Published February 10, 2011
The Obama administration took the rare step Thursday of correcting its own intelligence chief after the official claimed Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is "largely secular."
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper discussed the Islamist group during a hearing on Capitol Hill earlier Thursday. He testified that the organization has "pursued social ends" and a "betterment of the political order," and downplayed its religious underpinnings.
"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 Qaeda as a perversion of Islam," Clapper said.
But the DNI later issued a statement to "clarify" that claim.
"To clarify Director Clapper's point, in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood makes efforts to work through a political system that has been, under Mubarak's rule, one that is largely secular in its orientation. He is well aware that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a secular organization," DNI spokesperson Jamie Smith said.
While the Brotherhood has renounced violence, one of its goals is to pursue the creation of an Islamic state. The CIA's own website lists the Brotherhood as a "religious-based" party.
Clapper's claim quickly drew scrutiny on Capitol Hill, even before his office walked back the statement.
"I am concerned that the DNI's assessment does not agree with recent public statements by senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood nor does it agree with the organization's publicly stated goals," Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., said in a written statement, describing the group as "radical."
The Clapper remark came amid new developments in Egypt. Some expected President Hosni Mubarak to step down in the face of massive protests, but he instead announced that while he was transferring some authority to his vice president he would remain in power until elections in September.
Regardless, a number of U.S. officials have expressed concern about the possibility of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is officially outlawed under Mubarak, seizing political power in the state.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement Thursday that the United States should facilitate a "post-Mubarak transition in order to avert further violence and restore calm." As part of that, she said the United States should "guard against the use of the transition process by nefarious elements such as the Muslim Brotherhood to directly or indirectly undermine Egypt's evolution to a democratic republic."
This isn't the first time Clapper has stumbled on the public stage.
During a televised interview in December alongside other top security officials, Clapper was stumped when asked about a major set of terror arrests in Great Britain.
The White House later acknowledged that Clapper had not yet been briefed about the sweep, while defending him as "the consummate DNI."