National Intelligence Director James Clapper’s bid to defuse frustration on Capitol Hill over the intelligence community’s performance during the Mideast upheaval appeared to backfire Thursday, when his description of Egypt’s extremist Muslim Brotherhood as a “largely secular” group that has “eschewed violence” sparked outrage.
That characterization by the No. 1 U.S. intelligence official triggered an immediate backlash.
Clapper’s remark was a “head-snapping moment,” said Richard Engel, NBC’s chief foreign correspondent.
“That doesn’t make any sense from my knowledge of the organization,” Engel told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, “and I’ve spent
a lot of time with them.” He described it as “a complete misreading of the situation here in Egypt.”
Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the Center for Security Policy, blasted Clapper’s remarks as “a firing offense.”
“I think this is grounds for insisting upon his resignation,” Gaffney told Newsmax in an exclusive interview, “because, if that is the considered opinion of the top intelligence professional in the United States, clearly the United States government is being very badly misinformed about the seemingly eminent takeover of the Egyptian government by what I believe is as dangerous an organization as anyone on the planet.”
Gaffney said he had never heard anyone describe the Muslim Brotherhood as secular. It seeks creation of an Islamic caliphate and worldwide imposition of Sharia law, he said.
Also finding Clapper’s remark incredible was potential GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
“For heaven’s sake, where did he get that?!” the former Arkansas governor said to host Neil Cavuto. “They’re as secular as Billy Graham and the Pope are secular. Are you kidding me?! The Muslim Brotherhood is one of the most radical, Islamic jihadist groups. Going back to the 1920s, this is a group that is nothing but radical.”
Clapper’s controversial characterization of the group came during a meeting of the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday, after GOP Rep. Sue Myrick of North Carolina asked Clapper to comment about the threat the group poses.
Clapper suggested that the Egyptian element of the group is not that extreme, telling Myrick: "The term 'Muslim Brotherhood' . . . is an umbrella term for a variety of movements, in the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried al-Qaida as a perversion of Islam.
"They have pursued social ends, a betterment of the political order in Egypt, et cetera . . . In other countries, there are also chapters or franchises of the Muslim Brotherhood, but there is no overarching agenda, particularly in pursuit of violence, at least internationally."
However, during that same congressional hearing, FBI Director Robert Mueller appeared to distance himself from Clapper’s view. Some branches of the Muslim Brotherhood have promulgated violence, Mueller said.
“Obviously,” Mueller said, “elements of the Muslim Brotherhood here and overseas have supported terrorism.”
Experts say the Muslim Brotherhood promotes governance based on Islamic principles and its stated goal is to unify lands from Spain to Indonesia under Islamic rule known as a “caliphate.”
The Muslim Brotherhood is considered less extreme than it used to be. But historically, it has given rise to leading terrorist figures throughout the Middle East.
For example, Hamas, the extremist group in control of the Gaza Strip, is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Also, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who many analysts say is a greater threat than Osama bin Laden, joined the Muslim Brotherhood as a teenager. He is under indictment in the United States for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
When Myrick objected that the Brotherhood seeks to “take over government, so everyone has to succumb and live under their ideology,” Clapper replied that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt runs 29 hospitals, filling a void in government services.
Newsmax contributing editor Ken Timmerman, who has written several books on threats in the Middle East, called Clapper’s remark “stunning.”
“He ought to start reading the volumes of intelligence reports that have been filed by every U.S. embassy in the Muslim world that has ever had dealings with the Muslim brotherhood,” Timmerman said.
Echoing those sentiments was Steve Emerson, the executive director of The Investigative Project on Terrorism.
“This is bad information,” Emerson tells Newsmax. “It’s dangerous if it’s implemented and used as policy. It would be very injurious to U.S. national security interests and other Western countries, as well as Arab countries.
“No one’s going to fire him, because this is probably consistent with some of the other people in the administration,” Emerson said. “But it offers the most extensive insight into the thinking of top administration officials about the Muslim Brotherhood. And it shows they’re under dangerous delusions that, if implemented, could be seriously averse to U.S. national interests.”
It’s not the first time Clapper has played the role of an intelligence officer offering dubious intelligence. In December, ABC’s Diane Sawyer asked Clapper about the arrest of a dozen suspected terrorists in London. Clapper was stumped by the question and was unaware the suspected terror operation had been rolled up. The mainstream media explained Clapper’s lapse by blaming his staff for failing to keep his boss fully informed.
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