The intelligence community is like the offensive line of the government. They protect the quarterback all day long, and no one notices until they give up a sack. Which raises the question: Was President Obama blindsided by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt?
The White House, the office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Central Intelligence Agency all said no on Friday, insisting that Obama has been well served by his cadre of secret fact finders.
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It's true that the intelligence community wasn't able to offer much insight into the thinking of Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's inner circle in the 48 hours before he fled Tunisia. But in an Oval Office briefing, Obama pressed for more detail and got it.
"The president expects that he will be provided with relevant, timely, and accurate intelligence assessments. That's exactly what's been done throughout this crisis," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.
But what should the president expect his intelligence community to know? Since 9/11, the paradigm for answering that question has been binary because we all think in terms of terrorism and events. But that's not the way most questions facing the intelligence community present themselves. They're mysteries and puzzles, not boxes to check.