Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence

Editorial: Finding the truth at CentCom

Edmund D. Fountain, Times

Wednesday, November 25, 2015, in the Tampa Bay Times.

Sen. Bill Nelson is right. Those responsible should be fired if a Pentagon investigation of U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa finds classified intelligence was manipulated to downplay setbacks in the fight against the Islamic State. The Obama administration and Congress have to be given the unvarnished truth about efforts to fight terrorism in order to make the most informed decisions about protecting the nation.

The Pentagon is investigating serious allegations by CentCom analysts who say supervisors have changed intelligence reports to make it appear the United States has been more successful fighting ISIS than the original assessments indicated. Investigators are reviewing electronic files that recount the rise of the terrorist group, and a congressional committee is widening its review to include CentCom reports about Afghanistan and other areas. The New York Times reported this week there are concerns that some emails and documents were deleted before the documents were given to investigators, and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is comparing CentCom’s reports to those generated by the Central Intelligence Agency and other government agencies. Anyone attempting to slant intelligence reports for political reasons or to protect the military or intelligence community from criticism should be rooted out and removed.

In an environment that requires secrecy and respect for the chain of command, the CentCom analysts who took their concerns to the Pentagon’s inspector general this summer performed an important duty. Lives can be lost when decisions about foreign policy and military strategy are made based on bad information, and it’s even clearer since the Paris attacks that the Obama administration and Congress were not anticipating the rapid rise of ISIS and its expanded reach. It would be one thing if intelligence information was off base; it’s another if those assessments by the analysts were altered by their superiors to create a false impression of success.

CentCom analysts say that supervisors changed some conclusions to minimize U.S. failures in training Iraqi troops and to enhance the result of bombing campaigns in Iraq and Syria. The New York Times reported, for example, that revisions were made to a report detailing the retreat of the Iraqi army battling ISIS fighters last year to suggest the Iraqis had just been “redeployed.” While military analysts should debate their findings and voice disagreements, their ultimate conclusions should not be rewritten by their superiors who may have ulterior motives.

Bad intelligence about weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist in Iraq led this nation into an unnecessary war that cost thousands of lives. It took decades for the American people to learn the full story of what happened in Vietnam, and a more accurate account of events from the government and the military at the time would have ended that war much sooner. With the situation changing quickly in the war on terrorism against a brutal and nimble foe, it is imperative that intelligence reports be as accurate and candid as possible.

The investigators for the Pentagon and Congress should conduct a thorough review of the allegations at CentCom, and anyone found to be rewriting intelligence reports to create a false sense of success or to minimize setbacks should be removed.