TEL AVIV – Amid the news-making claims about Donald Trump and Russia emanating in recent months from intelligence agencies led by Obama administration appointees, it is instructive to recall the under-reported results of a damning investigation by House Republicans that found Obama’s Defense Department routinely politicized intelligence to fit certain worldviews.
Specifically, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Joint Task Force on U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Intelligence Analysis concluded that the intelligence arm of CENTCOM routinely produced intelligence that “distorted, suppressed, or substantially altered” the results of the campaign against the Islamic State.
Much of the 15-page August 10, 2016 House report remains unreported by the news media.
The investigation provides insight into the manner in which Obama administration officials were caught reforming one U.S. intelligence agency to produce results that conformed to a political agenda instead of accurately reflecting intelligence information on the ground.
The document deserves a revisit amid unsubstantiated claims about Trump and Russia in recent months that have dominated the discourse after they were amplified by Obama administration intelligence agencies.
While most of the media minimized the findings of the House report on CENTCOM, this reporter previously reviewed the document in full and presented the ten most troubling finds.
Here they are again, in no particular order:
1 – Top CENTCOM leaders modified intelligence assessments to present an “unduly positive” assessment of combating the Islamic State and training the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).
The complaint alleges that senior leaders within the CENTCOM Intelligence Directorate and JIC, including the Director of Intelligence and other senior intelligence staff, violated regulations, tradecraft standards, and professional ethics by modifying intelligence assessments to present an unduly positive outlook on CENTCOM efforts to train the ISF and combat ISIL.
Media outlets have also raised allegations of possible reprisals against individuals within the CENTCOM Intelligence Directorate. …
According to multiple interviewees, operational reporting was used as a justification to alter or “soften” an analytic product so it would cast U.S. efforts in a more positive light. No interview provided any instances where operational reporting was used as a justification to come to a more pessimistic conclusion. Additionally, numerous interviewees indicated that analytical products which conflicted with operational reporting were routinely subject to more stringent scrutiny than those that did not.
2 – CENTCOM established an intelligence “fusion center” for IS-related intel, but kept out analysts whose views conflicted with senior intelligence leaders.
In June 2014, with the ISIL threat apparent, CENTCOM established an intelligence “fusion center,” a specially equipped JIC facility staffed around-the-clock, to serve as a “focal point” for ISIL-related intelligence. Interviewees recalled only informal communications noting the center’s establishment, and some were also uncertain about the center’s organizational structure, responsibilities, and how it was determined which JIC analysts would participate. The establishment of the Intelligence Fusion Center also removed some analysts who had the most experience with respect to ISIL and Iraq, including those whose analytic views often conflicted with those of CENTCOM’s senior intelligence leaders, from the production of daily intelligence products. This impact was especially significant given the critical analytic tasks of the Intelligence Fusion Center at this time of paramount importance in the theater.
3 – Restrictions were implemented for analysts whose views dissented from the mainstream inside CENTCOM.
Public statements by CENTCOM representatives emphasized close collaboration with other elements of the IC, but many interviewees indicated that in late 2014, senior CENTCOM Intelligence Directorate leaders instructed analysts to cease all external coordination with other IC analysts. The authority to coordinate was restricted to senior officials only, including to leaders of the Fusion Center. Other special arrangements were also put into place to notify the Director of Intelligence in the event that analysts sought to formally “dissent” from analysis produced elsewhere. The restrictions on collaboration have since been partially rescinded.
4 – Analysis was minimized in favor of details from coalition forces while intelligence was skewed to be “optimistic.”
Furthermore, senior leaders also relied on details reported from coalition forces rather than more objective and better documented intelligence reporting. 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. 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.
5 – Shocking survey results showed analysts believed data was “distorted, suppressed, or substantially altered” by their supervisors.
The annual Analytic Objectivity and Process Survey, directed by the ODNI, was conducted from August through October 2015, and included responses from 125 analysts and managers within CENTCOM. The survey results were significantly worse than those of other IC agencies or COCOMs, and showed that a substantial number of CENTCOM respondents felt their supervisors distorted, suppressed, or substantially altered analytic products.
Over 50% of analysts responded that CENTCOM procedures, practices, processes, and organizational structures hampered objective analysis, and 40% responded that they had experienced an attempt to distort or suppress intelligence in the past year. Yet despite receiving these results in December 2015, CENTCOM and IC leaders did not take corrective actions to address many of the issues identified in the survey results.
6 – Intelligence analysts declined to be interviewed, possibly out of fear of reprisals from CENTCOM leadership, while the interviews that did take place were under the watchful eyes of DOD officials.
Additionally, the Joint Task Force requested interviews with four more analysts whose positions provided them with visibility into the allegations. These analysts declined to be interviewed. Although they did not express their reasons for declining, the Joint Task Force is concerned that some of the analysts may have done so out of fear of potential reprisals for their testimony.
For example, as the Joint Task Force’s interviews were commencing, the Director of the DIA publicly characterized reports of the whistleblower’s allegations as exaggerations.
It must also be noted that, pursuant to longstanding arrangements between DOD and the Armed Services Committee, DOD insisted on having department officials present during Joint Task Force interviews.
7 – CENTCOM intel agents operated in a “toxic” leadership environment.
The Republican lawmakers fingered CENTCOM leaders, and noted the intelligence process was cleaner under previous officials and Lloyd Austin III, who served as commander from 2013-2016. Dozens of analysts viewed the “subsequent leadership environment as toxic”:
Survey results provided to the Joint Task Force demonstrated that dozens of analysts viewed the subsequent leadership environment as toxic, with 40% of analysts responding that they had experienced an attempt to distort or suppress intelligence in the past year.
8 – General Austin’s claim to Congress that IS was in a “defensive crouch” did not reflect the data possessed at the time by CENTCOM senior leaders.
Although no interviewee remembered the process of preparing the specific press releases and congressional testimony highlighted here, interviewees described a process in which congressional testimony and public affairs statements did not necessarily reflect contemporaneous intelligence assessments. In particular, the Joint Task Force was dismayed to learn that Intelligence Directorate senior leaders seemed unfamiliar with General Austin’s statements to Congress that ISIL was in a “defensive crouch” and indicated this characterization did not reflect their best assessments at the time.
9 – Even after whistleblower complaints and the “alarming” internal survey last year, the Pentagon took no steps to correct its allegedly distorted intelligence process.
The Joint Task Force is troubled that despite receiving the whistleblower complaint in May 2015 and receiving alarming survey results in December 2015, neither CENTCOM, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, nor the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) took any demonstrable steps to improve the analytic climate within CENTCOM. The survey results alone should have prompted CENTCOM and IC leaders to take corrective action without other inducements.
10 – Mirroring the Benghazi House Committee’s complaints against the State Department, the Joint Task Force here writes it “did not receive access to all the materials it requested” and details a process of denying information and records.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.
With research by Joshua Klein.