In July, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst, assigned to the US Central Command, filed a complaint with the Pentagon’s Inspector General, John T. Rymer, charging that he was put under pressure to modify intelligence assessments of the ongoing war against the Islamic State (ISIL), to present a more optimistic picture of the conflict. That initial complaint has mushroomed into a full-scale investigation that could implicate two of President Barack Obama’s senior appointees, Centcom Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin and Director of National Intelligence Gen. James Clapper.
Investigators from the Pentagon IG’s office have been in Tampa, Florida for weeks, and have interviewed more than 50 analysts, some from DIA and others who are intelligence analysts of the Central Command. According to several of the analysts interviewed in the probe, there is compelling evidence that supervisors pressured the analysts to alter their intelligence reports and assessments, to paint a picture of progress, even when Iraqi forces retreated in the face of ISIL attacks. When analysts produced reports that showed progress in the fight against ISIL, they were not challenged to produce multi-source documentation. When they reported battle set-backs, they were ordered to rewrite the reports to include three to four qualified eyewitness accounts. In some instances, even when such documentation was provided, the reports were re-written by supervisors, before being sent on to policy-makers.
An Obama Administration narrative has emerged to blunt the investigation and make sure that the scandal never reaches the point of directly hitting at the President or his top national security advisors. Supervisors who altered the original analytical reports claim that, while the initial reports were “factually accurate,” the supervisors had access to “other source,” who provided contradictory or more in-depth intelligence, justifying the altered conclusions.
Off the record, Pentagon officials provided a different explanation. From the outset, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have opposed the re-deployment of combat troops back into Iraq, after the complete US withdrawal of combat forces in December 2011. The White House has shared this view, although the US has resumed combat bombing missions and has established a training program for the Iraqi Armed Forces, involving 3,400 American soldiers and airmen. If the full extent of the failure of these programs were to be acknowledged, there would be pressure from Congressional Republicans to send American combat forces back in to Iraq. Key Senate Republicans, like Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) have argued for months for the deployment of tens of thousands of American ground troops to Iraq.
As it was explained: “McCain controls the Pentagon budget and he can put tremendous pressure on the Pentagon. By altering the reporting on the war against ISIL, the Pentagon officials involved in the re-writing of the assessments were hoping to avoid the obvious conclusions: The US and the Iraqi forces are losing.”
At the recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearings, Centcom Commander Gen. Austin tried to dodge questions from McCain and Democratic Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.), telling the Committee that “There is an ongoing DOD IG investigation looking into allegations concerning the processing of intelligence information by Centcom’s intelligence directorate. Because the allegations are currently under investigation… it would be premature and inappropriate for me to discuss this matter.”
However, when Gen. Austin went on to paint a positive picture of the US and Iraqi progress against the Islamic State, Sen. McCain uncorked, telling Gen. Austin “I must say I have been on this committee for 30 years and I have never heard testimony like this. Never.” McCain pointed out that outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey had testified before the committee one week earlier, and had candidly admitted that the war against ISIL in Iraq was at “a stalemate.”
While the individual who is directly on the hot seat over the intelligence “cooking” is Major General Steven R. Grove, the Centcom intelligence chief, analysts put the blame on Gen. Austin, an Obama appointee who has been a close White House ally since taking the job. Some of the testimony provided to the Pentagon IG’s investigators has also focused on Director of National Intelligence Gen. Clapper, another Obama appointee who has similarly toed the White House line that the war against ISIL is succeeding and on schedule.
At the bottom of the entire scandal is the fact that the Obama Administration has badly botched the entire war against the Islamic State, going all the way back to the President’s decision to totally withdraw US forces from Iraq, which created the vacuum in which the Islamic State emerged. That decision was made by the President and his top advisors, and the intelligence manipulation can be ultimately traced to the fact that the Obama Administration’s policy failures created the current fiasco in Iraq and in the region as a whole