CENTCOM intel officer fired for cursing after exposing cooked ISIS intelligence
If you've been following this story about how the CENTCOM intelligence office cooked the books to downplay the growth and threat represented by the Islamic State, the latest on the scandal takes on a surreal quality.
Carolyn Stewart, an army officer who helped identify ISIS targets, was fired for cursing twice in the course of a year. Stewart was one of the intelligence officers who helped expose CENTCOM's effort to alter intelligence reports to match public statements on ISIS coming from the White House.
At the center of the controversy is the top civilian in CENTCOM intelligence whom the army inspector general is looking at as one of the primary culprits in the scandal.
The woman at the center of the case makes a now-familiar allegation: that the same military officials who cherry-picked information about the ISIS war and downplayed the terror group’s rising threat also selectively picked information about her. The Pentagon inspector general now is investigating whether CENTCOM officials, including Ryckman, watered down assessments on the rising jihadist threat to comport with the White House.
The woman at the center of the controversy in this case, Carolyn Stewart, is a small person with a big voice. The Army veteran seemingly is demure at first glance, with shoulder-length light brown hair. But as soon as she speaks, it is clear she is not afraid to say exactly what she thinks.
She repeatedly prodded her lawyer throughout the day-long hearing about which questions to ask, which evidence to present, and which details to point out in her favor.
The hearing was a window into how allegations of toxic work environments, faulty reports, and bad leadership consumed the office tasked with leading CENTCOM’s intelligence gathering. At issue during the hours-long hearing was whether Stewart cursed at CENTCOM, and if she did curse, whether that created a hostile work environment.
“I went to other action officers to avoid Ms. Stewart,” one witness explained to the judge, in support of the decision to reassign her.
The hearing, held through a teleconference connecting DIA lawyers in Washington with a judge in Atlanta and the complainant in Tampa, had all the markings of a proper trial. Someone wore a robe and lawyers yelled out objections.
But one couldn’t help thinking it was like an episode of The Office. Those charged with helping target ISIS terrorists were instead obsessed with things like who “bitched out” whom. The government claimed she said it to another woman. Another witnesses said someone else said those words to Stewart.
It is worth noting that such debates were occupying a command post tasked with leading the war on ISIS. And yet the key issue of the time was how precisely Stewart handled a colleague telling her he would not adjust a target order.
This is a command problem of the first order. The commanding general and his top aides are directly responsible for creating a work environment conducive to the gathering of intelligence and writing good analyses. That they failed in that task, and if not encouraged, then ignored the enormous pressure being put on whistleblowers, is very disturbing.
The I.G. is still in the process of investigating, and no final report is expected until the summer. Meanwhile, the targeting office where Stewart supposedly contributed to a "hostile work environment" continues its work – apparently free of the pain of listening to profanity.