WASHINGTON (CN) – Walking members of Congress through his office’s investigation of intelligence distortion at U.S. Central Command, the Defense Department’s inspector general testified Tuesday that low morale feeds the perception of a rigged system.
The afternoon meeting of House Armed Services Committee came about a month after the DOD released an unclassified, and 64 percent shorter, version of a classified report that rocked Centcom last year.
Despite perception among analysts to the contrary, DOD Inspector General Glen Fine explained Tuesday that investigators found no evidence of a campaign to exaggerate the progress of the U.S. military’s campaign against the Islamic State group via falsified intelligence.
The DOD’s report specifically clears Maj. Gen. Steven Grove, U.S. Army, director of intelligence; Gregory Ryckman, of the Vice Director of Intelligence; and William E. Rizzio, defense intelligence senior leader with the Joint Intelligence Center.
Undercutting that bottom line, however, Fine said his investigators “did find a troubling and widespread perception among many intelligence analysts … that [the leaders of Centcom’s intelligence directorate] were attempting to distort those intelligence products.”
After looking at more than 17 million documents and files, Fine said the analysts perceive excessive editing and the imposition of narrative as ways Centcom manipulates intelligence.
Analysts also voiced concern that the leaders of Centcom demand a higher burden of proof for “bad news” or additional sourcing requirements if their intelligence shows the Islamic State doing well or struggle within the Iraqi Security Forces.
A poor command climate is among the problems that contributed to this perception, Fine said, saying there is ineffective communication, insufficient feedback and guidance, uncertainty about some policies, and ambiguity surrounding the standing of defense intelligence agency analysts.
These factors convinced some analysts that intelligence was questionable, which made the intelligence division ineffective and impacted morale among intelligence analysts, according to Fine’s testimony.
Of 120 witnesses interviewed during the investigation, a very small number alleged that intelligence assessments had been falsified, Fine told the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
“They did not point out, and we did not find, specific intelligence products that contained false – untrue – facts or analysis,” the inspector general’s written testimony states.
Fine described the allegations as difficult to investigate but said intelligence products should have been better.
The unclassified version of the DOD’s report makes 29 recommendations, including improving feedback and communication; updating standard operating procedures; clarification of roles and responsibilities; and providing better guidance and feedback to analysts on how intelligence is reviewed at considered.
Fine also testified that the leaders of Centcom intelligence “should avoid stating or implying any blanket policy that eliminates or reduces sources of intelligence, especially in crisis situations where there may be poor clarity and limited sources.”
Leaders of the Centcom Intelligence Directorate, abbreviated as CCJ2, should also think about requiring analysis of alternatives and consider “requiring multiple courses of action, when feasible, to encourage comparison and evaluation of reports,” Fine said.
The intelligence directors of the Joint Staff and Centcom, and the directors of defense analysis at the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence released a joint statement that says they began taking steps to improve intelligence analysis prior to the inspector general report.
“USCENTCOM has developed and is executing an aggressive action plan to make improvements and address the recommendations from the DOD IG and the Joint Task Force,” the joint statement says.
Fine told the subcommittee that he would give Centcom about two months to digest the recommendations before following up. After that, Fine indicated there would be periodic follow up to see if the recommendations are being implemented.