Rank-and-file analysts at the U.S. Central Command say senior officials have been changing the conclusions of ISIS intelligence reports to make it appear the U.S.-led campaign is doing better than it really is.
The charges received little attention two weeks ago when the Pentagon's Inspector General launched an investigation into allegations from two analysts.
But late Wednesday, a report in The Daily Beast revealed that more than 50 intelligence analysts at CENTCOM had formally complained that their intelligence reports on the Islamic State had been inappropriately altered by senior officials.
"One of the central tenets, one of the key aspects of the policymaking process in the United States, is that analysts get to say what they think without any interference, without anybody changing it, so this is a very, very serious charge," CBS News Senior National Security Contributor Michael Morell, a former deputy director of the CIA, said on "CBS This Morning" yesterday. If the report is true, he said, "somebody needs to lose their job over this."
The complaints allege that the ISIS intelligence was changed to reflect the Obama Administration's public position that the president's policy was succeeding in the effort to "degrade and ultimately destroy" ISIS.
For example, John Allen, a retired Marine general in charge of coordinating the ISIS campaign, flat-out said "ISIS is losing" in a July speech at the Aspen Security Forum.
But despite some 6,700 airstrikes by the U.S-led coalition and rising U.S. assistance to the Iraqi army, ISIS is no worse off. It has lost territory in some areas but gained it in others.
"We've seen no meaningful degradation in their numbers," a defense official told the Associated Press in July.
The discrepancy between the reality on the ground in Iraq and the Obama administration's public statements put pressure on top intelligence officials to deliver reports more in line with the desired "spin."
One source told The Guardian that aides in the Obama administration simply did not want to hear "the narrative that ISIS is winning."
According to The Daily Beast, the analysts that filed the complaint believed the top officials altered the ISIS intelligence to protect their own careers.
Overly Negative ISIS Intelligence Reports Rejected
One analyst described the atmosphere at CENTCOM as "Stalinist." Several said that ISIS intelligence reports deemed too negative were sent back for revision, or simply not shared up the chain of command. Some analysts who objected to the doctored reports were pushed to retire.
"The command environment within Central Command is toxic," one former U.S. intelligence official told The Guardian.
No one has accused President Barack Obama or anyone in his administration of ordering more positive ISIS intelligence reports.
But The Guardian reported yesterday (Thursday) that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper speaks nearly every day with CENTCOM head Army Brigadier General Steven Grove.
A former intelligence official described that level of interaction as "highly, highly unusual." Grove is thought to be the intelligence official most responsible for the emphasis on portraying the ISIS campaign more positively.
If Clapper was relaying the Obama administration's views on the ISIS campaign, as is suspected, it would have put constant pressure on Grove to serve up ISIS intelligence reports satisfactory to the White House.
But that raises another question: Why would the Obama administration not want to hear the truth about the ISIS situation?
It's all about President Obama's legacy...
Why President Obama Can't Stand the Truth About ISIS
The resistance to accurate ISIS intelligence starts with President Obama. But to understand why, you need to understand his political philosophy.
One of President Obama's campaign promises was that he would bring the U.S. troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. And he's mostly fulfilled that promise.
But wrapped up in that promise was a criticism of President George W. Bush's decision to launch those wars.
"I was elected to end wars, not start them," President Obama has said on several occasions. In particular, he's loathe to send any significant number of troops back to Iraq.
That's why he needs his limited campaign there to appear successful. If President Obama admits his current strategy isn't destroying ISIS, he'll need to come up with a new one - one that would necessarily involve much greater use of U.S. military power.
So the plan now is simply to try to keep a lid on ISIS for the remainder of his term so that he can preserve his legacy as the president who ended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"This is driven by a sense that this not our fight and so we are just going to try to contain it and have influence where we can," one official who works closely on the military strategy told The Daily Beast in late May. "This is a long fight, and it will be up to the next administration to tackle."
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- The Daily Beast: Exclusive: 50 Spies Say ISIS Intelligence Was Cooked
- The Associated Press: Despite Bombing, Islamic State Is No Weaker Than a Year Ago
- The Guardian: US Spy Chief's 'Highly Unusual' Reported Contact with Military Official Raises Concerns
- CBS News: Report: Analysts Say Leadership Altered ISIS Intelligence Assessments
About the Author
David Zeiler, Associate Editor for Money Morning at Money Map Press, has been a journalist for more than 35 years, including 18 spent at The Baltimore Sun. He has worked as a writer, editor, and page designer at different times in his career. He's interviewed a number of well-known personalities - ranging from punk rock icon Joey Ramone to Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak.
Over the course of his journalistic career, Dave has covered many diverse subjects. Since arriving at Money Morning in 2011, he has focused primarily on technology. He's an expert on both Apple and cryptocurrencies. He started writing about Apple for The Sun in the mid-1990s, and had an Apple blog on The Sun's web site from 2007-2009. Dave's been writing about Bitcoin since 2011 - long before most people had even heard of it. He even mined it for a short time.
Dave has a BA in English and Mass Communications from Loyola University Maryland.