Barack Obama
Cliff Owen  /  AP
President Barack Obama exits Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., on Thursday.
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U.S. intelligence agencies are drawing criticism from the Oval Office and Capitol Hill that they failed to warn of revolts in Egypt and the downfall of an American ally in Tunisia.

President Barack Obama has told 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, according to one U.S. official familiar with the exchanges, which were expressed to Clapper through White House staff.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence, said there was little warning before Egypt's riots as well.

Top senators on the Intelligence Committee are asking when the president was briefed and what he was told before the revolts in Egypt and Tunisia.

Video: Mubarak ignores White House warning (on this page)

"These events should not have come upon us with the surprise that they did," the committee's chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in an interview. "There should have been much more warning" of the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, she said, in part because demonstrators were using the Internet and social media to organize.

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"Was someone looking at what was going on the Internet?" she asked.

Top CIA official Stephanie O'Sullivan told senators Thursday that Obama was warned of instability in Egypt "at the end of last year." She spoke during a confirmation hearing to become the deputy director of national intelligence, the No. 2 official to Clapper.

Story: Top U.S. military officer urges caution on Egypt

The leading Republican on the committee, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, asked for a written record of the timetable of Obama's intelligence briefings. It's due to the committee in 10 days.

'We've got to realistic'
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. "We've got to be realistic about its limits, especially regarding the complex and interactive behavior of millions of people," he said.

DNI spokeswoman Jamie Smith insisted that the intelligence community "has been closely tracking these countries and as tensions and protests built in Tunisia, it was fully anticipated that this activity could spread."

But top intelligence officials said that after Tunisia, they'd promised the White House to "do better," according to two officials briefed on the process.

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White House national security staff relayed the president's disapproval over the wrong call in Tunisia to Clapper and other top intelligence officials in one of a series of high-level meetings in mid-January, prior to the outbreak of the demonstrations in Egypt, according to one official.

Story: U.S. to Egypt: Do more in talks with opposition

In the aftermath of the botched call on Tunisia, the intelligence community widened the warnings to the White House and the diplomatic community that the instability could spread to much of the Arab world.

WH publicly rejects criticism of intelligence
The White House publicly rejected charges that intelligence agencies underperformed on Tunisia and said the intelligence community warned the president that Tunisia's protests could inspire copycats.

"Did anyone in the world predict that a fruit vendor in Tunisia would light himself on fire and spark a revolution? No," said White House spokesman Tommy Vietor.

"But had the diplomatic and intelligence community been reporting for decades about simmering unrest in the region? About demographic changes including a higher portion of youth? About broad frustration with economic conditions and a lack of a political outlet to exercise these frustrations? Absolutely," Vietor said.

They specifically warned that unrest in Egypt would probably gain momentum, said another official familiar with the intelligence, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters.

Story: GOP divided over Obama response to Egypt

Of major concern to U.S. intelligence officials is the possibility that the political upheaval in Egypt could be "hijacked" by the Muslim Brotherhood, the banned but politically popular religious and political movement that provides social and charitable support for much of Egypt's poor.

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Too fixated on terrorism and Iran?
The Tunisian surprise, followed by the worsening events in Cairo, has led some intelligence officials to question whether the hunt for al-Qaida and its leader, Osama bin Laden, has starved other parts of the intelligence arena of resources and hampered long-term strategic analysis and prediction.

"Both the American and Israeli intelligence communities will have to ask themselves what they missed in Tunisia and Egypt," said former CIA officer Bruce Riedel. "Are we too fixated on terrorism and Iran today and not enough on the broad generational changes in the region?"

Retired CIA officer Michael Scheuer also defended the intelligence world for concentrating on the al-Qaida terrorism nexus from Afghanistan to Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. "Those are the people who are going to reach out and kill Americans," he said.

Scheuer said the CIA has devoted resources to Egypt for years, fostering such a close working relationship with its intelligence service that the CIA regularly turned over suspects of Egyptian origin to its intelligence service, before there was a U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to hold suspects.

Former CIA analyst Charlie Allen said multiple national intelligence estimates had warned successive U.S. administrations that Egypt and Tunisia were brutal dictatorships with all the ingredients for revolt. The volatile situation outlined in those assessments of foreign nations included "youth bulges" of frustrated and often unemployed men under the age of 25, Allen said.

But Allen, speaking at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies' annual terrorism review, said intelligence analysts cannot predict the spark that turns festering anger into full-scale revolt.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: U.S. says Egypt’s President Mubarak must go

Photos: World reaction

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  1. Palestinian supporters of the Al-Tahrir Islamic party shout slogans in support of the protesters in Egypt who forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign, as they march in a rally in Gaza City on Feb. 13. (Mahmud Hams / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the weekly cabinet meeting at his office on Feb. 13, in Jerusalem, Israel. The meeting comes following Netanyahu welcoming a pledge by Egypt's new military rulers to uphold Israel's 1979 peace treaty. (Pool / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Algerian protesters chant slogans during a demonstration in Algiers, Algeria, Saturday, Feb. 12. Thousands of people defied a government ban on demonstrations and poured into the Algerian capital for a pro-democracy rally Saturday, a day after weeks of mass protests toppled Egypt's authoritarian leader. (Sidali Djarboub / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. An Egyptian demonstrator wipes her eyes during a rally in Trafalgar Square, in central London Feb. 12. (Luke MacGregor / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Sawsan Selim, 13, left, and her brother, Ahmad, 10, right, both Egyptian-Americans living in Atlanta, flash peace signs during a celebration of the ousting of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak Saturday, Feb. 12, in downtown Atlanta. (David Goldman / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Amman

    Jordanian girls celebrate in front of the Egyptian embassy in Amman on Tuesday, Feb. 10. Egypt's military announced on national television it had stepped in to secure the country and promised protesters calling for President Hosni Mubarak's ouster that all their demands would soon be met. (Jamal Nasrallah / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Jakarta

    Indonesian protesters raise their fists and shout slogans during a protest outside the embassy of Egypt in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Feb. 8. (Mast Irham / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Amman

    A Jordanian protester holds a Jordanian national flag with a picture of late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser during a protest against President Hosni Mubarak in front of the Egyptian embassy in Amman, Feb. 8. (Muhammad Hamed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Calcutta

    Activists of the Socialist Unity Centre of India burn two effigies of Mubarak and President Barack Obama as they call for Mubarak to step down during a rally in Calcutta, India, Feb. 7. (Piyal Adhikary / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Istanbul

    Supporters of the pro-Islamic HAS Party march with a camel during a protest against Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in central Istanbul, Feb. 6. (Murad Sezer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Bethlehem

    A worshipper attends a special prayer for the people of Egypt at the Roman Catholic Melkite Church in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Feb. 6. (Ammar Awad / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Los Angeles

    Two boys run with Egyptian flags at a protest against the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif., Feb. 5. (Eric Thayer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Ramallah

    A Palestinian protester sets ablaze a U.S. flag on Feb. 5 in the center of the West Bank city of Ramallah during a demonstration in support of the anti-government protests in Egypt calling for an end to Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule. (Abbas Momani / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Berlin

    Egyptians living in Germany and their supporters hold a rally in Berlin on Feb. 5. (Johannes Eisele / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Puri, India

    People jog past a sand sculpture of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak created by the Indian sand artist Sudarshan Patnaik on a beach in Puri in the eastern Indian state of Bhubaneswar on Feb. 5. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. London

    Protestors wearing masks depicting Arab leaders demonstrate in support of the Egyptian people in their fight to overthrow Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in London on Feb. 5. (Facundo Arrizabalaga / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Zurich

    Demonstrators, some of them Egyptians living in Switzerland, rally in Zurich on Feb. 5. Around 300 demonstrators showed their solidarity with the opposition movements in Tunisia and Egypt. (Alessandro Della Bella / Keystone via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Brussels

    Demonstrators chant slogans during a protest against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in front of the European Parliament in Brussels, Feb. 4. (Francois Lenoir / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Istanbul

    A man holds a portrait of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak with the slogan "No you can't" during a protest against Mubarak's regime following Friday prayers at the Beyazit Square in Istanbul, Turkey, on Feb. 4. (Bulent Kilic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Tehran

    Hundreds of Iranians attend a protest against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to express their solidarity with the Egyptian people, in Tehran, Iran, on Feb. 4. (Abedin Taherkenareh / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Jerusalem

    A Palestinian man watches news from Egypt on television inside his shop in Jerusalem's Old City on Feb. 3. (Bernat Armangue / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Cape Town

    South Africans and Egyptians demonstrate in solidarity with the struggle of the Egyptian people in Cape Town, South Africa, on Feb. 4. (Nic Bothma / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Kuala Lumpur

    A demonstration against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in front of the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Feb. 4. (Saeed Khan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. London

    Demonstrators wave an Egyptian flag and yell slogans during a protest outside a Vodafone store in London on Thursday, Feb. 3. Mobile operator Vodafone accused the Egyptian authorities of using its network to send pro-government text messages to subscribers, as telecom firms became further embroiled in the crisis in Egypt where large gatherings of anti-government protesters are calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. (Andrew Winning / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Gaza City

    Palestinian Hamas supporters hold signs and Egyptian flags during a demonstration calling for the removal of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak outside the Egyptian representative's office in Gaza City on Thursday, Feb. 3. (Adel Hana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Bucharest

    Members of the Egyptian community in Romania shout anti-governmental slogans and hold signs reading "Down with Mubarak" outside the Egyptian embassy in Bucharest on Feb. 3 during a protest asking for Mubarak to resign, and for democratic and non-violent reforms in Egypt. (Daniel Mihailescu / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Beirut

    Lebanese riot policemen clash with demonstrators during a rally supporting the ouster of Mubarak in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, on Feb. 3. (Wael Hamzeh / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Paris

    A demonstrator holds a paper that reads "Mubarak kills his people" during a protest in Paris on Feb. 3. Dozens of protestors gathered in a show of support for protests currently taking place in Egypt. (Francois Mori / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Tel Aviv

    Israeli-Arabs and Egyptians attend a demonstration close to the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, to protest against the Egyptian government on Tuesday, Feb. 1. (Oliver Weiken / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. London

    Egyptians demonstrate outside the Egyptian embassy in London, Feb. 1. Egyptians in London gathered in solidarity with anti-government protesters in Egypt who are demanding that President Hosni Mubarak step down. Similar protests occurred around the world. (Andy Rain / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Athens

    Protesters hold up an Egyptian flag during a demonstration in central Athens, Feb. 1. More than 200 Egyptian immigrants and Greek supporters gathered outside the Egyptian embassy in Athens in a peaceful protest. (Kostas Tsironis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Berlin

    Protesters rally in front of the foreign ministry in Berlin, Feb. 1. (Lukas Kreibig / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Amsterdam

    A girl joins hundreds of people protesting against the Egyptian president at the Dam Square in Amsterdam, Feb. 1. (Evert Elzinga / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Bangkok

    A Thai anti-government "red shirt" protester holds a rock as he attends a protest in front of the Egyptian Embass in Bangkok, Feb. 1. (Damir Sagolj / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Philadelphia

    Dr. Gertrude Copperman and others demonstrate in support of the Egyptian people in Philadelphia, Jan. 31. (Matt Rourke / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Tunis

    Tunisian students shout slogans during a demonstration in solidarity with Egyptian protesters on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis, Jan. 31. (Fethi Belaid / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. New York City

    A man holds up a picture of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a protest against his regime outside of the Egyptian mission to the United Nations in New York City, Jan. 31. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Morocco

    Moroccan demonstrators chant slogans during a protest outside the Egyptian embassy in Rabat, Jan. 31. Morocco is watching nervously as other North African countries erupt in revolt, with warnings even from within the royal family that it will probably not be spared. (Abdelhak Senna / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Rome

    A demonstrator shouts slogans as others wave Egyptian flags during a protest in support of the Egyptian people, in central Rome, Italy, Jan. 31. (Andrew Medichini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Jakarta

    Indonesian activists release doves during a protest in support of the Egyptian people in Jakarta, Indonesia, Jan. 31. (Dita Alangkara / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Seoul

    Egyptians living in South Korea and South Korean protesters shout slogans during a rally denouncing Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak's rule near the Egypt Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 31. (Lee Jin-man / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Houston

    Doaa Khedr, with her daughter, Maryam Ali, 1, protests along with others outside the Egyptian Consulate in Houston, Texas, Jan. 30. (Melissa Phillip / The Houston Chronicle via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Gaza

    Hamas militant Mohammed Abdil Hadi is greeted by his mother upon his arrival home in the southern Gaza Strip, Jan. 30. He had fled Cairo's Abu Zaabal prison as it was raided on Saturday by an Egyptian mob. Egypt closed its crossing with the Gaza Strip on Sunday as countrywide protests spread to the border area. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Dubai

    A stock market screen is seen at the Dubai Financial Market as stock markets in several Gulf countries dropped on mounting concerns over Egypt's future, Jan. 30. (Karim Sahib / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Los Angeles

    Protesters rally against Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak outside the Federal Building in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif., Jan. 29. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Atlanta

    Arny Soejoedi, 17, joined several hundred anti-Mubarak protesters in downtown Atlanta, Jan. 29. (Rich Addicks / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Washington

    A crowd chants in front of the White House in Washington, Jan. 29, demanding that Mubarak step down. (Alex Brandon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Beirut

    A Lebanese protester holds up a placard during a demonstration supporting Mubarak's ouster at the Egyptian embassy in Beirut, Jan. 29. (Wael Hamzeh / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Paris

    A man holds a banner reading "solidarity with Egyptian people, Mubarak murderer" during a demonstration near the Egyptian embassy in Paris, France, Jan. 29. (Tara James / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. Gaza City

    Palestinians wait to fill petrol containers in Gaza. Gaza Strip residents flocked to petrol stations after clashes in neighboring Egypt hampered smugglers ferrying fuel supplies through tunnels that run under the border into the enclave, witnesses said. (Ahmed Zakot / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. Damascus, Syria

    Syrian and Palestinian militants hold candles near the Egyptian embassy in Damascus to express support for Egyptian protesters, Jan. 29. (Youssef Badawi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. Washington

    Amal Elbahi, originally from Cairo, speaks at a protest near the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, Jan. 29. Demonstrators held signs and chanted, demanding that Mubarak step down. They also criticized the Obama administration's response to the clashes in Egypt. (Alex Brandon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  53. Mexico City

    Protesters hold signs that read "Out Mubarak" while standing outside Egypt's embassy in Mexico City, Jan. 29. (Stringer/mexico / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  54. Cambridge, Mass.

    Protesters walk through Cambridge, Mass., as they protest against Mubarak and call for massive government reforms, Jan. 29. (Lisa Poole / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  55. Seattle

    Mohamed Sadek, who is from Egypt, but lives in Redmond, Wash., holds a sign comparing the number of U.S. presidents who have been in power while Egyptian president Hosni Mubarakat has been in office. Several hundred people gathered in downtown Seattle, Jan. 29, to show their support and solidarity for anti-government demonstrations in Egypt. (Ted S. Warren / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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