The scandal surrounding US intelligence reports on the Islamic State terror group just hit President Barack Obama’s inner circle.
Obama’s chief intelligence official is reportedly in “frequent and unusual contact” with the military officer who’s suspected of allowing US reports on the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, and Daesh) to be altered to fit the administration’s official line, Spencer Ackerman at The Guardian reports.
James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, reportedly talks to Army Brigadier General Steven Grove, the head of US Central Command’s intelligence wing, almost every day, according to The Guardian.
A former intelligence official told the newspaper that this is “highly unusual.”
This report comes amid a Pentagon investigation into accusations that top military officials have pressured analysts into conforming their reports to the Obama administration’s narrative of the fight against ISIS.
More than 50 intelligence analysts at Centcom, the Pentagon’s agency covering security interests in nations throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, have formally complained that senior intelligence officers have insisted on changing ISIS reports to make them reflect more positively on US efforts in the region, The Daily Beast reported this week.
In another story last month, sources told The Daily Beast that senior military and intelligence officials pushed analysts to portray ISIS “as weaker than the analysts believe it actually is.”
Crucial parts of intelligence reports have reportedly been taken out, analysts say they have been 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, according to the complaints.
With Clapper so closely communicating with officials who have been implicated in the scandal, questions will arise about how much Obama — who once suggested that ISIS was a “jayvee team” wearing Lakers uniforms — knew about any possible intelligence altering.
The Guardian notes that Clapper reportedly expressed to Grove his view on how the war on ISIS looks and pushed Grove to describe Centcom’s assessments on the terror group. This could “place inherent pressure on a subordinate,” sources told the newspaper.
One former defence official told The Guardian that Clapper “can be manipulative,” adding that’s “something’s wrong.”
Another source said that Obama officials are not open to “the narrative that ISIS is winning.”
Others said that it’s doubtful Clapper gave any direct orders to change intelligence reports.
Centcom analysts are now in a full “revolt,” according to The Daily Beast. The work environment at has reportedly gotten so bad that it has been described as “Stalinist.” One source alleges that when they brought concerns to Centcom leadership, they were urged to retire, and some agreed to leave.
Some analysts seem to think that Centcom leaders are trying to further their career advancement by telling the administration what it wants to hear, according to The Daily Beast’s sources.
These allegations could have serious implications for the US intelligence community and the Obama administration.
“The politicization of intelligence products would be a major issue, and these allegations need to be thoroughly investigated,” Devin Nunes, the chair of the House Intel Committee, told Business Insider.
“The Intelligence Committee will take all appropriate action to ensure our nation’s policymakers receive unbiased analysis from the Intelligence Community.”
Despite assertions by Obama administration officials that ISIS is losing, many counterterrorism analysts say that the opposite is true.
Brett LoGiurato contributed reporting to this story.
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