A civilian analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency has charged that military officials have been providing excessively optimistic assessments of the bombing campaign against ISIS to other branches of the administration, including the White House. The Pentagon inspector general is reportedly investigating these allegations.
According to a New York Times report, the deception allegedly comes from officials at the United States Central Command. The report is not clear about exactly who was responsible, or how extensively the reports were reworked. The Times’ anonymous sources said only that “the recently opened investigation focused on whether military officials had changed the conclusions of draft intelligence assessments during a review process and then passed them on.”
While the NYT acknowledges that differences of opinion are “common and encouraged among national security officials,” it notes that the inspector general’s involvement is unusual, and suggests the allegations go beyond legitimate differences of opinion. It is also noted that “pronouncements about the progress of the campaign have varied widely,” which has led critics of the anti-ISIS operation to suggest it is either not being managed very well, or some of the reports are not completely honest. Every military operation contains surprises and setbacks, to be sure, but this one has been much too exciting.
The Times received a round of “no comments” from pretty much everyone involved, aside from a Centcom spokesman welcoming a thorough inspector general investigation of the charges and pointing out that information from numerous agencies is collated into those war updates.
The really unfortunate part of the story is that the optimism displayed in recent public pronouncements about the anti-ISIS operation seems unwarranted, according to the Times’ insider sources, who described the true picture painted by recent intelligence estimates as “sober,” and said the campaign “has done little to diminish the ranks of the Islamic State’s committed fighters, and that the group over the last year has expanded its reach into North Africa and Central Asia.”
Of course, we cannot reach the end of such a story at The New York Times without mention of both Vietnam and the faulty intelligence that led to the Iraq War under President Bush. The intelligence community has long felt itself scapegoated for policy failures, and vindication for dissenting from consensus is often claimed with hindsight. The stubborn refusal of enemy forces to cooperate with fine battle plans has vexed commanders throughout the ages.
What the NYT is reporting sounds like a bit more than usual inter-agency dispute or finger-pointing crossfire, and it seems like a plausible explanation for why the course of this particular conflict has run so wildly out of bounds. The inspector general’s conclusions should make for interesting reading.