Exclusive: Top Senators Investigating Cooked ISIS Intel
Leading congressmen from both parties said Thursday that they’re investigating allegations that intelligence on ISIS was being skewed to match the Obama administration’s rosy depictions of the war against the terror group.
The news comes less than a day after The Daily Beast revealed that more than 50 analysts with the U.S. military’s Central Command formally complained that higher-ups were improperly interfering with ISIS intelligence reports. Top defense and intelligence officials also said they’re looking into the accusations.
The Senate Armed Services Committee’s chairman, Republican Sen. John McCain, told The Daily Beast, “We’re investigating… Our committee is looking at it, we have jurisdiction and oversight.”
McCain’s counterpart in the House of Representatives, Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, called the allegations “troubling” and said that his committee was also “looking into them.”
“Accurate intelligence and unbiased analysis can often be a life or death matter and must remain free from political pressure,” he added.
The staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee has already met with one of the whistleblowers who complained about the altering of intelligence reports to the Pentagon’s Inspector General, according to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee and its former chairwoman. The U.S. Central Command analysts filed a complaint in July.
Feinstein said the Defense IG probe could take up to a year, which she believed was too long.
“I’m trying to reach the chairman to see if he and I could sit down with this individual,” Feinstein said, referring to a whistleblower who has met with the committee’s staff. “This whistleblower, as far as I’ve been told, seems credible.”
Sen. Richard Burr, the committee’s chairman, said he was content to allow the Pentagon investigation to play out, and that no congressional action should occur until a report is finished. “I’m going to continue to let the IG work through it, because it has been referred to him,” Burr said.
“We’re going to have a [ISIS] status meeting in Armed Services next week, and I’m going to be asking about it,” added Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine.
“The politicization of intelligence products would be a major issue, and these allegations need to be thoroughly investigated. The Intelligence Committee will take all appropriate action to ensure our nation’s policymakers receive unbiased analysis from the Intelligence Community,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes in a statement.
Added his Democratic counterpart, ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff, “we do take seriously any allegations of the mishandling or manipulation of intelligence information for purposes other than getting to ground truth. In the wake of the flawed intelligence prior to the Iraq War, we must make sure that all voices are appropriately considered and that assessments are never again politicized.”
“I think it’s deeply troubling and it needs to be investigated,” Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte said. “We need our intelligence analysts to feel comfortable playing it straight. We’ve had, obviously, issues with faulty intelligence in the past and it’s just important that our decision makers to have good information.”
The allegations of intelligence manipulation could have far-reaching consequences. Already, one senator is using the so-called CENTCOM intelligence “revolt” to push for a vote explicitly authorizing—or withholding—military operations against the so-called Islamic State.
Sen. Kaine, who is a leading proponent of passing a new authorization for the use of military force, says the allegations of intelligence manipulation, if proven true, underscore the need for such a vote.
“Don’t you see why we need to do an authorization for this war? It’s spreading, it’s mutating. There’s new theaters of war that are engaged,” Kaine told The Daily Beast. “If what [the whistleblowers are] saying is right, they’re saying that it’s a more complicated, protracted, long-term war than maybe people were led to think. If that’s the case, we ought to be doing an authorization.”
Reports on allegations of cooked intelligence and sanitized reports had reverberations elsewhere throughout Washington on Thursday. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter reminded military leaders that they should give their candid assessment of the U.S. war effort.
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook told reporters that Carter ordered Marcel Lettre, the acting Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, to remind top defense intelligence officials they should provide their “unvarnished, transparent intelligence” because that “is what the secretary expects on a daily basis.”
And Gen. Vincent Stewart, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was asked about The Daily Beast’s report and the IG investigation by Fox News’ Catherine Herridge, who was moderating a panel of intelligence agency directors in Washington. Analysts for the DIA working at U.S. Central Command were among those who lodged complaints.
Stewart declined to comment on the investigation, which he said continues. But in general, he said, “We take great pride in the idea of speaking truth to power.”
“We pride ourselves on our analytic rigor,” Stewart said. “It is not clean, it is not science.”
He concluded by saying, “The investigation will play itself out” and determine “if we did anything wrong.”
—with additional reporting by Nancy A. Youssef and Shane Harris