‘Something’s wrong’: The ISIS intelligence scandal just hit Obama’s inner circle
by Pamela Engel, Business Insider
The scandal surrounding US intelligence reports on ISIS just hit President Barack Obama’s inner circle.
James Clapper, America’s top spy, is reportedly in “frequent and unusual contact” with the military officer who is suspected of allowing US reports on ISIS to be altered to fit the administration’s official line, Spencer Ackerman at The Guardian reports.
“In communications, Clapper, who is far more senior than [Army Brig. Gen. Steven Grove], is said to tell Grove how the war looks from his vantage point, and question Grove about Central Command’s assessments,” Ackerman writes.
“Such a situation could place inherent pressure on a subordinate, sources said.”
Clapper, the director of national intelligence, reportedly talks to Grove, the head of US Central Command’s intelligence wing, almost every day, according to The Guardian.
A former intelligence official told the newspaper that this was “highly unusual.”
This report comes amid a Pentagon investigation into accusations that top military officials have pressured analysts into conforming their reports to the Obama administration’s narrative of the fight against ISIS (also known as Islamic State, ISIL, and Daesh).
More than 50 intelligence analysts at Centcom, the Pentagon agency covering security interests in nations throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, have supported a formal, written complaint sent the Defense Department alleging that senior intelligence officers have insisted on changing ISIS reports to make them reflect more positively on US efforts in the region, The Daily Beast reported this week.
In another story last month, sources told The Daily Beast that senior military and intelligence officials pushed analysts to portray ISIS “as weaker than the analysts believe it actually is.”
Crucial parts of intelligence reports have reportedly been taken out, analysts say they have been subject to an environment in which they do not feel able to give a candid assessment of the situation in Iraq and Syria, and sometimes reports seen as being too negative have been sent back to analysts, according to the complaints.
With Clapper so closely communicating with officials who have been implicated in the scandal, questions will arise about how much Obama — who once suggested that ISIS was a “jayvee team” wearing Lakers uniforms — knew about any possible intelligence altering.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz and National Security Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Ron DeSantis on Friday sent letters to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Jon Rymer, the inspector general of the Defense Department, inquiring about “skewed intelligence assessments.”
“Because of these concerns, we request the Department provide a briefing to Committee staff as soon as possible, but no later than September 18, 2015,” they wrote in the letter to Carter. “We request the briefing to include additional information regarding the nature of the allegations, and the Department’s procedures for how analyses and collection drive the final product reviewed by senior civilian and military leadership.”
The Guardian notes that Clapper reportedly expressed to Grove his view on how the war on ISIS looked and pushed Grove to describe Centcom’s assessments of the militant group. This could “place inherent pressure on a subordinate,” sources told the newspaper.
One former defense official told The Guardian that Clapper could “be manipulative,” adding that “something’s wrong.”
Another source said Obama officials were not open to “the narrative that ISIS is winning.”
Others said it was doubtful that Clapper gave any direct orders to change intelligence reports.
Centcom analysts are now in a full “revolt,” according to The Daily Beast. The work environment there has reportedly gotten so bad that it has been described as “Stalinist.” One source alleges that when analysts brought concerns to Centcom leadership, they were urged to retire, and some agreed to leave.
Some analysts seem to think Centcom leaders are trying to further their career advancement by telling the administration what it wants to hear, according to The Daily Beast’s sources.
These allegations could have serious implications for the US intelligence community and the Obama administration.
“The politicization of intelligence products would be a major issue, and these allegations need to be thoroughly investigated,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California), the chair of the House intelligence committee, told Business Insider.
“The intelligence committee will take all appropriate action to ensure our nation’s policymakers receive unbiased analysis from the Intelligence Community.”
Despite assertions by Obama administration officials that ISIS is losing, many counterterrorism analysts say the opposite is true.
Brett LoGiurato contributed reporting to this story.