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GOP: Intelligence 'downplayed' ISIS situation

GOP: Intelligence 'downplayed' ISIS situation
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A congressional joint task force on Thursday said that intelligence approved by U.S. Central Command painted a rosier picture of progress against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) than the situation warranted. 

The task force's initial report details "persistent problems" in 2014 and 2015 with Centcom's analysis of how the war against ISIS was going. The analysis did not match "facts on the ground" and was "consistently" more positive than analysis produced by other elements of the intelligence community. 

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The investigation was sparked by a whistleblower complaint backed by more than 50 intelligence analysts at Centcom that alleged their superiors were distorting their products.   

The report said the frequency of interactions between Centcom officials and senior intelligence community leaders who brief President Obama "could have provided Centcom leaders with outsized influence on the material presented to the President outside of formal coordination channels."

The 17-page preliminary report said the Centcom Intelligence Directorate instituted organizational and process changes beginning in June 2014 that negatively affected the quality and timeliness of intelligence products.

Those changes gave senior intelligence leaders more control over the final products, which were more positive than the original assessments and those of the rest of the intelligence community, the report said.

Senior intelligence leaders said they were assuming more control over products including a daily intelligence summary to improve them, due to their high visibility and senior customers.

Senior intelligence leaders also relied more on details from coalition forces rather than more objective and better-documented intelligence reporting, the report said.

The report also said the leadership environment at Centcom and its Intelligence Directorate "deteriorated significantly" after then-commander Gen. James Mattis and his senior intelligence leaders left.

A survey taken from Aug. 2015 to Oct. 2015 showed that 40 percent of analysts said they had experienced an attempt to distort or suppress intelligence in the past year, and that "dozens of analysts" viewed the leadership environment as "toxic."

The report comes as the war against ISIS hit the two-year mark this week. The U.S. began bombing ISIS targets on Aug. 8, 2014, after the terrorist group swept into Iraq from Syria in January and began seizing wide swathes of territory. 

The joint task force was established by the Republican chairmen of the House Armed Services Committee, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Subcommittee on Defense of the House Appropriations Committee. It is led by GOP Reps. Ken Calvert (Calif.), Mike Pompeo (Kan.), and Brad Wenstrup (Ohio). 

"What happened at CENTCOM is unacceptable — our warfighters suffer when bad analysis is presented to senior policymakers. We must continue our efforts until we fix it," Calvert said in a statement. 

Pompeo said the investigation showed that Centcom "downplayed" the threat from ISIS in Iraq and painted a "rosy" view of U.S. battlefield success against ISIS. 

"That may well have resulted in putting American troops at risk as policymakers relied on this intelligence when formulating policy and allocating resources for the fight," he said. "I urge the Department of Defense Inspector General to hold accountable the intelligence leaders that failed our service members fighting our wars on the ground.”

Wenstrup, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, said there is still more to be learned. 

"Amongst other findings, our investigation has determined that unfavorable intelligence reports underwent significant scrutiny and were likely to be omitted unless they could be confirmed with virtually 100 percent certainty," he said.

"We still do not fully understand the reasons and motivations behind this practice and how often the excluded analyses were proven ultimately to be correct," he said. "We cannot win the war against ISIS with incomplete intelligence. The report out today highlights the importance of having an independent process.”

The task force said it received only a portion of requested documents to date, adding that its investigation remains ongoing.

"The Joint Task Force expects the [DOD inspector general] to review and assess further documents and internal e-mails, as well as the statements of many additional DOD employees, and to fully investigate any allegations of reprisals," a task force statement said.

Separately, the Pentagon inspector general is also examining the allegations. 

--This report was updated at 12:10 p.m.