Skip to main content

Intel chief says his Muslim Brotherhood remark misunderstood

By Pam Benson, CNN
  • Clapper said what he meant was the group was working within secular political systems
  • He did not offer specifics to Feinstein's questions
  • He defends Open Source Center in following social media

Washington (CNN) -- The nation's top intelligence officer sought to clarify Wednesday a comment that was roundly criticized when he said that the Muslim Brotherhood was a "secular" group.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, speaking to the Senate Intelligence Committee, said his comment last week was misunderstood and he only meant that the group is trying to work within secular political systems.

The group itself is not secular, Clapper said in an opening statement to Congress.

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-California, the chair of the committee, expressed concern about whether the U.S. intelligence committee knew enough about the Brotherhood's positions.

In a series of questions to Clapper, Feinstein wanted to know the stated positions of the group with regards to the Middle East peace process, ties to Iran and the smuggling of weapons into Gaza.

Clapper responded each time it was hard to say or he didn't know -- but he added he would assess they are not in favor of a peace treaty, that it remains to be seen on Iran and he surmised they supported bringing weapons into Gaza.

Muslim Brotherhood: What's next?

He went onto say the Muslim Brotherhood was not a monolithic group and there are generational differences within the group.

Feinstein also questioned whether the intelligence community was adequately following clues in social media in the lead up to the uprisings.

Clapper defended the efforts of the Open Source Center, which describes itself on its website as "the U.S. Government's premier provider of foreign open source intelligence," in tracking all media.

CIA Director Leon Panetta, also testifying before the committee, said it is a huge responsibility to track the hundreds of thousands of Facebook accounts, millions of tweets and hours of You Tube video each day.

He said it was a real challenge to sift through and determine what to monitor and what websites have the biggest impact.

Formed in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood, or al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin, was the largest and most organized opposition movement in Egypt during the Mubarak era.

It was officially banned on grounds that Egypt does not recognize parties with a religious agenda and members were barred from making a bid for the presidency. But Brotherhood candidates ran as independents in the 2005 election

and won 88 of 444 parliamentary seats.

In recent days, the Muslim Brotherhood has said it wants to promote democracy and does not intend to field a candidate for president of Egypt. The Islamist umbrella group also sought in public statements to dispel fears that it would push for an Islamic state in a post-Mubarak era.