WASHINGTON — US military leaders altered intelligence reports to paint a rosier picture of the US fight against the Islamic State than intelligence analysts believed and facts warranted, a House Republican task force has concluded.
The task force released a 15-page report Thursday, after a five-month investigation, corroborating earlier news that analysts felt leaders within Central Command's intelligence directorate "experienced an attempt to distort or suppress intelligence." The report suggests the cooked intelligence tainted reports to President Barack Obama, national security officials, and the public—which lawmakers felt may have endangered US troops.
House Intelligence Committee and task force member Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., said Thursday that Central Command's top intelligence leaders "manipulated" intelligence "to downplay the threat from ISIS in Iraq."
"The result: Consumers of those intelligence products were provided a consistently 'rosy' view of U.S. operational success against ISIS," Pompeo said in a statement. "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."
Pompeo led the task force alongside House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee member Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., and House Armed Services Committee member Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio.
Their report blames "structural and management changes" at the intelligence directorate, which began in mid-2014. The problems followed the change in Central Command's leadership from Marine Gen. James Mattis, as CENTCOM commander, to Army Gen. Lloyd Austin.
The distorted intelligence led Pentagon officials to make public statements in the first half of 2015 about the fight that were more positive than the intelligence supported, according to the report.
For example, in the spring of 2015, Austin said in congressional testimony that the major military assault to retake Mosul would begin as early as April or May and said the Islamic State was in a "defensive crouch." Not only did leaders feel the characterization mismatched their assessments, but a week later, Islamic fighters State overran Iraqi positions in Ramadi, forcing a retreat.
The optimistic reports may have also colored the views of other senior national security leaders who Central Command's senior intelligence officials would brief frequently, such as the director of the Defense Department's Joint Staff, then Air Force Lt. Gen. David Goldfein, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Clapper would in turn brief President Obama.
"The frequency of these interactions could have provided CENTCOM leaders with outsized influence on the material presented to the President outside of formal coordination channels," the report concluded.
The task force followed reports that analysts filed a formal complaint alleging senior military leaders altered reports to downplay the strength of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda's branch in Syria. A survey of 125 analysts, directed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, "showed that a substantial number of CENTCOM respondents felt their supervisors distorted, suppressed, or substantially altered analytic products."
According to the report, after the fall of Mosul in June, 2014, and the start of the US-led offense, senior leaders at Central Command's intelligence directorate deepened their involvement in the creation of intelligence products. Those officials "regularly performed line-in/line-out edits and wording changes which were perceived by analysts as more frequent."
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.