Monday, February 7, 2011


     The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs tells Jon Stewart, "everybody" was taken by surprise as events seemed to spread from Tunisia to Egypt, while the President is said to be unhappy with the intelligence community. 
      Mark Mazzetti wrote in the New York Times President Obama "criticized American spy agencies over their their performance in predicting and analyzing the spreading unrest."
      As American news organizations have scrambled to cover the story, they have understandably focused on the action in the street and the hints of reaction by the Mubarak regime.  Missing from most reporting and analysis has been the role inflated food costs have played in fueling the public discontent that has been fanned and focused by social media.
       It is ironic.  Power changing political foment brews and and then storms in a viral way, but the big tools of intelligence and the media don't see it coming, nor understand its nexus?
        On Thursday the Senate Intelligence Committee heard a White House intelligence official say the CIA had warned the Obama Administration late in 2010 that trouble was brewing.  "Instability....unsure of the trigger mechanism" were part of the CIA briefing.
        Intelligence agencies and news organizations suffer similar problems, namely an inadequate number of people on the ground, in the environment and capable of gathering information to feed a larger mosaic and understanding.  Both intelligence shops and news groups have great technological capacity, but it requires humans, or in the parlance humint-human intelligence- to begin to probe motivation or sequence.
        American news organizations used to have bureaus in many cities, with people who's job it was to understand which way the wind was blowing.  Intelligence agencies used to have more "spies" getting deeper into the fabric of strategic nations or powder keg environments. That was before staff reductions, budget cuts,  changed priorities.  All are inexcusable to the extent those reductions, cuts and priorities have undermined the flow of vital information.
         Political agenda also plays a role.  The US has enjoyed a 30 year relationship with Egypt.  Our military has trained theirs.  The Suez canal has remained safe. Egypt has played nice with our ally Israel, so we have ignored the shearing policies of Mubarak that have now come back to bite.  The American media was so out of touch with reality on the ground they were in no position to know of the festering roots until mass protests and civil disorder exploded.  At the risk of sounding like Yogi Berra, you can't see something if you ain't looking at it.
         I hope both the intelligence community and the big time media have learned
that hints of rage and the steam that may roil into a force to demand regime change can now be found in tweets and postings.  That should make it easier to see.

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