Pentagon accused of skewing intel on war against ISIS

A civilian analyst working for the Defense Intelligence Agency is accusing Pentagon officials of altering intelligence reports to reflect a more optimistic view of progress in the war against ISIS.

The accusation has resulted in the inspector general opening an inquiry into the matter.

New York Times:

The investigation began after at least one civilian Defense Intelligence Agency analyst told the authorities that he had evidence that officials at United States Central Command — the military headquarters overseeing the American bombing campaign and other efforts against the Islamic State — were improperly reworking the conclusions of intelligence assessments prepared for policy makers, including President Obama, the government officials said.

Fuller details of the claims were not available, including when the assessments were said to have been altered and who at Central Command, or Centcom, the analyst said was responsible. The officials, speaking only on the condition of anonymity about classified matters, said 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.

The prospect of skewed intelligence raises new questions about the direction of the government’s war with the Islamic State, and could help explain why pronouncements about the progress of the campaign have varied widely.

Legitimate differences of opinion are common and encouraged among national security officials, so the inspector general’s investigation is an unusual move and suggests that the allegations go beyond typical intelligence disputes. Government rules state that intelligence assessments “must not be distorted” by agency agendas or policy views. Analysts are required to cite the sources that back up their conclusions and to acknowledge differing viewpoints.

Under federal law, intelligence officials can bring claims of wrongdoing to the intelligence community’s inspector general, a position created in 2011. If officials find the claims credible, they are required to advise the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. That occurred in the past several weeks, the officials said, and the Pentagon’s inspector general decided to open an investigation into the matter.

Spokeswomen for both inspectors general declined to comment for this article. The Defense Intelligence Agency and the White House also declined to comment.

Col. Patrick Ryder, a Centcom spokesman, said he could not comment on a continuing inspector general investigation but said “the I.G. has a responsibility to investigate all allegations made, and we welcome and support their independent oversight.”

Every modern war has seen accusations of fudging intelligence in order to present a more optimistic view of what's happening on the ground. What appears to be different this time is that higher ups deliberately altered the analyses of DIA employees to skew intelligence to reflect more progress in the war against ISIS than was justified by the facts.

With the intelligence these reports are based on being of the highest classification, that would point the finger at a select few officers at CENTCOM who would have the clearance to read it and the ability to alter it. The number of officers at the Pentagon who would have had access to the reports would be even smaller. 

Perhaps the greatest damage done if this turns out to be true would be in the trust between the commander in chief and his top intelligence advisors. Policy makers must be able to trust that the information they are getting upon which policy is based is accurate and free of politics. The war against ISIS is difficult enough without the military lying to the president about what's happening.

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