A costly mistake by the CIA chief caused more embarrassment to the U.S. foreign policy establishment, which is already in a double bind over the escalating Egyptian situation, and worsened confusion over the timing of the purported exit of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak.
Addressing a Congressional Committee, CIA director Leon Panetta said there was a strong likelihood that Mubarak may step down on Thursday. I got the same information you did, that there's a strong likelihood that Mubarak may step down this evening, Panetta said, referring to speculation about the Egyptian president's exit.
I don't know the particulars of how this would work but I would assume that he would turn over more of his powers to Suleiman to be able to direct the country and direct the reforms that hopefully will take place, he had told the Committee, according to AFP.
This, however, proved to be wrong as Mubarak appeared on the TV only to frustrate thousands of jeering mobs in the Tahir square when he said he will not step down until there is an alternative government in place. The hysterical crowds were expectantly waiting for the historic announcement from the president about his exit, but were disappointed.
Obviously, the CIA looked ridiculous though Panetta escaped severe criticism from the Republican head of the Congressional committee, Mike Rogers. Rogers dismissed the case as probably an unfortunate choice of words.
However, the goof up by Panetta appeared to be a tell-tale sign of the way the U.S. is losing ground in the Middle East, both politically and diplomatically.
There is already strong popular belief that the American foreign policy establishment came short in judging the turn of events in Egypt. There are many who think an early endorsement for the pro-democracy protest in Egypt would have helped address the trust deficit America is facing in the Arab world.
The remarkable slip up by the most revered and feared intelligence agency in the world also led to rumors that Mubarak has already fled the country.
Iran's Press TV put out a report claiming that it had information that Mubarak has already fled the country and that his adders to the nation on Thursday evening was taped in advance.
Presidential sources say Egypt's three-decade ruler Hosni Mubarak has left the country, noting an address he is scheduled to deliver in a few hours is taped.
As it turned out, Mubarak did address the nation only to cause a flare-up among the protesters, and Egypt's information minister insisted there was no plan for Mubarak step down. He is still in power, the minister said. The president is not stepping down and everything you heard in the media is a rumor, he told Reuters.
On the other hand, Mubarak's televised address to the nation did not give clues as to when or where it was taking place. The official channel said the address was taking place real time.