- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Where did Barack Obama get these guys?

Presidents good and bad have learned not to expect too much from the intelligence agencies, the distributors of expensive clappertrap over the years, but this week the two top spooks revealed just how much they don’t know — and, given the president’s own romantic view of Islam, maybe they don’t want to know.

Called before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the White House director of intelligence and the chief of the CIA conducted a seminar in officially deliberate ignorance for the panel of disbelieving senators.

One of the senators wanted to know about what the spooks think about the Muslim Brotherhood, the shadowy promoter of jihad that took a prominent role in organizing the demonstrators who toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. James R. Clapper, who is the first spook to whisper into Mr. Obama’s ear, took that question.

**FILE** President Barack Obama (Associated Press)
**FILE** President Barack Obama (Associated Press) more >

“It’s hard to, at this point, to point to a specific agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood as a group,” he said. The senators shouldn’t worry about it, and he showed that he can sprinkle an occasional French word into his answers about the Brotherhood even if he doesn’t actually know much about what’s going on in the Middle East: “It’s only one voice in the emerging political milieu.” He added, no doubt reading from a cue card prepared by a White House intern, that the Brotherhood is “a large, heterogeneous global organization whose agenda and impact differ from country to country. It also has different factions, including a conservative wing whose interpretation of Islam runs counter to broad electoral participation and a younger, more liberal wing who is more inclined to work through a secular political process.” Well, duh. That much is available on Wikipedia.

There was more clappertrap. He is “unaware” of the Brotherhood’s “declared stance” on smuggling weapons to Hamas in Gaza. He thinks a wait-and-see attitude is “required” before deciding what the Brotherhood is about in Egypt. The White House intern who prepped Mr. Clapper for his trip to Capitol Hill should at least have supplied him with a copy of the Muslim Brotherhood’s own statement of its aims: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”

Leon E. Panetta conceded that there are extremists who “we have to pay attention to” and “that’s something we watch very closely.” Just not too closely. The intelligence officials further conceded what is obvious to everyone else, that the intelligence agencies obviously don’t pay attention to “social media networks,” the wealth of information (and disinformation) that everyone else taps into 24/7, and, incredibly, the agencies were not closely monitoring events in Tunisia, where the democratic wave began a month ago.

“Frankly, Tunisia was not up there in our top 10 countries we were watching closely,” Mr. Clapper told the senators. Breaking a sweat over Tunisia is hardly necessary. It’s not as if Tunisia was Ulan Bator or San Marino, or the Middle East was the South of France, where real stuff is going on. The conversation with the senators, which was giving the word “intelligence” a bad name, droned on (and on) with more bureaucratic argle-bargle: “So there is the aspect of the spread,” Mr. Clapper continued, “the balance of our collection priorities. Obviously we’re going to work on that. … We’re going to pay a lot more attention to social media and what we can do to extract warning.”

Alas, this is how they actually talk in the wee world of Official Washington. Mr. Clapper’s “milieu” was frothing and foaming all over the map this week. From a seminar at the University of Texas (be glad you were not there) there were assurances from Jimmy Carter that the Muslim Brotherhood “is not anything to be afraid of in the upcoming [Egyptian] political situation, and the evolution I see as most likely. The [brothers] will be subsumed in the overwhelming demonstration of desire for freedom and true democracy.” There was more news, mostly bad as usual, from the peanut farmer from Plains, the man who showed everyone how not to deal with Islamic nuts when some of them seized the American Embassy in Tehran three decades ago. He intends to be as “involved as possible” now in showing the Egyptians how to hold their elections in September. Poor Egypt.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.