A congressional joint task force on Thursday said that intelligence approved by U.S. Central Command painted a rosier picture of progress against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) than the situation warranted.
The task force’s initial report details “persistent problems” in 2014 and 2015 with Centcom’s analysis of how the war against ISIS was going. The analysis did not match “facts on the ground” and was “consistently” more positive than analysis produced by other elements of the intelligence community.
The investigation was sparked by a whistleblower complaint backed by more than 50 intelligence analysts at Centcom that alleged their superiors were distorting their products.
The report said the frequency of interactions between Centcom officials and senior intelligence community leaders who brief President Obama “could have provided Centcom leaders with outsized influence on the material presented to the President outside of formal coordination channels.”
The 17-page preliminary report said the Centcom Intelligence Directorate instituted organizational and process changes beginning in June 2014 that negatively affected the quality and timeliness of intelligence products.
Those changes gave senior intelligence leaders more control over the final products, which were more positive than the original assessments and those of the rest of the intelligence community, the report said.
Senior intelligence leaders said they were assuming more control over products including a daily intelligence summary to improve them, due to their high visibility and senior customers.
Senior intelligence leaders also relied more on details from coalition forces rather than more objective and better-documented intelligence reporting, the report said.
The report also said the leadership environment at Centcom and its Intelligence Directorate “deteriorated significantly” after then-commander Gen. James Mattis and his senior intelligence leaders left.
A survey taken from Aug. 2015 to Oct. 2015 showed that 40 percent of analysts said they had experienced an attempt to distort or suppress intelligence in the past year, and that “dozens of analysts” viewed the leadership environment as “toxic.”
The report comes as the war against ISIS hit the two-year mark this week. The U.S. began bombing ISIS targets on Aug. 8, 2014, after the terrorist group swept into Iraq from Syria in January and began seizing wide swathes of territory.
SOURCE: Kristina Wong