US spies not caught off-guard by Crimea crisis: General

Last Updated: Saturday, March 8, 2014 - 01:14

Washington: Accused of failing to anticipate Russian`s actions in Ukraine, US spy agencies insisted Friday they were not caught off-guard and had warned the White House intervention was "imminent."

The head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, said the intelligence community predicted the movement of Russian troops about a week in advance.

"I think for easily seven to 10 days leading up to the Russian troops as we see them now in Crimea, we were providing very solid reporting on what I would describe as just strategic warning," Flynn told National Public Radio.

The warnings gradually escalated to the point where Russian intervention on the peninsula was described as "imminent," Flynn said in the rare interview.

A spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency, Todd Ebitz, also hit back at criticism from Congress, saying the spy agency "has regularly updated policymakers to ensure they have an accurate and timely picture of the unfolding crisis."

"These updates have included warnings of possible scenarios for a Russian military intervention in Ukraine. Any suggestion otherwise is flat wrong," he told AFP.The spy agencies are sensitive to accusations of botched intelligence, given a mixed track record marked by colossal failures including the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The CIA was blindsided by the fall of the shah in Iran in 1979, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the same year and the 9/11 attacks in 2001. And in recent years, critics say the intelligence services were caught napping by Arab uprisings that began in Tunisia in 2010.

Some lawmakers say the intelligence agencies have failed again.

"It was not predicted by our intelligence, and that`s already been well known," Senator John McCain said at a hearing this week.

He called it "another massive failure because of our misreading, total misreading of the intentions" of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

When pressed by McCain, Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel defended the intelligence community`s work.

By "early last week we were well aware of the threats," Hagel said.

The Los Angeles Times, citing unnamed sources, reported that the deputy director of national intelligence, Robert Cardillo, did not suggest military action was imminent when he spoke to lawmakers last week at a closed-door briefing.

Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said his panel was examining the performance of the spy agencies.

"We have begun a review to see what pieces were missing here," he said.

US officials said they would welcome any review by lawmakers.

The DIA`s Flynn insisted that US political leaders had ample warning of what could be coming in Crimea, where Russian forces have taken effective control in the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.

"I think that when the evidence, if you will, is looked at, the results will show that there was good strategic warning provided to our decision makers in order to make the right kinds of decisions about what sort of policy actions may be taken," he told NPR.

Moscow has denied it deployed troops to Crimea after Ukraine`s pro-Russian president fled the capital Kiev.

With tensions soaring and Crimea poised to hold a hastily-called referendum to secede from Ukraine, US intelligence services were closely monitoring the situation, according to Flynn.

"We are paying very close attention to any additional activities of some of their key military forces that they do have, particularly in the southern military district that is in that region that we are all concerned about right now," he said.

AFP

First Published: Saturday, March 8, 2014 - 01:14

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