cairo when he was shot Jan. 28, state-run newspaper Al-Ahram said on its website. He worked for Al-Taawun, a newspaper put out by the Al-Ahram publishing house.

'Defeat' for U.S.

Iran's spiritual and political leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the popular uprisings against Western-backed autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt represent an "irreversible defeat" for the United States.

Speaking amid heightened security during the Friday sermon at Tehran University, Khamenei went on to draw comparisons between Iran's Islamic revolution and the recent Arab protest movements, characterizing the protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and around the region as an "Islamic awakening."

Quiet in Syria

A planned "Day of Rage" in Damascus, Syria, on Friday failed to attract any protesters against President Bashar al-Assad, a sign that the opposition remains too weak to challenge one of the region's most entrenched ruling parties.

Campaigns on the social networking sites Facebook and Twitter called for Syrians to demonstrate Friday and today.

The Associated Press, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and New York Times contributed.

U.S. intelligence on Arab unrest draws criticism

02/04/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 4, 2011 11:09pm]
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