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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.

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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.

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