Senior intelligence officials in the U.S. military altered intelligence reports on the Islamic State to make the U.S. campaign appear more effective than it actually was, The Daily Beast reports.
A House Republican Task Force reportedly confirmed the findings, after reports emerged in September 2015 that lower level analysts within the Defense Intelligence Agency formally complained their intelligence was being doctored by senior CENTCOM commanders. “The cancer was within the senior level of the intelligence command,” one defense official told The Daily Beast.
One DIA analyst described officials oversight of his work as “stalinist” alleging that senior officials routinely removed documents that changed the context of his work. Many analysts took a pessimistic view of the U.S. effort against ISIS, and felt senior CENTCOM commanders were doctoring intelligence to protect their career prospects in the military.
The U.S. anti-ISIS effort in 2014 and 2015 was going particularly badly. ISIS controlled almost every major Sunni city in Iraq, Iraq and Syria were in complete political chaos, and there seemed to be no force competent enough for the U.S. to partner with. The Obama administration’s rhetoric at the time was in direct contrast to the facts on the ground, possibly as a result of these intelligence assessments.
When ISIS took a slew of cities in 2014 and the Iraqi Security Forces retreated, doctored intelligence reported the Iraqi Military had only “redeployed.” CENTCOM’s language explicitly portrayed the battlefield in incorrect language to senior policymakers who rely on the intelligence to make major strategic decisions.
A CENTCOM spokesman stressed the importance of the intelligence in 2015 saying, “Senior civilian and military leadership consider these assessments during planning and decision-making.” He elaborated “These products and the analysis that they present are absolutely vital to our efforts, particularly given the incredibly complex nature of the multi-front fights that are ongoing now in Iraq and Syria.”
In May 2015, President Obama speaking on ISIS’s conquest of Iraqi Anbar province said “There’s no doubt there was a tactical setback.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry preceded the Presidents comments in March 2015 saying, “There’s a great deal of energy and effort being put into this and I am confident that over time, we will beat, we will, indeed, degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.”
Some of the doctored intelligence reportedly made its way into President Obama’s daily briefings. Administration officials stressed they remain confident in the military’s intelligence apparatus, and that the intelligence had little bearing on U.S. strategy against ISIS. Obama strongly pushed back on the intelligence scandal in November 2015 saying, “One of the things I insisted on the day I walked into the Oval Office was that I don’t want intelligence shaded by politics. I don’t want it shaded by a desire to tell a feel-good story.”
CENTCOM commanders may have pressured analysts to doctor intelligence as a response to pressure from senior administration officials. While the report apparently does not find any administration official requesting altered intelligence, it is likely the White House put intense pressure on the military to successfully prosecute the war against ISIS to match their rosy rhetoric.
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