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CENTCOM Altered Intel to Make Obama’s War Against Islamic State Look Better

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A congressional task force created by three Republican-led House panels has confirmed allegations that senior U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) leaders manipulated intelligence assessments in 2014 and 2015 to make it appear that President Barack Obama is winning the war against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).

CENTCOM is in charge of the U.S.-led war against ISIS.

The GOP congressional task force was established in December 2015 by the Chairmen of the House Armed Services Committee, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

Top Republican House lawmakers joined forces to investigate whistleblower allegations that CENTCOM officers were distorting ISIS intelligence assessments to make Obama’s efforts against the jihadi group look better than the realities on the ground dictated at the time.

The House joint task force (JTF) released the initial report of its investigation on Thursday, noting that it details “persistent problems in 2014 and 2015 with CENTCOM analysis of U.S. efforts to train the Iraqi Security Forces and combat the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”

It found:

[T]he Joint Task Force has substantiated that structural and management changes made at the CENTCOM Intelligence Directorate starting in mid-2014 resulted in the production and dissemination of intelligence products that were inconsistent with the judgments of many senior, career analysts at CENTCOM. These products were consistently more optimistic regarding the conduct of U.S. military action than that of the senior analysts…[and] was also significantly more optimistic than that of other parts of the Intelligence Community (IC) and typically more
optimistic than actual events warranted…

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.

In March, Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, the DIA director, told the House Armed Services Committee the allegations that CENTCOM distorted ISIS intelligence have been overblown in a way that “disturbs me more than I can state.”

There are several ongoing investigations into the ISIS intelligence scandal. The inspector general for the Pentagon, as well as other inspectors general within the intelligence community, and two congressional oversight panels are reportedly looking into the allegations.

In a press release, the task force added:

[JTF] further determined that numerous process changes implemented at CENTCOM as well as leadership deficiencies resulted in widespread dissatisfaction among CENTCOM analysts who felt their superiors were distorting their products…

The JTF investigation remains ongoing and is occurring alongside a separate investigation by the Department of Defense Inspector General.

In 2015, 40 percent (an estimated 400) of CENTCOM analysts told the office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) via a survey that the “analytic integrity” of their work is flawed.

Top House Republicans convened the task force in response to a whistleblower allegation. It is led by GOP Reps. Ken Calvert of California, Mike Pompeo of Kansas, and Brad Wenstrup of Ohio,

Commenting on the initial investigative report, Rep. Calvert declared:

The leadership failures at CENTCOM reach to the very top of the organization…What happened at CENTCOM is unacceptable — our warfighters suffer when bad analysis is presented to senior policymakers.

Rep. Pompeo added:

[F]rom 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…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.

Rep. Wenstrup also said:

Amongst other findings, our investigation has determined that unfavorable intelligence reports underwent significant scrutiny and were likely to be omitted unless they could be confirmed with virtually 100 percent certainty. As a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve, I understand that intelligence is not always certain.

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