The Cable

Feinstein complains to Panetta about intelligence gaps on Arab revolutions

The U.S. intelligence community has been behind events throughout the Arab world for over a month and producing deficient work, the Senate's top leader on intelligence issues complained to the head of the CIA.

"Our intelligence, and I see it all, is way behind the times. It is inadequate. And this is a very serious problem," Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told The Cable in an interview on Tuesday.

Feinstein criticized the U.S. government's intelligence products in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and Libya, saying that the intelligence community has given her "nothing that we didn't read in the newspapers" since January.

"The only one where there was good intelligence was Tunisia," she said, "but really no intelligence on any of the others, whether it was Yemen, or Bahrain, or Egypt... nothing."

Feinstein said she recently raised her unhappiness over the intelligence community's work directly with CIA Director Leon Panetta, who promised to produce better information for lawmakers.

"It's going to be improved. Mr. Panetta is aware of this and is going to take action," she explained.

She attributed the shoddy work product to a lack of human intelligence assets on the ground in the Middle East as well as the intelligence community's failure to maximize the use of open source information, including social networks, which Feinstein said accounts for an increasing amount of raw intelligence.

"I'm not a big computer person but I just went up on one of these sites and all I had to do was look," Feinstein said.

Feinstein said that she has not spoken about the issue with the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

Feinstein also joined the growing chorus of senior Democratic senators who oppose any type of military intervention in Libya, including arming rebel groups or imposing a no-fly zone.

"This is a civil war. It is not Qaddafi invading another country. I think [arming the rebels] is an act of war and particularly the no-fly zone is [an act of war]," she said.

The U.S. government shouldn't set a precedent for intervening in Arab civil wars, Feinstein said. She said that such a step could lead to more interventions by the U.S. military, which is already strained by the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The Saudis -- Do you put a no fly zone up there if this happens there? Bahrain -- Do you put a no-fly zone up there? We've got our hands full," she said.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) has repeatedly called on the administration to work with allies to set up a no-fly zone over Libya. But Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) is also against the idea for now.

"There are a lot of questions that need to be answered before that option can be exercised," Levin told The Cable. "Not only what is the mission, what are the risks, but also who are the supporters of it. If there is no support in the Arab and Muslim world or neighboring countries, what it could result in would be a very negative outcome."

Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), an Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committee member and former secretary of the Navy, also said on Tuesday that armed intervention in Libya on behalf of the rebels was not wise at this time.

"We all know that military commitments, however small, are easily begun and in this region particularly very difficult to end," said Webb. "I am of the opinion that it's not a good idea to give weapons and military support to people who you don't know."

The Cable

State Department: Arming Libyan opposition would be 'illegal'

The State Department believes that supplying any arms to the Libyan opposition to support its struggle against Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi would be illegal at the current time.

"It's very simple. In the U.N. Security Council resolution passed on Libya, there is an arms embargo that affects Libya, which means it's a violation for any country to provide arms to anyone in Libya," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said on Monday.

Crowley denied reports that the United States had asked Saudi Arabia to provide weapons to the Libyan opposition, and also denied that the United States would arm opposition groups absent explicit international authorization.

Pressed by reporters to clarify whether the Obama administration had any plans to give arms to any of the rebel groups in Libya, Crowley said no.

"It would be illegal for the United States to do that," he said. "It's not a legal option."

Crowley's blanket statement seemed to go further than comments on Monday by White House spokesman Jay Carney, who said, "On the issue of … arming, providing weapons, it is one of the range of options that is being considered."

Crowley maintained that U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970, which imposed international sanctions on Libya that included an arms embargo, applied to both the Qaddafi regime and the rebel groups.

"It's not on the government of Libya: It's on Libya," he said.

Britain and France are drafting a new Security Council resolution that would authorize a no-fly zone over Libya. The United States still might support such a resolution, but U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder argued on Monday that a no-fly zone wouldn't likely do much to protect Libyan civilians anyway.

The United States and its international partners have been reaching out to the Libyan opposition, with some mixed results, but the State Department still has not officially withdrawn its recognition of the Qaddafi regime despite President Barack Obama's public call for him to step down.

"As we've said, we think that the Qaddafi regime, having turned its weapons on its people, has lost its legitimacy," Crowley noted. "But as I said last week, there are also legal issues involved in recognizing or de-recognizing governments."

UPDATE: Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) issued a statement Tuesday evening refuting Crowley's claim that arming the Libyan opposition is "illegal" under U.N.  Security Council Resolution 1970:

Earlier today, the spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State said that, because of the arms embargo imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 1970, it would be ‘illegal' for the United States or any other country to provide military assistance to the opposition forces fighting for their survival against a brutal dictatorship in Libya. In fact, the text of the UN resolution does not impose an arms embargo on ‘Libya,' but rather on the ‘Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,' which is the self-proclaimed name of Qaddafi's regime. We believe this language should be construed narrowly in order to hold open the possibility of providing military aid to the opposition, which presumably does not consider itself part of the ‘Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.'

The President has consistently and correctly said that ‘all options are on the table' in Libya. If the State Department's statement today is correct, however, it means one of the most effective options to help the Libyan people has been taken off the table. We urge the Administration to clarify its position on this important issue.