By Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Correspondent for In Homeland Security
In September 2013, Representative Alan Grayson accused the Obama administration of manipulating intelligence of Syria in an interview with the Atlantic. At the time, he said he was bound by classification rules to go into the details but the hot-button issue then was the use of chemical weapons.
Exactly two years later, former and present intelligence analysts from U.S. Central Command and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) are protesting the distortions and politicization of their work regarding Syria. This time they are providing Pentagon investigators details on how the more grim reports of ISIS sustainability are being watered down or not getting through. Instead, 50 analysts from the DIA have argued anonymously that a rosier picture of an eroding ISIS in Syria is being presented.
Pentagon Inspector General Spokeswoman Bridget Serchak confirmed the investigation into Central Command’s intelligence unit. She said, “The investigation will address whether there was any falsification, distortion, delay, suppression or improper modification of intelligence information.”
Commander of U.S. Central Command, General Lloyd Austin III testified before the Senate committee that he had not made any orders or hints regarding a “sweeter” viewpoint within his command. General Austin said he expects transparent and opposing intelligence views and that he will fully cooperate with the Pentagon investigation underway. He has not been accused on any wrongdoing.
The intelligence in question concerns the military campaign against ISIS, including the airstrikes and other operations, as well as the resilience and integrity of the terrorist group itself. The political hurdle for the White House is a matter of sponsored U.S. military policy on Syria and the effects of the solution to “degrade and defeat” them.
CENTCOM’s intelligence assessments strongly conflicted with a few of its own members, DIA, CIA and others who predict that ISIS is growing. Meanwhile, the president stated that ISIS was “losing,” which is closer to reports coming from CENTCOM. This is when the outcry emerged earlier this month.
The politics of the U.S. intervention of the Syrian Civil War and Iraq or the spread of ISIS attacks throughout North Africa and Central Asia remains a highly controversial and politically decisive issue. Congress has failed to pass the president’s request to Congress for an authorization to use military force against ISIS. The president began bombing ISIS last year in 2014, what began as a humanitarian necessity, slowly warped into a tactical battle plan slash theater-wide plan. But many see the White House’s hands too involved in the matter.
The president’s Strategy against ISIS was called a “debacle” by Senator John McCain. Obama’s policy has evolved little from using the U.S. military targeting key leaders from the sky, holding together a fragile coalition in which the Saudis are wrestling for control and preoccupied now in Yemen; or the belated entrance of Turkish military participation against ISIS which is slowed and complicated by their blood thirst for the militant Kurds.
A $500 million effort to fund, arm and train Syrian rebels has resulted in 100 to 120 in training, according to Yesterday’s testimony by General Lloyd Austin III to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Only four or five are actively fighting now and another $600 million was requested for further training programs. The plan should expect to see some 5,000 hardened anti-ISIS rebels already trained by now.
The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper, who once apologized for misleading Congress about the scope of the U.S. domestic intelligence program, is caught in a wider suspicion for potentially pressuring Central Command’s intelligence assessments. This does not mean that those reports are manipulated by him or his office, but there may be undue influence in highly frequent contact by the nature of his office.
According to the Guardian, Director Clapper’s visits to Central Command Army Major General Steven Grove were cited as “highly unusual” by anonymous sources. General Grove is rumored to be implicated for manipulating intelligence in the Pentagon probe, along with his deputy Greg Ryckman.
Director Clapper called the Guardian story about his visits with General Grove “fictional BS.”
Could these allegations below the national intelligence level be true? Two possible reasons to interfere with the intelligence process are: 1) political and 2) military strategy.
As for the first, it is possible from Presidents to bureaucrats to section heads to intentionally interfere with integrity of objective intelligence analyses by: cherry picking, having an opportunistic selection bias; hosting a cover-up and stock-pilling supportive intelligence products to act as evidence for any past, present and future decision making—the dictators defense. Many of these happen all of the time but when they become so bad, the public witnesses something like an Iraq and the yellow cake trail.
As for the second, this disturbance in intelligence can be a form of war strategy gone-wrong, where positive war PR is thought of as a more powerful weapon against the enemy than transparency back at home. The problem with this is that it is usually right and sincere if not dishonest. The matter of demoralizing your enemy with false information should not include intelligence manipulation of decision makers and policy makers which would set commanders above them. Thus, the problem is the elected leaders are often also in the dark or even complicit in a domestic disinformation campaign as well.
The Pentagon investigation is ongoing and should eventually reveal its official report on whether there is any validity to the analysts’ protests.