Emails show intel analysts were told to 'cut it out' and 'toe the line' on ISIS reports
The scandal involving about 50 intelligence analysts for U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) who were pressured to downplay the effectiveness of the Islamic State while it was a growing threat is at critical mass.
The Pentagon's inspector general has in his possession emails and other documents that prove there was pressure to doctor the analyses of the Islamic State in order to minimize the threat and talk up the White House "narrative" that the military was doing a good job in degrading the abilities of the terrorist group.
Fox News is told by a source close to the CENTCOM analysts that the pressure on them included at least two emails saying they needed to “cut it out” and “toe the line.”
Separately, a former Pentagon official told Fox News there apparently was an attempt to destroy the communications. The Pentagon official said the email warnings were "not well received" by the analysts.
Those emails, among others, are now in the possession of the Pentagon inspector general. The IG’s probe is expanding into whether intelligence assessments were changed to give a more positive picture of the anti-ISIS campaign.
The former Pentagon official said there were “multiple assessments” from military intelligence and the CIA regarding the “rapid rise” of ISIS in Iraq and North Africa in the year leading up to the group’s territory grab in 2014.
Similar intelligence was included in the President’s Daily Brief, or PDB – the intelligence community’s most authoritative product -- during the same time period. Yet the official, who was part of the White House discussions, said the administration kept "kicking the can down the road." The official said there was no discussion of the military involvement needed to make a difference.
The IG probe started earlier this year amid complaints that information was changed to make ISIS look more degraded than it really was.
Among the complaints is that after the U.S. air campaign started in August 2014, the metrics to measure progress changed. They were modified to use measures such as the number of sorties and body counts -- a metric not used since the Vietnam War -- to paint a more positive picture.
Critics say this "activity-based approach" to tracking the effectiveness of strikes does not paint a comprehensive picture of whether ISIS is being degraded and contained.
The president is shocked, shocked, I say, that the intel was cooked:
President Obama, speaking at a press conference in Malaysia over the weekend, said he expects to “get to the bottom” of whether ISIS intelligence reports were altered – and has told his top military officials as much.
“One of the things I insisted on the day I walked into the Oval Office was that I don’t want intelligence shaded by politics. I don’t want it shaded by the desire to tell a feel-good story,” Obama said Sunday. “I believe that the Department of Defense and all those who head up our intelligence agencies understand that, and that I have made it repeatedly clear to all my top national security advisers that I never want them to hold back, even if the intelligence or their opinions about the intelligence, their analysis or interpretations of the data contradict current policy.”
The analysts aren't buying it:
The president’s call for a thorough investigation was greeted with cynicism by those involved in the 2014 intelligence assessments, since the administration did not act on the earlier raw intelligence that painted a dire picture of developments, especially in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, former head of the DIA, told Megyn Kelly, “Where the intelligence starts and stops is at the White House. The president sets the priorities.”
If pressure came from inside the White House, it would have to have been someone there who could claim he was speaking for the president. Valerie Jarrett is a likely suspect, but Susan Rice has also invested a lot in the "ISIS is contained" narrative. What's clear is that the White House didn't want its failure to judge the strength of ISIS correctly to become public.
To some extent, all presidents are hostage to politics in the intelligence community, as a few managers look to skew intelligence assessments toward what they think the president wants to hear. But this scandal is about the White House pressuring intel analysts to give it a flawed product that matches up with what the president has been telling the American people.
Preserving the narrative at all costs – including the cost of our national security – should eventually force the resignations of a few Obama advisers.