A House of Representatives task force report
has determined that senior military personnel censored certain intelligence reports about the Islamic State terrorist organization to downplay the security threat it is to the United States. The members of the task force were: Reps. Ken Calvert, Mike Pompeo and Brad Wenstrup. Calvert is on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, Pompeo is on the House Intelligence Committee and Wenstrup is on the House Armed Services Committee. The latter is also a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve. All three are Republicans.
"After months of investigation, this much is very clear: from the middle of 2014 to the middle of 2015, the United States Central Command's most senior intelligence leaders manipulated the command's intelligence products to downplay the threat from ISIS in Iraq," Pompeo said.
"The result: consumers of those intelligence products were provided a consistently 'rosy' view of U.S. operational success against ISIS. That may well have resulted in putting American troops at risk as policymakers relied on this intelligence when formulating policy and allocating resources for the fight. I urge the Department of Defense Inspector General to hold accountable the intelligence leaders that failed our service members fighting our wars on the ground."
According to the task force, officers at U.S. Central Command "regularly provided line-in/line-out edits and wording changes" to intelligence reports that they gave to Army Gen. Lloyd Austin -- who then headed CENTCOM -- as well as "other senior customers." The resulting information thus provided "consistently more optimistic" perspectives than analysis provided by career CENTCOM experts.
From the report:
“The Joint Task Force was created by the Chairmen of the House Armed Services Committee, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense to investigate the allegations of a whistleblower that intelligence produced by U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) had been manipulated to present an unduly positive outlook on CENTCOM efforts to train the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and combat the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Although investigations into the whistleblower’s allegations continue, the Joint Task Force has conducted sufficient investigation to reach certain interim conclusions. Those conclusions are contained in this report. However, the Joint Task Force awaits the completion of the ongoing Department of Defense Inspector General (DODIG) investigation into this matter.”
Released today, the report indicated that the problems emerged while Gen. Austin was leading CENTCOM and when Maj. Gen. Steven Grove was heading CENTCOM Intelligence Directorate. However, the report did not mention their names. It did mention, however, that these issues did not arise under Marine Gen. James Mattis, who preceded Gen. Austin. When Army Gen. Joseph Votel took over from Austin as CENTCOM commander this year, he brought a new intelligence director. CENTCOM reports improved thereafter.
The reports provided during Austin’s tenure reflected the same roseate views of the terrorist Islamic State held by President Barack Obama personal intelligence advisers, the report suggests.
It was during that time that Maj. Gen. Grove was heading CENTCOM intelligence, who briefed senior intelligence officials in the government. According to a whistleblower, those officials included the Joint Staff director for intelligence and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
"These calls took place several times per week before daily intelligence briefings by the DNI to the president," the report said. "The frequency of these interactions could have provided CENTCOM leadership outsized influence on the material presented to the president outside of formal coordination channels."
The report said that no other military directors participated in those special briefings. The false scenario of the Islamic State painted by the intelligence was made worse because CENTCOM Intelligence Directorate leaders failed to follow "analytic best practices" by preventing analysts from coordinating with analysts from other intelligence agencies. In addition, all reports had to get a sign-off from a newly-established “Analytic Review Team.”
Those "restrictions ... creat[ed] unnecessary stovepipes that centralized information within senior CENTCOM leadership channels," the report says. "Senior leadership involvement sometimes resulted in delays to the publication of intelligence products that could otherwise have provided critical warning to the CENTCOM commander, the IC [intelligence community], and national policy-makers."
"Possibilities and probabilities can be just as critical for decision makers,” wrote Wenstrup, an Army Reserve officer, who said he understands that intelligence is not always certain. “Additionally, despite nearly nine months of review, 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. We cannot win the war against ISIS with incomplete intelligence. The report out today highlights the importance of having an independent process."
When the task force interviewed CENTCOM leadership, the officers denied willfully requiring the intelligence reports provide only "optimistic" views of the Islamic State. However, the legislators did not find any reports being edited to make the Islamic State seem more dangerous than the original drafts would have suggested. The officers defended the edits and argued that they saw "operational reporting" provided by the U.S. military in Iraq that was better than that provided by their own experts.
"The Joint Task Force can find no justifiable reason why operational reporting was repeatedly used as a rationale to change the analytic product, particularly when the changes only appeared to be made in a more optimistic direction," the report says. "By supplanting analytic tradecraft with unpublished and ad hoc operational reporting, Joint Intelligence Center (JIC) leadership circumvented important processes that are intended to protect the integrity of intelligence analysis."
An annual survey, conducted in 2015, showed that CENTCOM senior analysts did not like the micromanaging by the higher-ups. In the survey, 40 percent of the analysts surveyed said "that they had experienced an attempt to distort or suppress intelligence in the last year."