Audit Finds Rose Tint in Reports on ISIL Fight

     WASHINGTON (CN) — U.S. military action against the Islamic State has been less successful than relayed in official reports, a conservative-led House group found Thursday.
     The House Joint Task Force came together in December to investigate a whistleblower’s claim that U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) officials had manipulated intelligence reports to give an “unduly positive outlook” on how well Iraqi forces have been trained to fight the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
     In a 17-page report released Thursday, the task force said CENTCOM’s reports on four campaigns against ISIL from mid-2014 to 2015 were routinely more positive than those from other intelligence organizations.
     Data manipulation was made possible, according to the report, through changes to programs in the division’s intelligence arm implemented by senior CENTCOM leaders.
     Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Republican leading the task force, said the distorted intelligence reports might have put American soldiers at risk.
     “After months of investigation, this much is very clear: from the middle of 2014 to the middle of 2015, the United States Central Command’s most senior intelligence leaders manipulated the command’s intelligence products to downplay the threat from ISIS in Iraq,” Pompeo said in a statement. “The result: consumers of those intelligence products were provided a consistently ‘rosy’ view of U.S. operation success against ISIS.”
     A spokesman for CENTCOM had little to say about the findings.
     “U.S. Central Command has seen the Congressional Joint Task Force initial report and we appreciate the independent oversight provided,” U.S. Navy Cmdr. Kyle Raines said in an email. “We are reviewing the findings of the initial report.”
     CENTCOM oversees military efforts in the Middle East, and the report says its distorted reports could have reached the president’s desk since secure calls that intelligence officers held multiple times a week routinely included the director of national intelligence.
     Thursday’s report, though preliminary, finds senior CENTCOM leaders urged intelligence analysts to rely more heavily on details from the U.S. and coalition forces who were on the ground fighting the Islamic State.
     This focus resulted in a more positive view of how capable Iraqi forces were to combat the terrorist organization, and how well U.S. operations were going, according to the report.
     “According to multiple interviewees, operation reporting was used as a justification to alter or ‘soften’ analytic product so it would cast U.S. efforts in a more positive light,” the report states. “No interview provided any instances where operational reporting was used as a justification to come to a more pessimistic conclusion.”
     Military leadership looked more closely at analysis that ran counter to the operational reporting than that which fell in line with what troops on the ground were saying, according to the report.
     More than one analyst even told the task force, according to the report, that military officials “softened” intelligence assessments to exaggerate the successes of the fight against terror groups.
     The task force’s investigation blames the manipulated intelligence reports on CENTCOM leadership, citing an internal survey conducted from last August to October that found 40 percent of analysts and managers at CENTCOM had seen attempts to distort intelligence.
     More than half of the analysts surveyed felt the command’s “procedures, practices, processes and organization structures” made it difficult for objective analysis to shine through, according to the report.
     “Over the last two years, the organizational culture within the CENTCOM Intelligence Directorate has been perceived as toxic by a large portion of the workforce,” the report reads. “Additionally, constant leadership micromanagement, review and editing of analytic products ultimately chilled analytic dissent and resulted in a workforce that felt obligated to seek outside support in improving a very challenging work environment.”
     Members of the task force said the committee’s investigation will not end with the preliminary investigation, noting they expect the Department of Defense’s inspector general to turn up more documents and emails that will make a more complete investigation possible.
     The report concludes with recommendations for how CENTCOM can prevent such manipulation in the future, suggesting the Defense Intelligence Agency take a stronger oversight role over military intelligence centers and that CENTCOM formalize its analysis procedures.
     It also calls on CENTCOM leaders to work to correct the “toxic” organizational culture that helped foster the manipulated intelligence reports.
     “The leadership failures at CENTCOM reach to the very top of the organization,” according to a statement Rep. Ken Calvert, a California Republican who helped lead the Joint Task Force. “I hope that the new CENTCOM commander and the new Director of Intelligence can turn things around quickly.”
     Noting that the investigations by both the Joint Task Force and the Defense Department’s inspector general are ongoing, Cmdr. Raines said CENTCOM “will refrain from further comment at this time.”

%d bloggers like this: