Intelligence-manipulating accusations regarding U.S. assessments of the Islamic Caliphate suggest (if true) that the Obama administration is the guilty party.
However, regardless of the veracity of the accusations, the Obama administration likely won’t suffer any consequences from them.
The New York Times reported on August 25 that the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Defense was investigating allegations from “at least one civilian Defense Intelligence Agency analyst."
The analyst supposedly alleged that leaders of U.S. Central Command were changing intelligence assessments regarding U.S. efforts against the Caliphate.
The Daily Beast followed up on this with an exclusive article on September 9 claiming over “50 intelligence analysts” from the DIA and CENTCOM are alleging that senior CENTCOM officials are changing intelligence assessments for political purposes.
The reports were changed by CENTCOM higher-ups to adhere to the administration’s public line that the U.S. is winning the battle against ISIS and al Nusra, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the analysts claim.
If true, this would indicate the Obama administration is pressuring CENTCOM to tell it what it wants to hear, thus implicating the administration as the guilty party.
Yet at one point the Daily Beast makes it sound as if the problem is with CENTCOM, or even an intelligence failure.
The complaints spurred the Pentagon’s inspector general to open an investigation into the alleged manipulation of intelligence. The fact that so many people complained suggests there are deep-rooted, systemic problems in how the U.S. military command charged with the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State assesses intelligence.
If top officials are changing accurate assessments produced by intelligence analysts, then there is no intelligence failure or even a problem with CENTCOM as a whole. It simply is a political failure where CENTCOM senior leadership is lying at the behest of the Obama administration.
However, if there are similar problems at lower levels and these problems do not stem from politicians pressuring them, then it is arguable there are systemic problems within CENTCOM.
Regardless of what happened, it will be difficult to prove that Obama or his administration ordered anyone to lie and manipulate intelligence to fit their preferred narrative. And part of the reason for this has something to do with how the government produces intelligence assessments.
Intelligence community organizations regularly provide differing assessments on the same topics.
And even as CENTCOM isn’t an IC organization (it is a combatant command that produces intelligence assessments for its geographic area of responsibility with assistance from IC members and its own intelligence troops), the Obama administration can argue the CENTCOM assessments were produced with an alternative viewpoint to conventional wisdom—that it never ordered CENTCOM to manipulate them. CENTCOM leaders can argue the same thing to protect themselves.
And all of them can even point to law that requires intelligence assessments to provide alternative analyses.
The New York Times hints of this law in its article:
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.
The “acknowledge differing viewpoints” is key. The U.S. Congress passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA). This was a response to the supposed intelligence failures that didn’t prevent the September 11, 2001 attacks from happening.
Part of the IRTPA requires the intelligence community to “incorporate, where appropriate, alternative analyses”—which is what the Times article is referencing with its “acknowledge differing viewpoints” phrase. In other words, this requirement is in the IRTPA to prevent “intelligence failures” by forcing the IC to make policymakers and lawmakers aware of differing viewpoints when it provides them with its assessments.
Ironically, the Obama administration and CENTCOM leaders can now use this IC requirement as an excuse to cover an alleged intelligence failure (ordering manipulated intelligence) of their own.
Nothing significant will likely come of the DOD inspector general investigating whether CENTCOM altered intelligence assessments to fit the desired narrative of the Obama administration.
At most, some leaders at CENTCOM might become scapegoats and be punished in one form or another. But this is far from a sure thing.
It is even more unlikely that anyone in the Obama administration will suffer any consequences.
READ The Enemy Within: Terror, Lies, and the Whitewashing of Omar Khadr, Ezra Levant’s new book about domestic terrorism and radicalization.
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