Skip to main content

U.S. intelligence under fire over Ukraine

By John Crawley, CNN
updated 11:29 PM EST, Wed March 5, 2014
  • Key members of Congress question intelligence ahead of Russian intervention
  • Critics claim the U.S., allies might have had more options for dealing with crisis
  • Top intelligence office blunts criticism, says reports of shortcomings "highly inaccurate"
  • House committee launches probe, hearings likely

Washington (CNN) -- The nation's top intelligence office denies suggestions the United States was caught off guard by Russia's military intervention in Ukraine, calling reports to that effect "highly inaccurate."

Shawn Turner, a spokesman for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, said in a statement Wednesday that the intelligence community has "frequently warned of worrisome trends with respect to Russia's foreign policy" since Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency in 2012.

He included examples issued several days before Russia's movement last week into the Crimean peninsula during political upheaval in Ukraine.

Some members of Congress have been vocal in their questioning of intelligence ahead of the military steps taken by Putin, and vowed to investigate.

Intel officials take heat from lawmakers
Hear Clinton's controversial remarks
Fmr. Obama adviser: Putin not crazy

On Tuesday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, ordered a review of the intelligence assessment leading up to the intervention, Rogers' spokeswoman Susan Phalen said.

Separately, Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican and a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said on CNN's "Erin Burnett OutFront" that Russia's intervention was "not predicted" but was "among a list of possibilities."

He said lawmakers would look at whether "more intelligence could have been gathered" or whether there was a problem with the analysis.

"Now the CIA is right in that they did give that as a possibility but they certainly didn't say it was going to happen," he said, noting there would be hearings on the matter.

"But clearly we were not anticipating this level of attack, this level of incursion by the Russians and that is something that as we're going to have I believe an ongoing series of crises with the Russians we have to do better in the future," he said.

In the Senate, John McCain pressed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at an Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday on whether Russia's Crimea action was a surprise.

Hagel said "we were aware of the threat" but declined to get into further details in a public setting.

McCain, an Arizona Republican, shot back, calling it a "massive failure of our reading of Putin."

Critics contend the United States and its European allies might have been able to mount a better case or otherwise persuade Putin to not move his forces into Crimea had they had a clearer understanding of what he was going to do.

But Turner, in his statement, said the intelligence community warned on February 26 that Crimea was a "flashpoint for Russian-Ukraine military conflict."

That assessment included an analysis of Russian military assets "staged for a potential deployment and those already in Ukraine that could be used for other purposes," Turner said.

"It clearly stated that the Russian military was likely making preparations for contingency operations in the Crimea and noted that such operations could be executed with little additional warning," Turner said.

He added that the intelligence community has "worked diligently" throughout the Ukraine crisis to provide policymakers with the "best possible insight and understanding."

CNN's Jim Sciutto contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:17 AM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Donetsk's neediest line up for food handouts. There are long queues at the bus station as people try to leave town. There are no banks left open.
updated 5:25 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
Barking overwhelms the thud of artillery fire. An animal shelter is crammed with 1,000 dogs, many orphans of the conflict with owners who have fled or been killed.
updated 3:51 AM EDT, Fri October 3, 2014
Reza Sayah looks into why thousands of Ukrainians have left their old lives to volunteer to fight.
updated 4:48 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
CNN's Ralitsa Vassileva speaks to The New Republic's Linda Kinstler about Putin's motives with Ukraine and China.
updated 10:36 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
President Barack Obama speaks at the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
updated 5:58 PM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
The Commander of NATO forces in Europe says Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defense systems and Russian troops -- all heading into Ukraine.
updated 8:58 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 broke apart in the air after it was hit by a burst of "high-energy objects" from outside, a preliminary report by Dutch aviation investigators said Tuesday.
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Wed September 3, 2014
On a country road in eastern Ukraine, a scene of bucolic tranquility was suddenly interrupted by the aftermath of carnage.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
In the city of Donetsk, the devastation wrought by weeks of fighting between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian forces is all too apparent.
updated 8:00 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
CNN's Diana Magnay reports from the front lines in the Ukrainian conflict.
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
A few miles south of the town of Starobeshevo in eastern Ukraine, a group of men in uniform is slumped under a tree.
updated 9:43 AM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
A shopkeeper's mutilated body, relatives' anguish, homes destroyed ... this is Donetsk.
updated 7:12 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
A 20-minute drive from Kiev takes you to a neighborhood that feels more like Beverly Hills than central Ukraine.
updated 9:12 AM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Photos illustrate the ongoing crisis in Ukraine as fighting continues to flare in the region.
updated 12:31 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Future imports, exports between the EU and Russia are now banned -- but existing contracts continue.
updated 11:40 AM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Some contend that larger weapons have come into Ukraine from Russia.
updated 5:25 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
The downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 put the pro-Russia rebels operating in Ukraine's eastern region center stage.