A leading congressman is accusing the Obama administration’s top intelligence officials of “covering up” allegations of manipulated analysis in the war against ISIS.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes told The Daily Beast in an interview Friday that analysts at the U.S. military’s Central Command provided the Office of the Director of National Intelligence with written comments last fall describing flaws in the “analytic integrity” of their work. But those comments weren’t included in an annual report on “analytic integrity and standards” that the intelligence director’s office sent to Congress in January. Their omission, in Nunes’s view, prevented Congress from seeing the range and depth of disputes within the U.S. intelligence community about the strength of the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
“This is just one more example of them covering up intelligence. And this is just as bad as manipulating intelligence in the first place,” Nunes said.
At least 50 analysts have filed a complaint with the Defense Department’s inspector general that accuses their superiors of inappropriately altering reports in order to exaggerate the success of the U.S.-led fight against the terror group, as The Daily Beast first reported last year.
The intelligence director’s office was “trying to deceive people,” Nunes continued, by implying that the report sent to Congress in January—a routine annual survey of many intelligence agencies—had fully documented the concerns that analysts at CENTCOM have raised. Nunes said he knows the written comments were submitted last year.
“They are being cute, but I’m not playing games,” Nunes said. “There is more data than what they’ve given us so far, and we are going to get it. We are going to get those comments.”
Nunes’s accusations marked the first time that he has publicly accused the intelligence director’s office of trying to obscure information in a controversy that has now spawned an investigation by the Pentagon’s watchdog, as well as a joint inquiry in Congress. Nunes’s committee and two others are conducting their own investigation of the CENTCOM controversy. And his latest statements are sure to intensify a simmering conflict between the Republican-controlled Congress and the Obama administration over faulty intelligence.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, the intelligence director’s office said that members of the Analytic Integrity and Standards Group, which produced the annual report, briefed staff members from the congressional committees investigating the CENTCOM allegations “on the key objectivity results from the U.S. combatant command respondents.” That briefing took place on February 22, five weeks after the report was sent to the heads of the House and Senate intelligence committees, as well as the leadership in both houses of Congress, the statement said.
The integrity and standards group “promises analysts taking the survey that their inputs are anonymous; for that reason, [the group] does not release so-called free text comments from its survey,” the statement continued. The group “continues to refine the data from the analyst survey results to identify specific, actionable findings. As we identify such findings, we will brief responsible officials with command or oversight responsibility.”
The annual report that went to Congress—which itself was required by law after a 2002 intelligence estimate that incorrectly concluded Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction—contains broad, aggregate descriptions of analysts’ views on whether politics or other factors had inappropriately affected their work, but it is short on precise details.
An individual who has seen the contents of that report told The Daily Beast that it contains survey responses about “objectivity in the analytical process” at CENTCOM and other combatant commands. It doesn’t address the specifics allegations that the analysts have raised, however.
That is because the intelligence director’s office didn’t include them in the report, Nunes said, even though the analysts put their views in writing at the same time they were responding to the survey.
The survey found that while 85 percent of analysts were able to produce analysis that they felt was free from “distortion,” the number of analysts “reporting concerns increased slightly from 13-15 percent” in 2015.
But that figure doesn’t tell the full story. Nunes said at a committee hearing on Thursday that 40 percent of analysts at CENTCOM reported problems with “analytic integrity” in their organization in 2015. The congressman said he learned of the figure later from intelligence officials who compiled the survey results.
A Defense Department official told The Daily Beast that CENTCOM officials also haven’t seen the written comments, but they have been able to examine the broader findings from the report, just as Congress has.
Nunes told The Daily Beast that staff on the joint task force investigation of the CENTCOM controversy have been blocked from seeing other evidence that would substantiate the analysts’ claims.
Specifically, Nunes said he is aware of allegations that CENTCOM’s intelligence director, Army Maj. Gen. Steven Grove, and his civilian deputy, Gregory Ryckman, deleted emails and files from computer systems before the Defense Department’s inspector general could examine them.
Nunes said he didn’t know who had made the decision not to allow his investigators access to the files and other facts of the case. But, he added, “There’s no question the DOD and DNI are slow-rolling,” referring to the Defense Department and the intelligence director’s office.
—with additional reporting by Nancy A. Youssef