The Pentagon’s Inspector General is investigating charges by analysts at the Central Command that higher-ups in the Tampa headquarters “cooked” their intelligence analyses to satisfy White House demands for “good news” reporting on the war against the Islamic State. That investigation has moved into an advanced phase, and there are now also probes underway by Senate and House oversight committees.
While the complaints by the analysts focus ostensibly on Maj. Gen. Steven Grove, Centcom’s intelligence chief, and his civilian deputy Gregory Ryckman, there are clear indications from sources within the Pentagon that the real scandal goes up to the Oval Office, via Gen. James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence. In what some describe as a rerun of Vice President Dick Cheney’s infamous personal visits to CIA headquarters to discipline analysts who disputed the “Saddam WMD” fairy-tale, and his and Donald Rumsfeld’s creation of the Office of Special Plans, a SecDef intelligence unit staffed with neocons that created tailored intelligence to justify the March 2003 Iraq invasion, Clapper reportedly put pressure on Gen. Grove and others in Tampa, to suppress contrary intelligence estimates about the success of the US military actions against ISIS. Part of the IG investigation now focuses on whether some emails and staff reports were deleted to hide evidence of the intelligence tampering.
In recent interviews, Gen. Michael Flynn, who President Obama fired as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in August. 2014, because of persistent DIA analyses that disputed his claims of success in the Global War on Terrorism, called for a “top down” approach to the investigation. Flynn correctly argued that the tailoring of intelligence is always aimed at the intelligence community’s number one client—the President of the United States. If there is pressure on analysts to modify their evaluations, it is always to satisfy the ideological beliefs of the President or his closest advisors.
In the case of the war on the Islamic State, the President has consistently overstated the success of the US program, often without any grounding in intelligence assessments. Just prior to the Nov. 13 Paris attacks by the Islamic State, President Obama pronounced the group to be “contained.” During his 2012 presidential reelection campaign, Obama famously declared that Al Qaeda Central was defeated, following the killing of Osama Bin Laden. On Sept. 12, 2012, his claims were proven false, when Al Qaeda linked terrorists stormed two American compounds in Benghazi, Libya, killing Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American officials.
Gen. Clapper, a longtime critic of humint, who shut down critical programs when he was Director of DIA in the 1990s, has been at the center of a number of scandals since being appointed by President Obama as Director of National Intelligence early in the Obama presidency. He lied under oath before Congress, claiming that there were no bulk surveillance programs against American citizens.
If Gen. Flynn is correct, and the scandal actually begins at the top of the Obama Administration, the question is whether or not the IG or the Congressional oversight committees will take up that challenge, and approach the investigation in a fashion that does not end with a few mid-level scapegoats taking the fall, but leaving the system of political pressure on intelligence analysts intact.
If there is to be a genuine success in the war against the Islamic State and other jihadist groups, intelligence will be key. This is doubly true now that it appears that ISIS has “gone global” and has adopted blind terror tactics as a key part of their arsenal of asymmetric weapons. It is in that larger context that the investigations take on special significance.