A House Republican joint task force has concluded that senior officers at US Central Command did, indeed, "cook the books" on their assessments of ISIS in Iraq and how well the war was going against it. The complaints first surfaced, publicly, a year ago, when it become known that senior intelligence analysts, seconded from the DIA, including some with 20 or more years experience on Iraq, alleged that their analyses were altered to make the war against ISIS look like it was going better than it really was. The allegations were serious enough that the Department of Defense Inspector General opened an investigation, an investigation which is still ongoing.
The Congressional task force, led by chairmen of the House Armed Services and Intelligence Committees and the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, reports, based on its own inquiry, that "Centcom produced intelligence that was significantly more optimistic than that of other parts of the Intelligence Community and typically more optimistic than actual events warranted." Additionally, "many Centcom press releases, public statements and congressional testimonies were also signficantly more positive than actual events." The task force attributes many of the problems to leadership changes that took place in Centcom after Gen. James Mattis was replaced as Centcom commander by Gen. Lloyd Austin in 2013. Survey results showed that dozens of analysts "viewed the subsequent leadership environment as toxic, with 40 percent of analysts responding that they had experienced an attempt to distort or suppress intelligence in the past year."
The report doesn't name anyone beyond Mattis and Austin, but news reports from last year, identified Maj. Gen. Steven Grove, Centcom‛s top intelligence officer, and his civilian deputy, Gregory Ryckman as the subjects of the analysts' complaints. Grove is now the director of the Army Quadrennial Defense Review Office, at the Pentagon. The New York Times, last year, identified Gregory Hooker as the lead analyst of among fifty in the complaint against Grove and Hooker. More recently, in April of 2016, The Daily Beast reported that two analysts that they didn't name had been forced out of their jobs at Centcom due to their complaints while Hooker has been reassigned to a position in the UK.
The report does not attempt to attribute responsibility for the suppression of intelligence analyses up the chain of command, not even to Austin, much less the White House, though it reports that testimony that Austin delivered to Congressional committees during the time period at issue reflected the rosier-than-reality assessments. Centcom intelligence officials also briefed the Office of National Intelligence, including its director, James Clapper, several times a week, and, according to the report, those assessments were then passed on to the White House.
The question of White House culpability remains an open one, however. A Daily Beast report from September 2015 reported that the upshot was that the altering of intelligence reports impacted assessments of the strategy, itself. Some of the analysts say that the reports overstate the damage being done to ISIS and one result is that the generally optimistic reports may have stalled debate about whether the strategy needed to be reexamined or change course.
Cooking the books on the war on terror is apparently not unique to Centcom, however. The story of the trove of intelligence seized during the 2011 raid in which Osama bin Laden was killed should, it seems to me, if it is accurate, be an even bigger scandal. The main source of the story is Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard who reported in a December 7, 2015 article that the White House had severely limited access to those documents by analysts from the military and other intelligence agencies (outside of the CIA which has control of them) because they contradicted the White House narrative that AQ was weakened and on the run. "Taken together, this new primary-source intelligence undercut happy-talk from the White House about progress in defeating jihadist terror," Hayes wrote. "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."
"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. ... Four sources with knowledge of the bin Laden documents tell TWS that the White House was intimately involved in limiting access to them." Hayes names names, too. Michael Pregent, a DIA analyst on the CENTCOM team, told Hayes that "We were certainly blocked from seeing all the documents, and we were given limited time and resources to exploit the ones we had." Former DIA chief LTG Michael Flynn, Hayes reports, told Fox News that any investigation of the Centcom scandal has to include the White House.
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