Despite dozens of Pentagon intelligence analysts saying their leaders distorted findings on the war against the Islamic State to make things look rosier than reality, the Defense Department inspector general concluded that their claims were not true, according to a new report released Wednesday.
Almost half the 82 intelligence analysts the inspector general interviewed from the Joint Intelligence Center for U.S. Central Command (Centcom) in Tampa “believed that intelligence was being skewed in some way,” the report said. A third of those analysts believed senior commanders imposed a “narrative” on their assessments about the war that was too positive, particularly about the performance of Iraqi troops.
But the inspector general stopped short of substantiating those allegations, instead blaming the demanding pace of the work and a lack of communication between rank-and-file analysts and two of the intelligence center’s senior leaders at the time, Maj. Gen. Steven R. Grove and Gregory Ryckman. The senior officials “did not fully grasp the extent of the belief” that intelligence was being distorted and communicated with their workforce in a way that was “significantly lacking,” the IG found.
“In sum, we did not find systematic distortion of intelligence,” the report said. “However, we did find a strong perception of such distortion among many analysts and managers working on those products.”
The findings of the investigation, launched in 2015, contradict in part those released by a congressional task force last summer. That probe, led by House Republicans, including newly confirmed CIA Director Mike Pompeo, found that assessments by Centcom were “consistently more positive” than analysis produced by other U.S. intelligence agencies. The IG report suggested that might be true, noting that an official with the Joint Staff at the Pentagon found Centcom’s assessments on the Islamic State campaign to be rosier than other U.S. intelligence.
Pompeo and other House Republicans alleged last summer that Centcom manipulated reports, while House Democrats said it was not clear that leaders pressured its analysts to come to specific conclusions, though they seemed to not be good about accommodating dissenting views. The controversy became campaign fodder for President Trump’s campaign before he was elected, with Trump and his surrogates accusing President Barack Obama of surrounding himself with commanders who were “yes-men.”
The Pentagon declined to respond to those charges at the time, saying it would hold comment until after the inspector general investigation was complete. On Wednesday, it issued a statement from Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph F. Dunford Jr. that said Centcom “will look hard at the recommendations and make any necessary improvements.
“I want to take the opportunity to thank the men and women of the CENTCOM for their extraordinary commitment, hard work, and competence. They have led the fight against ISIS and it is due to their efforts that we have the momentum in the fight and the opportunity to move even more aggressively in the months ahead. I particularly want to thank our intelligence professionals at CENTCOM for their contributions,” Dunford’s statement said.
Grove and Ryckman both denied that intelligence was politicized in the IG investigation. Grove blamed the frustration, in part, on increased oversight and said there may have been some frustration among analysts, “especially our youngsters,” that an analyst “can’t just do intelligence like a blog.”
House Republicans involved in the joint task released a statement Wednesday noting that the IG reached many of the same findings they did, including that the “challenging command climate” contributed to problems. They pledged to monitor and assess any changes that are made, and to investigate any claims of reprisal by whistleblowers. At least one former analyst has made one such allegation, according to the Daily Beast.
The top commander at Centcom at the time, now-retired general Lloyd J. Austin III, told investigators that it was “absolutely not true” and “ridiculous” that he did not want to hear bad news.
“Let me confirm 100 percent that I have not done that and I never would do that,” Austin said, according to the report. “Again we’re in a fight to win and so I don’t gain anything by trying to paint a rosy picture here.”
In his statement, Dunford expressed confidence in Austin and in his successor, Gen. Joe Votel, saying, “We have been fortunate to have two great commanders over the past few years.”