Analyst alleging cooked ISIS intel identified

Analyst alleging cooked ISIS intel identified
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The analyst behind the allegations that U.S. Central Command (Centcom) has altered intelligence assessments to paint a rosier picture of the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is Gregory Hooker, the New York Times reported Thursday. 

Hooker was the same senior American intelligence analyst who went public in 2005 to criticize President George W. Bush's administration for pushing “amateurish and unrealistic” plans for the 2003 invasion. 

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Hooker is the senior Iraq analyst at Centcom, the military command that oversees U.S. operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, and the leader of the group of more than 50 analysts accusing senior commanders of changing their reports. 

The accusations are leveled at the two most senior intelligence officers at Centcom — Maj. Gen. Steven Grove and his civilian deputy, Gregory Ryckman, according to the Times

The matter is being investigated by the Pentagon's inspector general, as well as the Senate Intelligence and Senate Armed Services Committees. The House Oversight and Government Reform and Intelligence Committees are also looking into the matter. 

Hooker declined to comment for the Times article. 

Retired Marine Col. Stephen Robb, former head of the Centcom Joint Intelligence Center, told the Times, "This core group of Iraq analysts have been doing this for a long time. ... If they say there’s smoke, start looking for a firehouse.” 

A motivation for altering the assessments remains unclear. Some analysts suggested Centcom leaders feared reporting bad news to the White House, or that an institutional bias made it hard for the military to criticize its own efforts. 

Brian Hale, a spokesman for the director of national intelligence, played down the significance of Centcom’s assessments in influencing senior policymakers' conclusions, telling the Times that it does not provide "broad or strategic assessments."  

A former official said one assessment early this year concluded that airstrikes against ISIS oil refineries were not weakening the group's financial strength, but that finding was not distributed outside Centcom. 

Officials have argued as recently as July that the strikes were making a difference. 

On July 6, State Department Press Secretary John Kirby said, "We have put pressure on their finances. That's why the military was hitting oil refineries and crude oil collection points less than a year ago." 

Kirby had also made the point in his former position as Pentagon press secretary. On Oct. 24, he said, "What we know for sure is that we are having an effect on these guys. They're losing sources of revenue through hits on refineries and now crude collection points inside Syria." 

The analysts have also alleged that they were pressured to keep assessments positive, and had to cite multiple sources to support bad news, whereas positive news required fewer hurdles. 

Hooker's civilian boss, William Rizzio, confronted Grove and Ryckman in the spring and was temporarily reassigned afterwards, according to the Times.