Defense Department officials were pressured to skew their reports on the military campaign against the Islamic State, making it appear more successful than “was warranted by facts on the ground,” and “consistently more positive than analysis produced by other elements of the Intelligence Community,” according to a report by a House Republican task force released on Thursday.
The report, issued by a joint task force on the U.S. Central Command, largely backed up the allegations of a “whistleblower” who claimed that analysts at the agency were pressured to “manipulate” their work after management changes in 2014, the report said. A Daily Beast story published in September cited 50 intelligence analysts who said their reports were altered to offer a rosier picture of the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
The findings were almost immediately challenged by a competing panel of Democrats, which issued its own report Thursday.
Republicans on the task force, led by Reps. Ken Calvert, Mike Pompeo, and Brad Wenstrup, issued statements saying that the problems they had uncovered reached to the highest ranks of Central Command, an arm of the Department of Defense that oversees American military operations in the Middle East.
“After months of investigation, this much is very clear: from the middle of 2014 to the middle of 2015, the United States Central Command’s most senior intelligence leaders manipulated the command’s intelligence products to downplay the threat from ISIS in Iraq,” Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., said in a statement. “The result: consumers of those intelligence products were provided a consistently ‘rosy’ view of U.S. operational success against ISIS.”
The document comes as Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for a tougher response to ISIS and been critical of the Obama administration’s response to the threat.
Peter D. Feaver, a professor of political science at Duke University who served as an advisor on the White House national security council staff under George W. Bush, said he did not expect the report to become a major campaign issue for either candidate.
“It’s not clear that this plays squarely on one side of the other,” he said. He pointed out that Clinton was no longer Secretary of State during the time period covered by the report, and she had a reputation for being more hawkish on military action in Iraq than president Obama.
“Presumably, if she had stayed, she would have sided with those that were skeptical rather than the presumed audience they were being skewed for,” he said. “If they were being skewed to appease political leaders, that would have been in the White House, not Secretary Clinton.”
Trump, in the other hand, has not provided enough details of his strategy for fighting ISIS for the report to help his case, Feaver said.
“It’s a brick to throw at the Obama-slash-Clinton administration, and I think he will use it in that way,” Feaver said. “But I don’t think it would do much for him.”
The report pegs the problems at the agency to the 2013 departure of Marine Gen. James Mattis, who retired in 2013, reportedly after Obama removed him from the top of Central Command because of policy differences.
He was replaced by Gen. Lloyd J. Austin, whose served only two years in the post and left early this year amid reports that that the agency had rewritten classified assessments for intelligence officials and policy makers that played down setbacks in Iraq. The New York Times reported in January that the Pentagon was investigating the command.
The Democratic committee found problems at Central Command as well, but it blamed managerial shortcomings rather than political pressure.
“We found no evidence of politicization of intelligence in this case,” a statement from the Democratic office of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence said. “Nor did we — or the Majority — find any evidence that the White House requested to, or in any manner attempted to, have the intelligence analysis conform to any preset or political narrative.”