House GOP report: Military intelligence gave ISIS fight rosy spin

House GOP report: Military intelligence gave ISIS fight rosy spin

By Loree Lewis   
Published
Footage released by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense shows an airstrike on a suspected Islamic State position near Fallujah.
Footage released by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense shows an airstrike on a suspected Islamic State position near Fallujah.

The report stops short of alleging any sort of White House conspiracy to manipulate intelligence related to the war, instead citing "persistent problems" in 2014 and 2015 with CENTCOM's analysis of the battle against ISIS and efforts to train Iraqi forces.

This article has been updated, 1:45 PM.

WASHINGTON (Talk Media News) – A Republican Congressional task force released an initial report Thursday concluding that the U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, put a rosier spin on the battle against ISIS than was warranted based on the facts.

The report stops short of alleging any sort of White House conspiracy to manipulate intelligence related to the war, instead citing “persistent problems” within CENTCOM’s analysis of the battle against ISIS and efforts to train Iraqi forces.

The task force launched after 50 intelligence analysts at CENTCOM filed a whistleblower complaint accusing their superiors of distorting their reports. The New York Times first broke the story.

The 17-page report said that frequent interactions between CENTCOM officials and senior intelligence community leaders who brief President Barack Obama “could have provided CENTCOM leaders with outsized influence on the material presented to the President outside of formal coordination channels.”

The report indicates that the communication missed a link in the chain of command, with CENTCOM reporting directly to the Office of the Director of Nation Intelligence, rather than through the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The report blames “structural and management changes” at the CENTCOM Intelligence Directorate starting in mid-2014 for leading to organizational and processes “that negatively affected the quality and timeliness of intelligence production.”

It said that senior CENTCOM leaders relied on details from coalition forces rather than “more objective and documented intelligence reporting,” largely altering reports “in a more optimistic direction.”

A survey referenced in the report, taken from Aug. 2015 to Oct. 2015, showed that 40 percent of analysts said they “had experienced an attempt to distort or suppress intelligence” in the past year, and found that “dozens of analysts” viewed the leadership environment as “toxic.”

The Republican lawmakers’ report suggests that much of the blame lies on CENTCOM leaders of the time, saying that intelligence processes worked better before and after the leadership of Army Gen. Lloyd Austin. He held the role from 2013 to 2016.

After the complaints surfaced publicly, President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and current CENTCOM commander Joseph Votel called for what Carter’s press secretary described as “unvarnished, transparent intelligence.”

The task force is a joint effort of the House Intelligence, Armed Services and Appropriations Committees, and led by Republican Reps. Ken Calvert (Calif.), Mike Pompeo (Kan.) and Brad Wenstrup (Ohio).

“We still do not fully understand the reasons and motivations behind this practice and how often the excluded analyses were proven ultimately to be correct,” Wenstrup, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, said in a written statement. “We cannot win the war against ISIS with incomplete intelligence.”

House Democrats declined to participate in the task force and instead carried out a parallel inquiry led by Reps. Jackie Speier (Calif.) and Adam Schiff (Calif.).

The Democrats wrote that they generally agreed with the Republican report, but found that the Defense Department, CENTCOM and the Director of National Intelligence “have taken steps to address these problems.”

They attributed the flawed intelligence reports to an “overly insular process” at CENTCOM that “deviated from analytical best practices.”

The report comes as the U.S. war against ISIS passed into its second year this week. The U.S. anti-ISIS bombing campaign began in Iraq Aug. 8, 2014.

The task force’s investigation remains ongoing. Separately, the Pentagon inspector general is conducting a report into the allegations of doctored intelligence.

A spokesperson for CENTCOM said officials “appreciate the independent oversight” provided by the Congressional lawmakers and are “reviewing the findings of the initial report.”

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Kyle Raines declined to comment on the findings, citing the report’s ongoing nature and the separate pending report from the Inspector General.

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