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US spies were not caught off-guard by Russia action in the Crimea: intel officer

WASHINGTON--U.S. spy agencies had warned the White House of imminent action by Russia in Ukraine and were not caught off-guard by the crisis, a top official said Friday, rejecting criticism from lawmakers.

Facing accusations the spy services were taken by surprise, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, said the intelligence community predicted the likely intervention of Russian troops at least a week in advance.

“I think for easily seven to 10 days leading up to the Russian troops as we see them now in Crimea, we were providing very solid reporting on what I would describe as just strategic warning,” Flynn told National Public Radio.

The warnings gradually escalated to the point where Russian intervention on the peninsula was described as “imminent,” Flynn said in a rare interview.

A spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency, Todd Ebitz, also hit back at criticism from Congress, saying the spy agency “has regularly updated policymakers to ensure they have an accurate and timely picture of the unfolding crisis.”

“These updates have included warnings of possible scenarios for a Russian military intervention in Ukraine. Any suggestion otherwise is flat wrong,” he told AFP.

Mixed Track Record

The spy agencies are sensitive to accusations of botched intelligence, given a mixed track record marked by colossal failures including the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The CIA was blindsided by the fall of the shah in Iran in 1979, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the same year and the 9/11 attacks in 2001. And in recent years, critics say the intelligence services were caught napping by Arab uprisings that began in Tunisia in 2010.

Some lawmakers say the intelligence agencies have failed again.

“It was not predicted by our intelligence, and that's already been well-known,” Senator John McCain said at a hearing this week.

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