Last week, Fox News and the Daily Beast followed-up on a September report in which dozens of US intelligence professionals accused their superiors of "cooking" intelligence assessments related to the threat posed by ISIS. There was a "persistent effort... to downplay or even change reports that that questioned how much progress a U.S.-led coalition is making in the Obama administration’s stated goal to degrade, destroy, and defeat ISIS. Draft reports that contained a more pessimistic view, or that questioned the efficacy of hitting certain targets, were sent back to the analysts for more extensive rewriting," the Daily Beast reported. Who gave these orders and why? We floated an obvious theory: The Obama administration suppressed and discouraged analyses that failed to align with a self-serving political narrative to which the White House has been wedded since at least 2012. This speculation isn't merely intuitive; several pieces of evidence support it, including intelligence officials' murmurs about "political pressures from Washington" dating back as far as the late summer. The New York Times also reported that America's former Defense Intelligence chief has alleged that Team Obama ignored 'dire' warnings about ISIS' rise in 2012 because they "didn't meet the narrative." That same official, former DIA director Michael Flynn, has been leveling serious accusations for months, asserting that the White House's failed policies are attributable to a series of "willful decisions" to ignore clear intelligence:
Flynn told Fox News' Megyn Kelly last week that based on his personal experience, the probe into manipulated ISIS intelligence should start inside the Obama White House:
"The warnings that have been provided on the rise of radical Islamists over the last few years have been very, very clear. So what the president has actually received from the national intelligence system is pretty good intelligence, and I would say it's very accurate...The focus of this investigation -- and they'll find whatever they're going to find in terms of the tactical issues at CENTCOM -- but the focus of this investigation ought to start at the top. Where intelligence starts and stops is at the White House. The president sets the priorities, and he's the number one customer [of intelligence]."
The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes quotes several current and former US intelligence professionals who allege that the administration has a long record of ignoring and concealing politically unhelpful information. This issue came to a head, they say, over the handling of data retrieved during the Bin Laden raid that contradicted the administration's rosy public pronouncements:
The current storm over ISIS intelligence is not a new controversy, though most of the media are treating it as such. It’s better understood as an installment in a long-running scandal that extends beyond CENTCOM in Tampa, into the upper reaches of the U.S. intelligence community and perhaps into the White House...Taken together, this new primary-source intelligence [gathered at the Bin Laden compound] undercut happy-talk from the White House about progress in defeating jihadist terror. Al Qaeda wasn’t dying; it was growing. The Afghan Taliban wasn’t moderating; its leaders were as close to al Qaeda as ever. The same Iranian regime promising to abide by the terms of a deal to limit its nuclear program had provided safe haven for al Qaeda leaders and their families and had facilitated al Qaeda attacks on the interests of the United States and its allies...
Analysts on the CENTCOM/DIA team were told they could not include information from the bin Laden documents in finished intelligence products. As word of the contents of the documents began to circulate informally in intelligence circles, one official on the team was summoned to Washington and ordered to quit analyzing the documents. To date, only a fraction of the document collection has been fully exploited, and fewer than 150 of the documents have been declassified and released...“We were certainly blocked from seeing all the documents, and we were given limited time and resources to exploit the ones we had,” says Michael Pregent, a DIA analyst on the CENTCOM team. In late spring 2012, the CENTCOM team received approval from Clapper’s office to review the documents uninterrupted for five days at the National Media Exploitation Center in McLean, Virginia. CIA director David Petraeus, whose agency retained executive authority over the collection, supported the trip. But shortly after the visit was approved, it was canceled. The travel “was canceled hours before our trip by the NSC,” says Pregent, and the CENTCOM team was “disbanded” a short time later.
The NSC is the president's National Security Council, and the CENTCOM intelligence team was told the decision to disband was triggered by sequestration. Hayes' sources say this incident, and the reengineering and burying of ISIS intelligence, wasn't unusual:
This was not an isolated incident. Four sources with knowledge of the bin Laden documents tell TWS that the White House was intimately involved in limiting access to [evidence]. NSC officials handpicked the first set of documents released to the public—chosen to reinforce the impression that bin Laden was weak and isolated when he was killed and that al Qaeda was in disarray. The release of those documents, six months before the 2012 presidential election, coincided with a push by the White House and the Obama campaign to position Obama as strong on terror. Derek Harvey, a senior DIA official, served as a lead analyst on the DIA team that exploited the documents. Harvey recently told TWS that the U.S. government hasn’t “done anything close to a full exploitation.” ... These are not anonymous officials making frivolous claims against the commander in chief. They’re professionals with nearly a century of experience between them who are speaking out because of what they saw and what they’re seeing now. And they’re speaking for many in the ranks...The allegations that intelligence on ISIS was being manipulated at CENTCOM are not noteworthy because they’re new. In this case, they’re noteworthy because they’re not.
The president -- who refuses to meaningfully alter his ISIS strategy, focusing instead on slandering his domestic critics -- insists he's committed to the truth:
Obama has ordered an inquiry into accusations that intelligence reports on ISIS were altered https://t.co/EONIswPTdQ— David Joachim, NYT (@davidjoachim) November 23, 2015
Internal investigations with significant political implications are always carried out with the utmost integrity and thoroughness, right?