The New York Times reported last month that an IG investigation was looking into complaints that military officials skewed intelligence assessments about the United States-led campaign in Iraq against the Islamic State to provide a false, Obama-approved narrative about their progress.
Now, in an exclusive for the Daily Beast, Shane Harris and Nancy A. Youssef report on a “revolt” by more than 50 intelligence analysts who are sick and tired of seeing their honest assessments about the campaign turned into unrealistic “happy talk.”
The spooks working out of the U.S. military’s Central Command “have formally complained that their reports on ISIS and al Qaeda’s branch in Syria were being inappropriately altered by senior officials,” the Daily Beast reports.
Some of those CENTCOM analysts described the sizeable cadre of protesting analysts as a “revolt” by intelligence professionals who are paid to give their honest assessment, based on facts, and not to be influenced by national-level policy. The analysts have accused senior-level leaders, including the director of intelligence and his deputy in CENTCOM, of changing their analyses to be more in line with the Obama administration’s public contention that the fight against ISIS and al Qaeda is making progress. The analysts take a more pessimistic view about how military efforts to destroy the groups are going.
The large number of analysts who complained to the Pentagon inspector general hasn’t been previously reported. Some of them are assigned to work at CENTCOM, the U.S. military’s command for the Middle East and Central Asia, but are officially employed by the Defense Intelligence Agency.
The complaints allege that in some cases key elements of intelligence reports were removed, resulting in a document that didn’t accurately capture the analysts’ conclusions, sources familiar with the protest said. But the complaint also goes beyond alleged altering of reports and accuses some senior leaders at CENTCOM of creating an unprofessional work environment. One person who knows the contents of the written complaint sent to the inspector general said it used the word “Stalinist” to describe the tone set by officials overseeing CENTCOM’s analysis.
Many described a climate in which analysts felt they could not give a candid assessment of the situation in Iraq and Syria. Some felt it was a product of commanders protecting their career advancement by putting the best spin on the war.
Some reports crafted by the analysts that were too negative in their assessment of the war were sent back the chain of the command or not shared up the chain, several analysts said. Still others, feeling the climate around them, self-censored so their reports affirmed already-held beliefs.
Since the beginning of the year, members of the Obama administration have characterized the fight against ISIS in an optimistic light, even as the terror army gained huge swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, sacking major cities like Mosul, Ramadi, Palmyra and Fallujah.
“I am confident that over time, we will beat, we will, indeed, degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in March.
“No, I don’t think we’re losing,” President Obama said in May.
In July, John Allen, the retired Marine general charged with coordinating the ISIS campaign, actually said that “ISIS is losing.”
On May 15, the same day that the Islamic State overran the government center in Ramadi, the Department of Defense published a news article claiming that the strategy to defeat the Islamic State was working.
As Bill Roggio noted in The Long War Journal, “the report provides a pollyannaish view from Brigadier General Thomas D. Weidley of the US military’s air campaign and the Iraqi military’s fight against the Islamic State.”
Weidley described Ramadi as “contested” and claimed that Iraqi forces repelled most attacks in the city when in reality the Islamic State took control of the government center and most neighborhoods in Ramadi by May 15. By May 17, the Islamic State was in full control of Ramadi and overran the Anbar Operations Command and 8th Brigade Headquarters at Camp Ar Ramadi. Iraqi forces are said to be in complete disarray in the Fallujah-Ramadi corridor.
Weidley’s description of the situation in Baiji was just as overly optimistic. He claimed that while the Islamic State breached the perimeter and has had “episodic control of some refinery facilities to continue attacking Iraqi security forces,” Iraqi forces are regaining the initiative inside and outside of the refinery. In reality, the Islamic State controls upwards of 80 percent of the refinery and has besieged an Iraqi force holed up there. The Islamic State is in full control of the city of Baiji and the surrounding areas, the the Iraqi military is unable or unwilling to send reinforcements.
A couple of weeks ago, Lt. Col. Ralph Peters (Ret.) contended that the pressure to manipulate the intel on ISIS was coming from the White House, noting that the president views the intelligence community primarily as “a tool of domestic politics.”
“You’ve seen them lie about Benghazi. Last year they fired LTG. Mike Flynn, the head of DIA, because he wouldn’t cook the books. They’ve lied about Iran, they’ve lied about Islamic State,” Peters noted during a Fox News appearance. He added that “it is corrupting. It is very, very dangerous, it cripples our ability to deal with our enemies — but this administration is simply shameless.”