The Pentagon is expanding its investigation into claims that Defence Department analysts altered intelligence on the terrorist group ISIS (also known as the Islamic State), according to The New York Times.
Former intelligence officials told The Times that supervisors at US Central Command (or Centcom) were “particularly eager to paint a more optimistic picture of America’s role in the [Iraqi] conflict than was warranted,” according to the newspaper.
The Pentagon has now seized a “large trove” of emails and other documents from military servers and dedicated more investigators to the job.
US President Barack Obama commented on the investigation at a news conference in Malaysia over the weekend, telling reporters: “I don’t know what we’ll discover with respect to what was going on in Centcom. What I do know is my expectation — which is the highest fidelity to facts, data, the truth.”
He also urged the public to not elevate the Islamic State group as more powerful than it is in reality: “a bunch of killers with good social media.”
“How we report on this has to maintain perspective and not empower in any way these terrorist organisations or elevate them in ways that make it easier for them to recruit or make them stronger,” he argued.
“Destroying ISIL is not only a realistic goal, we’re going to get it done,” he said earlier in his press conference. “And we’re going to pursue it with every aspect of American power and with all of the coalition partners that we’ve assembled. It’s going to get done.”
Obama also said that he didn’t want “intelligence shaded by politics.”
But that’s exactly what Centcom leaders are being accused of.
According to a September report from The Daily Beast, more than 50 intelligence analysts at Centcom formally complained that reports on the Islamic State and the Nusra Front — Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria — have been repeatedly altered by senior intelligence officials to fit with the Obama administration’s insistence that the US is winning the war against the two militant groups.
Eleven individuals with knowledge of the details of the complaint told The Daily Beast that it says crucial parts of intelligence reports were taken out. The complaint also says that officials were subject to an environment in which they did not feel able to give a candid assessment of the situation in Iraq and Syria, and sometimes reports seen as being too negative were sent back to analysts.
The Times provided one example of this. Last year, when ISIS started seizing cities in Iraq, analysts noted in a classified intelligence assessment that the Iraqi Army, which US forces had spent years training after the invasion of Iraq, retreated when the militants rolled in. But before the assessment was sent out to military figures and policy-makers, the analysts’ bosses reportedly changed it to say that the Iraqi Army had “redeployed.”
Officials with knowledge of the investigation told The Times that there are also concerns that some Centcom emails and documents might have been deleted before they had to be handed over to Pentagon investigators.
Some leaders on the House Intelligence Committee are also considering investigating these claims, according to the Times. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California), the Republican chairman of the committee, has reportedly asked the Pentagon for copies of any deleted materials investigators recover. The committee has also asked to interview top Centcom officials, but the Pentagon reportedly denied that request because of its ongoing investigation.
And it’s unclear exactly how long the Pentagon’s expanding inquiry will take to complete.
“Lawmakers originally said that the Centcom investigation would be completed in weeks,” The Times wrote.
“But Pentagon investigators have found the work painstaking and it could span months. In addition to determining whether changes were made to intelligence reports — and if so, who ordered them — the investigators, like the staff members of the House intelligence committee, are studying reports from other intelligence agencies produced at the time to determine what was actually occurring in Iraq and Syria when the reports were written.”
This comes as the US State Department on Monday issued a worldwide travel alert because of “increased terrorist threats.”
The threats are linked to the terrorist groups ISIS (also known as the Islamic State), Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and others.
The travel alert expires on February 24, 2016.
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