During a confirmation hearing Thursday, the committee, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also accused the U.S. intelligence community of being slow to recognize the revolution as it unfolded on the Internet, The Washington Post reported.
After the hearing, Feinstein called the intelligence community's collective performance "lacking," despite knowing what was at stake in the region.
"We warned of instability," CIA official Stephanie O'Sullivan said during the hearing on her nomination to be deputy director of the Office of Director of National Intelligence. "(We) didn't know what the triggering mechanism would be."
She said the Obama administration was warned late last year.
O'Sullivan skirted questions by senators on exactly when Obama was told that the protests potentially could lead to the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
"What I am interested in is when the president was told how serious this was," Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said.
Feinstein said after the hearing she was concerned the CIA and other agencies ignored widely available information on the protests, such as posts on Facebook and other Web sites used by organizers of the demonstrations against the Mubarak government.
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, reacting to the senators' comments, said: "Did anyone in the world know in advance that a fruit vendor in Tunisia was going to light himself on fire and start a revolution? No. But for decades, the intelligence community and diplomats have been reporting on unrest in the region that was a result of economic, demographic and political conditions."