Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 1:45 PM ET, 01/28/2011

What should the CIA do in Egypt?

By Jeff Stein

The ghost of the 1979 Iranian revolution is very much on the minds of veteran intelligence officials as Egypt explodes in street protests.

Most historians agree that the CIA was largely in the dark when anti-American students, radical Islamists and mullahs ignited street protests in Tehran because the U.S.-backed shah had forbidden the CIA to have contact with opposition groups.

The CIA can’t let that happen again in Egypt, intelligence veterans say -- and it probably isn't.

Former CIA director R. James Woolsey says agency officials' main mission in Egypt today is “to make sure that they are getting information from all factions where they don't already have relationships and that they are not making the same mistake they did under the shah -- talking only to regime-approved people.”

“Hopefully,” echoes Jeffrey White, a former chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency's Middle East intelligence division, “the CIA has contacts within the opposition or else is working to make them.”

There are “lots of important intelligence questions to be asked about their leadership, motivation, intentions, organization [and] external influences,” said White, a defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"The CIA's response should be to perform its usual missions of collecting information about, and providing assessments on, events in countries important to US interests, as is the case with both Egypt and Yemen," said Paul R. Pillar, who retired in 2005 as the CIA's national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia. "Anything beyond that in which the CIA might become involved would not be the 'CIA's response' but instead something done at the behest of policymakers."

“For now, we need to walk on both sides of street, stay close to the government and work the opposition hard for new sources and contacts,” added a senior former CIA operations official, speaking only on background because he conducts extensive business in the region.

“The priority is collection and analysis about what's going on,” said Richard K. Betts, a frequent consultant to U.S. intelligence agencies and director of the International Security Policy program at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.

“Our capacity to shape events by more active measures, such as covert action to support moderate elements of the opposition, is probably minimal, and more likely to backfire than to control events,” added Betts, author of “Enemies of Intelligence: Knowledge and Power in American National Security.”

“Popular revolutions can hardly ever be contained or channeled effectively by foreign forces,” he said.

"The agency's work is pretty much over, as no part of the U.S. government can do much to influence the situation, unless [Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton makes things worse by continuing to speak as if we are supporting the demonstrators," said Michael Scheuer, a former head of the CIA’s Osama Bin Laden unit. "Ditto for Yemen."

Mark Lowenthal, the CIA’s assistant director for analysis and production from 2002 to 2005, agreed about the limits of covert action.

“I do not see any role per se for the [intelligence community] other than tracking what is going on and giving the policy makers enough intell to make proper choices,” he said.

“I would be hard put to think of a covert action. Now, you might want to put out discreet feelers to some folks in the opposition, just to get in touch, sound them out, find out their intentions, etc. But you have to be careful not to [anger] the powers that be.”

Lowenthal added, “But I would make this approach via diplomats, not intelligence [agents].

In any event, Lowenthal said, “overt is better than covert, if at all available.”

All emphasized that any new or major CIA initative in Egypt--or elsewhere in the region--would be undertaken at the direction of the White House.

"Rule No. 1: the Intelligence Community does not create or have policies," said Lowenthal. "It carries out activities to support policy makers. So, there can be no 'CIA response' to Egypt and Yemen."

A major fear among policymakers is that the Cairo protests could open the door for the country's largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, to take power.

Two years ago, Emile Nakhleh, the former head of the CIA’s political Islam strategic analysis program, said the United States should be reaching out to the Brotherhood in Egypt, as well as Hamas and Hezbollah, to “find common ground on daily issues, including issues of education, economics, commerce, health services, and community services.”

“To engage the Islamic world, the U.S. needs expertise—cultural, political, and languages, said Nakhleh, author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America's Relations with the Muslim World,” in an interview with Harpers blogger Ken Silverstein.

“The CIA was the first government agency that recognized this and systematically began to assign resources to acquire expertise on the Islamic World. This started before 9/11,” he also said. “The Agency’s directors in the Analytic section saw this challenge many years ago and proceeded to allocate resources to begin the process. But the bad news is that the CIA remains the only entity in the U.S. government that has cultivated this expertise.”

Nakhleh could not be reached for comment Friday.

"I would think that all of our officers across the Near East are spending a good amount of time on the streets trying to gauge the public mood and [assess] the chances of any more dominoes," said Scheuer, who has just authored a new biography of Osama Bin Laden.

"For myself, I hope that each [CIA chief of station] and/or the ambassador are writing commentaries for Washington to disabuse them of the idea that any of this unrest is going to lead to secular democracies in the region. We are either going to get either more ruthless dictatorships or--if they fall--a year or two of chaotic governments with patinas of democracy until the Islamists take over," Scheuer said.

[Remarks by Scheuer and Pillar added in 4pm update.]

By Jeff Stein  | January 28, 2011; 1:45 PM ET
Categories:  Foreign policy, Intelligence, Military, Politics  | Tags:  R. James Woolsey; Emile Nakhleh; Mark Lowenthal; Jeffrey White; Richard K. Betts; Paul R. Pillar; Michael Scheuer  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Lahore shootout: Spy rendezvous gone bad?
Next: Egypt’s spy chief stands in the wings

Comments

NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTH-ING! LEAVE EGYPT, OUR OLDEST FRIEND AND ALLY, WHO HAS PROVIDED INVALUABLE INTELLIGENCE TO US OVER DECADES, WHO HAS BEEN AN ORIGINAL AND INDIFATIGIBLE PARTNER IN COMBATTING TERRORISM-PARTICULARLY ATTACKS AGAINST THE US AND ISRAEL-LEAVE THEM THE HELL ALONE! AND DON'T EVEN THINK OF BRINGING THE CIA INTO A UNIQUELY DOMESTIC SITUATION!

REALLY, HOW COULD YOU EVEN HAVE ASKED THAT QUESTION JEFF STEIN??????

Posted by: Spring_Rain | January 28, 2011 2:50 PM | Report abuse

What should the CIA do?

This American, whose grandfather died in uniform and is buried at Arlington, and whose dad served too, says ...

NOTHING!

BUTT OUT. Let Democracy reign free!

Posted by: WillSeattle | January 28, 2011 2:56 PM | Report abuse

First, we need to make sure that no harm comes to ElBaradei. He is the key to making this a revolution of democratic values, rather than one of Islamization of Egypt. Remember that Sadat was killed by elements that eventually joined with Bin Laden to form Al Queda. If ElBaradei is unable to lead a caretaker/transition government then the Muslim Brotherhood will be the big winners, as they are better organized than any other anti-Mubarak groups.

But we should be in contact with various central actors. The Muslim Brotherhood is playing its cards with great care. They have positioned themselves to claim credit for toppling the regime - even when reality is more complex than that.

I think today is the beginning of the end for Mubarak & his government. Attempts to hold on longer will just make Egypt's future more negative. We should be making sure he has offers of sanctuary/exile so that he leaves quickly and peaceably. Saudi Arabia would be the best place for him to go.

This kind of opportunity only comes around once in a long while. We need to play it right. We need to support any government that is willing to maintain the peace treaty with Israel.

Posted by: cyberfool | January 28, 2011 3:00 PM | Report abuse

As armored personnel carriers hit the streets of Cairo, a new level of heat has been reached on a scale leading to a flash point which does excite chaos. Caloric content is tricky as there maybe a point in which extremists, including anarchists, will exploit the situation. Globally, I think that we have already agreed that security, peace and stability are goals to obtain and secure as stability is the name of the game.

We like to watch and a policy not to meddle is probably a good thing. However, as mediators on a global level, civility does necessitate open dialog which avails itself to any or all opposing forces. The danger is to interfere in such a way as to increase anti-American sentiment. Therefore, a goal of the CIA could be one of service to Official parties in exchange for extremist intelligence. I suppose that CIA and mossad could be viewed equally as threats the stability of the Egyptian government ?

Still, the main concern ought to be that all parties agree to civility prevailing lest Egypt becomes a new focal point of increased extremist activities. As, chaos breeds chaos which can spread to foreign shores. The obvious motivation for extreme intervention by hostile entities, and excluding democracy builders for the moment, is enshrined within the lands of Egypt.

Here and now, I believe that extremists and anarchists would like nothing more than for students to sacrifice themselves on a demented cause based on ancient religious beliefs in Apocalypse being the ultimate goal of Chaos in reshaping the world. For that reason, I suggest that United States assets in general offer their services as a function of stability and chaos against common global entities that mettle with self homicidal bombs.

In fact, I am saddened by recent events in Russia as well. And I do hope that now and in the future, through mutual respect and trust, we can meet the enemy together before today's Hitler youth become a threat our common securities tomorrow. If history is to be a lesson, 1936 was a year of early intervention missed by the world as attendance to Hitler's occultation or brain washing became mandatory for German youth under Nazism.

Posted by: MarcusOne | January 28, 2011 3:07 PM | Report abuse

The Founding Fathers of the USA knew what to do. We should let each country decide its own government. We should deal with the resulting leaders.

That way we always work with the winners. No matter who they are. We deal with them.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | January 28, 2011 3:33 PM | Report abuse

please please for god sake I am begging to not do anything.

Our establishment and neo-con are instinctively trained to intervene but the lessons from the last 10 years and from history is that intervention will make things worse. If we intervene on the side of the Govt. (most likely) we will strengthen the David vs. Goliath narrative for the opposition. Helping the opposition will accelerate the fall of Govt and potentially bring the brotherhood to power.

One aspect that is missing from the debate here is the power of the Bernanke printing press and how much that has contributed to this. Quantitative easing in the United States has created serious commodity price inflation in the rest of the world that formed the basis of the protests in both Egypt and Tunisia. If the CIA really wants to do something they might consider sabotaging the printing press at the Federal Reserve.

Posted by: Skippy21 | January 28, 2011 3:45 PM | Report abuse

The only power a person of peace has is information. Take that away and chances of peace go down instead of up.

Posted by: jobandon | January 28, 2011 3:45 PM | Report abuse

And ye shall seek the truth and the truth shall set you free... Maybe the CIA should report back on another disasterous end to another U.S.-backed dictator and suggest that policy makers cut foreign aid to oppressive regimes.

Posted by: chucka1 | January 28, 2011 3:49 PM | Report abuse

We should probably get our torturers out of there so we don't have to support Mubarek to keep our secrets secure.

Next, we should find out how today's news impacted short selling this afternoon. That will give us some indication of the profit potential associated with an additional three days of street violence. Of course, going into the weekend means volatility will have days to shake out before impacting the Monday morning open in New York.

Knowing the short selling activity should provide some idea of world public senitment on whether rioting should continue and build into Monday or if it should dissipate into talks and discussions.

Posted by: blasmaic | January 28, 2011 3:51 PM | Report abuse

I want to clarify my statement. When I said "Islamization of Egypt" what I meant was "Militant-Islamization of the Egyptian Government" as happened in Iran. Egypt certainly will continue to be a majority Islamic country, and because of 2 key Islamic Universities, arguably the second most important country in the Islamic world (behind Saudi Arabia, which contains Mecca & Medina). It also has minorities, whose rights also need to be protected, including but not limited to the Coptic Christians.

Posted by: cyberfool | January 28, 2011 3:57 PM | Report abuse

FIRST PROTECT MOHAMMED ELBARADEI? WHAT DID SOMEONE ABOVE SAY? ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME? WHAT-THIS IDIOT THAT WAS HEAD OF THE IAEA AND WAS OH-SO-CAUTIOUS AND DEFERENTIAL TO THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC? I GUESS HE STILL THINKS THAT IRAN IS WEAPONIZING URANIUM FOR ITS UTTERLY "PEACEFUL" PURPOSES! ELBARADEI IS A STRIDENT ANTI-ISRAELI FORMER BUREAUCRAT-THIS IDIOT COULDN'T EVEN STAND IN MUBARAK'S SHADOW-THE IDEA THAT HE SHOULD HAVE ANY SAY IN EGYPT'S FUTURE IS UTTERLY ABSURD!

NO, GAMAL MUBARAK A VERY WELL-LIKED, WELL-EDUCATED AND WELL-GROOMED FOR THE JOB OF BECOMING EGYPT'S NEXT PRESIDENT SHOULD COME SOONER, NOT LATER-HE WILL BE A GREAT PRESIDENT FOR EGYPT-A BRIGHT HOPE FOR THE FUTURE OF A COUNTRY THAT WE NEED CONTINUATION-YES, THAT'S RIGHT! CONTINUATION OF EXACTLY, AND I MEAN EXACTLY WHAT MUBARAK HAS BEEN DOING ALL THESE YEARS-PUTTING DOWN THE FORCES OF TERRORISM IN HIS OWN COUNTRY TO HELP PRESERVE THE STABILITY IN THOSE ME COUNTRIES THAT IS SO BADLY NEEDED!

POST EDITORS-CAN YOU GET IT THROUGH YOUR MEATY LITTLE HEADS- WE LIKE MUBARAK, WE LOVE MUBARAK-MAY HE CONTINUE TO BE PRESIDENT, INSHALLAH, AND PASS ON THE REINS TO HIS SON IN A PEACEFUL, AND ORDERLY MANNER-SOMEDAY!

Posted by: Spring_Rain | January 28, 2011 4:04 PM | Report abuse

They should do nothing but monitor the situation. Providing POTUS with intelligence on what is happening in Egypt. Other than that NOTHING!

Posted by: Desertdiva1 | January 28, 2011 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Something they should have done 20 years ago, send the cleaners after the mad doctor and all his ilk. Especially the Imans operating terrorist factories.

Posted by: jameschirico | January 28, 2011 5:13 PM | Report abuse

"FIRST PROTECT MOHAMMED ELBARADEI? WHAT DID SOMEONE ABOVE SAY? ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME? WHAT-THIS IDIOT THAT WAS HEAD OF THE IAEA AND WAS OH-SO-CAUTIOUS AND DEFERENTIAL TO THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC? I GUESS HE STILL THINKS THAT IRAN IS WEAPONIZING URANIUM FOR ITS UTTERLY "PEACEFUL" PURPOSES! ELBARADEI IS A STRIDENT ANTI-ISRAELI FORMER BUREAUCRAT-THIS IDIOT COULDN'T EVEN STAND IN MUBARAK'S SHADOW-THE IDEA THAT HE SHOULD HAVE ANY SAY IN EGYPT'S FUTURE IS UTTERLY ABSURD!

NO, GAMAL MUBARAK A VERY WELL-LIKED, WELL-EDUCATED AND WELL-GROOMED FOR THE JOB OF BECOMING EGYPT'S NEXT PRESIDENT SHOULD COME SOONER, NOT LATER-HE WILL BE A GREAT PRESIDENT FOR EGYPT-A BRIGHT HOPE FOR THE FUTURE OF A COUNTRY THAT WE NEED CONTINUATION-YES, THAT'S RIGHT! CONTINUATION OF EXACTLY, AND I MEAN EXACTLY WHAT MUBARAK HAS BEEN DOING ALL THESE YEARS-PUTTING DOWN THE FORCES OF TERRORISM IN HIS OWN COUNTRY TO HELP PRESERVE THE STABILITY IN THOSE ME COUNTRIES THAT IS SO BADLY NEEDED!

POST EDITORS-CAN YOU GET IT THROUGH YOUR MEATY LITTLE HEADS- WE LIKE MUBARAK, WE LOVE MUBARAK-MAY HE CONTINUE TO BE PRESIDENT, INSHALLAH, AND PASS ON THE REINS TO HIS SON IN A PEACEFUL, AND ORDERLY MANNER-SOMEDAY!

Posted by: Spring_Rain | January 28, 2011 4:04 PM"
=============================

I'm glad to see that someone made you the official spokesperson of the people of Egypt. Oh wait, you're NOT the official spokesperson of the people of Egypt? Let me guess, you're not actually from Egypt either. If the people "loved" Mubarak, they would not be out in the streets protesting in full force. It appears that the people are sick of having a foreign-backed dictator ruling over them.

They want freedom and democracy. Israel, which is where I'm assuming you're from, will just have to deal with the aftermath. It is absolutely wrong and disgusting to force a dictator on a population, and by doing so, you deserve whatever backlash you get from it.

America learned that the hard way in 1979.

Posted by: ClandestineBlaze | January 28, 2011 5:17 PM | Report abuse

Ultimately, Egypt has no oil or gas reserves.

They are the perfect peace partner with Israel because unlike other oil-rich Muslim countries, they can only increase their lot through peace and not trade.

And because they have no oil, their conflict with Israel could never serve as America's excuse to invade and seize the means of resource production.

Posted by: blasmaic | January 28, 2011 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Maybe the CIA should report back on another disasterous end to another U.S.-backed dictator and suggest that policy makers cut foreign aid to oppressive regimes.
________________________________________

@chucka1: I hope you're not refering to Pinoche, because he's my hero. Maybe you prefer someone like Chavez or some other murderous communist that gets a free ride with the knee-jerk limosine liberals you hang with. Chile was the jewel of South America under Pinoche, no crime, people paid their taxes, and things got done.

Posted by: eGREGie | January 28, 2011 5:41 PM | Report abuse

NONE of the folks quoted in the article except for one speak and write Arabic. Obama and Brenna (a former CIA chief of station in Saudi Arabia) banned the word terrorism, terrorist, Muslims, Islams and etc from all IC reports....

Posted by: Rockvillers | January 28, 2011 5:49 PM | Report abuse

The only thing that the CIA should do is provide the Administration and Congress with accurate and timely reports of what's going on.

Posted by: apn3206 | January 28, 2011 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Isn't the proper lead what DID they do?

Posted by: dhb2 | January 28, 2011 6:07 PM | Report abuse

eGREGie, the CIA has been involved in quite a number of attempts to overthrow foreign governments, some of them successful. Pinochet, of course, is one example, but other noteworthy ones are the removal of Mossadegh in Iran in 1953, as well as the removal of Arbenz in Guatemala (at the behest of the United Fruit Company). They seem to also have had a hand in the ousting of an Australian prime minister back in the 1950s.

If you're interested, Chalmers Johnson's "Blowback" trilogy provides a nicely detailed history of what the U.S. Government has been doing in this regard, particularly since the start of the Cold War up to the early 2000s, and gives an informative analysis of what this has done to our relations with other countries.

I do have to ask why you didn't also apply the adjective "murderous" to Pinochet. Quite a number of people opposed to his rule seemed to experience extrajudicial disappearance...

Posted by: apn3206 | January 28, 2011 6:14 PM | Report abuse

apn3206, I didn't see any tears shed by the media for the extrajudicial disappearances of quite a number during the Cold War all over the world by communists and other groups. With regard to Pinochet, I just call them the way I see them. I like Colombia but there is no comparison; nor with any other country in South America to Chile.

Also, didn't the Nazi General who set up Germany's post war intelligence group also set up Egypt's? So what are the German's doing in all of this?

Posted by: eGREGie | January 28, 2011 6:36 PM | Report abuse

peace in the Middle East than you-not even to mention what you've done to get world leaders on the bandwagon to fight terrorism, long long before 9/11! IT WAS MUBARAK WHO SOUNDED THE CLARION CALL ON OSAMA BIN LADEN, WHILE BIN LADEN WAS STILL OPERATING HIS STOREFRONT OFFICES IN LONDON IN THE 90'S! NOBODY LISTENED TO HIM, UNTIL AFTER THE EMBASSY BOMBINGS, AND THEN THEY UNDERSTOOD WHAT MUBARAK WAS SAYING-THAT AL-QAEDA LEADERS WERE BEING GIVEN SHELTER IN WESTERN EUROPEAN NATIONS, WHERE THEY WERE FREE TO PLOT AND CARRY OUT THEIR PLANS AGAINST THE WEST!

IT'S UNEF FING BELIEVEABLE HOW THE IDIOTS AT THE POST FORGET EVERYTHING, AND WANT TO PAINT ONE OF THE GREATEST WORLD LEADERS AS SOME TWO-BIT DESPOT DICTATOR-UTTERLY SHAMEFUL AND CRINGINGLY IGNORANT!

Posted by: Spring_Rain | January 28, 2011 6:51 PM | Report abuse

As you should, Mubarak! No one has been a greater supporter of world peace, has done more to promote peace in the Middle East than you-not even to mention what you've done to get world leaders on the bandwagon to fight terrorism, long long before 9/11! IT WAS MUBARAK WHO SOUNDED THE CLARION CALL ON OSAMA BIN LADEN, WHILE BIN LADEN WAS STILL OPERATING HIS STOREFRONT OFFICES IN LONDON IN THE 90'S! NOBODY LISTENED TO HIM, UNTIL AFTER THE EMBASSY BOMBINGS, AND THEN THEY UNDERSTOOD WHAT MUBARAK WAS SAYING-THAT AL-QAEDA LEADERS WERE BEING GIVEN SHELTER IN WESTERN EUROPEAN NATIONS, WHERE THEY WERE FREE TO PLOT AND CARRY OUT THEIR PLANS AGAINST THE WEST!

IT'S UNEF FING BELIEVEABLE HOW THE IDIOTS AT THE POST FORGET EVERYTHING, AND WANT TO PAINT ONE OF THE GREATEST WORLD LEADERS AS SOME TWO-BIT DESPOT DICTATOR-UTTERLY SHAMEFUL AND CRINGINGLY IGNORANT!

Posted by: Spring_Rain | January 28, 2011 6:55 PM | Report abuse

Some thought might be given to the concept that actually is tearing the Islamic world apart; the contrasts between the ‘lesser’ Jihad of the fundamentalists and what support of the ‘greater’ Jihad of the Islamic peoples, which actually qualifies a form of spiritual democracy. The al-jihad al-akbar was originally defined as a form of spiritual enhancement or the process creating an environment in which the ‘Ruh’ or human spirit is made fuller. The lesser Jihad has become little more than imposing totalitarian controls on populations in order to extract earthly wealth from them. That has been true of the Taliban, the Hamas and many other organizations who seek to use the ‘spirit’ of Islam as a mechanism of controlling people. But in that process, the ‘spirit’ is destroyed and not made stronger as it has been in Gaza, Tehran, Islamabad, and Khartoum. Mass poverty is just one symptom of despots extracting wealth from Islamic cultures.

Americans in many international agencies might do well to associate themselves with Islamic movements that attempt to enhance the middle classes and ‘nation builders’ within societies that are attempting (again) to move beyond the 7th century mercenary control of religion through the false Jihad or al-jihād al-asghar . Many of those involved in the demonstration are doing so in an attempt to let the Ruh or spirit within them grow in their daily lives and they do this by removing the incredible incompetence of fundamentalist governance like Iran, Yemen and the Sudan. Americans could aid societies that have never known democracy more by aiding the building blocks of society instead of insisting on a ‘great leap forward’ into some representative utopia. But populations around the world are increasingly aware of each other and what popular consent really means for their personal wellbeing or Ruh. The instant communications are changing many things and the old American belief by agencies that stability at any cost was better than progress out of 7th or 11th or even the 18th century needs to be tossed out.

Posted by: arjay1 | January 28, 2011 8:04 PM | Report abuse

Seems from these posts that not only non-Americans but ordinary Americans also agree that the CIA has done more than enough over the last 60 years. Pro-American or not, leave all dictators to their deserved fate in the hands of the people. Do any Americans still wonder why the rest of the world despises USA?

Posted by: bonesurgery | January 30, 2011 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge washingtonpost.com's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.




characters remaining

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company