National Security

Pentagon watchdog: No evidence Obama admin manipulated ISIS intel

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An internal investigation by the Defense Department has found that senior military officials at U.S. Central Command did not falsify, manipulate or distort intelligence to provide an unrealistically rosy picture of the United States’ fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

An inspector general’s report, released Wednesday morning, reached the opposite conclusion of a House Republican task force, which last year determined that final intelligence assessments out of the Pentagon differed from on-the-ground conclusions.


The IG did find that there was a widespread perception amongst analysts that leaders were attempting to distort intelligence products, “either through excessive editing, imposition of a narrative, requiring a higher burden of proof for ‘bad news,’ or demanding additional sourcing requirements if the intelligence indicated that ISIL was doing well or [Iraqi Security Forces] was struggling.”

“That widespread perception alone indicated a significant problem, which leaders failed to adequately address in a timely way,” the watchdog admonished.

Because analysts believed that their assessments were being distorted by leaders, the report found, they would “self-censor” their products — meaning that that they would not try to submit intelligence assessments that conflicted with what they believed was the official “narrative.”

But, the IG insisted, “we did not find that anyone intentionally attempted to distort intelligence. Nor did we find a systematic distortion of intelligence.”

Nor was the watchdog able to substantiate the most serious allegation — that intelligence was outright falsified.

“Only a few witnesses described intelligence assessments as false, and they did not provide specific examples that supported the allegation. Specifically, they did not point out, and we did not find, specific intelligence products that contained false — untrue — facts or analysis,” the IG wrote.

At issue were whistleblower allegations by 50 intelligence analysts at Central Command that superiors were altering their work, making the picture of the fight against ISIS appear more successful than it was.

The House report — which was led by Republicans but largely supported by Democrats — did not find evidence that orders to manipulate intelligence were directed from the White House but nevertheless appeared to suggest the politicization of intelligence under the Obama administration.

Wednesday’s report contradicted those findings.

“In short, we did not find systematic or intentional distortion of intelligence by leaders. We also did not conclude that anyone committed misconduct,” the report found.

An earlier draft of the report was more critical of Central Command, according to two individuals familiar with the investigation who spoke to The Wall Street Journal.

But the final report offered a milder rebuke after officials were given a chance to review and respond to the findings.


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