In his first extended public appearance as CIA director, David H. Petraeus this week did more than display his well-known discipline for staying on message. He did his best to bring other government voices back on message as well.
“First of all, let me just say that I think the, quote, announcement…was more than a bit overanalyzed, shall we say,” Petraeus told the House Intelligence Committee. With an acronym-heavy explanation, he went on to make it clear that the schedule of handing the fight off to Afghan forces wasn’t really going to change.
Petraeus then addressed the embarrassing leak of a classified NATO report that suggested the Taliban remains confident, if not downright bullish, that it will prevail in Afghanistan. The report was based on accounts from interrogations of Taliban fighters who had been taken into custody by coalition forces.
The report, Petraeus said, should have carried a disclaimer at the top warning that these detainees weren’t to be believed.
“It is very interesting to contrast” their assertions to interrogators “with their messages to each other prior to their capture,” the CIA director said. “We have insights into that as well, and in many cases they are, frankly, apprehensive.”
Petraeus also took the opportunity to dispel what he characterized as misunderstandings of his criticism of intelligence reports before he took off his U.S. Army uniform to become director of CIA.
It was true, Petraeus said, that he had sometimes found fault with analysts’ views of the trajectories of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But his complaint was mainly with the flawed processes analysts employed, not that their conclusions failed to track with U.S. military commanders’ views.
The problem was that analysts from the CIA and other agencies tended to stop gathering data and spend six to eight weeks crafting their assessments. By the time their reports were released, Petraeus said, the documents were out of date.
Four times he had disagreed with analysts’ conclusions, Petraeus said. “Twice I thought the assessment was too negative…Two other times, I felt that the community was actually too positive.”
Petraeus defended the latest comprehensive assessment of the war in Afghanistan, but did find fault with how the secret document has been portrayed.
“There’s been some mischaracterization in the press of this,” Petraeus said. Some reports said the document describes the war as a stalemate. “We did a word search for the word ‘stalemate,’” Petraeus said, adding that it’s “not in there.”