Intel officials: White House ignored warnings about ISIS threat

Senior intelligence officials upset that President Obama appeared to blame them for not anticipating the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are pushing back, saying the White House was distracted by other foreign policy crises and ignored the growing threat from the group.

"Some of us were pushing the reporting, but the White House just didn’t pay attention to it,” a senior American intelligence official told The New York Times


“They were preoccupied with other crises,” the official continued. “This just wasn’t a big priority.”

Another senior official told the paper, "there were a lot of us saying this is a real massive problem.”

“The Syria policy people are so focused on taking down Assad, they were blind to this problem," the official added.

The anonymous sniping came after an interview with "60 Minutes" over the weekend in which the president seemed to suggest that the intelligence community was to blame for underestimating the threat posed by ISIS.

"I think our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria," Obama said.

Republicans immediately seized on the comment to criticize the president, accusing him of attempting to pass the buck.

"We predicted this and watched it," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on CNN Monday. "It was like watching a train wreck and warning every step of the way that this was happening. ... This here idea that somehow we didn't know that this was happening, of course we knew it."

Press secretary Josh Earnest insisted on Tuesday that Obama was not trying to shirk responsibility, saying that "everybody" — from the intelligence community to the White House — had underestimated how quickly ISIS would be able to seize wide swaths of Iraq and Syria.

Earnest said Obama's comment was intended as a general reflection on how difficult it is to assess security situations in the region and that the president remained "absolutely" confident in the intelligence community.

"The president’s commander in chief and he’s the one who takes responsibility for ensuring that we have the kinds of policies in place that are required to protect our interests around the globe," Earnest said.