U.S. intelligence agencies warned President Obama and the White House last year that instability in Egypt could threaten the rule of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a CIA official said.
Testifying before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Stephanie O'Sullivan, the CIA's associate deputy director, was asked about briefings and warnings provided to the White House about Egypt.
"We have warned of instability," O'Sullivan told the committee. "We didn't know what the triggering mechanism would be for that. And that happened at the end of the last year."
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O'Sullivan was testifying before the intelligence committee at her confirmation hearing to be the principal deputy director of national intelligence.
The intelligence given to the White House concerned the protests in Tunisia that began in mid-December, U.S. officials said.
During the hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked O'Sullivan about how and when Obama was briefed on Egypt.
"I am interested in when the president was told how serious this was," Wyden said. "This goes to the function of intelligence. ... I want to get a general sense of when you told the president we were faced with something that was as serious as what we have seen in recent days."
O'Sullivan said she was not in the face-to-face briefings with President Obama, but added, "The events in Egypt are rapidly unfolding and the intelligence community is working flat out to track them on the ground. ... But the minute things started earlier on in Tunisia, the intelligence community started looking at the long-term strategic impacts."
A U.S. official familiar with the intelligence said, "Analysts anticipated and highlighted the concern that unrest in Tunisia might spread well before demonstrations erupted in Cairo. They later warned that unrest in Egypt would likely gain momentum and could threaten the regime."
At the beginning of O 'Sullivan's confirmation hearing, intelligence committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., expressed her concern over the quality of information that was provided to top U.S. policy makers.
"The president, the secretary of state and the Congress are making policy decisions on Egypt, and those policymakers deserve timely intelligence analysis," Feinstein said. "I have doubts whether the intelligence community lived up to its obligations in this area."
The U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said, "Analysts have been highlighting the many variables at play and the potential for escalation, while keeping top U.S. policymakers constantly up to date on the fluid situation in Egypt and throughout the Middle East."
Sen. Feinstein said the committee will examine the issue of the intelligence that was provided as time passes.
O'Sullivan has served as the CIA associate deputy director since December 2009. Prior to that, O'Sullivan was the chief of the CIA's directorate of science and technology.