GOP congressional report: ISIS intel was overly optimistic

Probe finds US military altered ISIS intel reports
Probe finds US military altered ISIS intel reports

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Probe finds US military altered ISIS intel reports 02:20

Story highlights

  • CENTCOM reports on progress against ISIS differ other intelligence community assessments
  • They were found to have unduly relied on field officers rather than analysts

Washington (CNN)Intelligence reports on the anti-ISIS campaign from US Central Command gave rosier assessments than warranted, according to a months-long investigation by Republican members of Congress.

One of the central conclusions by GOP members on three House committees, which they are expected to release soon, is that CENTCOM military officials may have unduly relied on reports from commanders in the field rather than intelligence from dozens of analysts provided by the Defense Intelligence Agency.
    The CENTCOM reports on military progress against ISIS differ from assessments by others in the intelligence community, according to the congressional investigations.
    In conducting interviews of key intelligence personnel, "we heard justifications about why CENTCOM felt it was correct they based information on operational reporting" from the field, one congressional staff familiar with the report said.
    Senior CENTCOM commanders at times felt when their own analysts were not optimistic that it was better to rely on reports from military officials on the battlefield, according to the staffer.
    Cmdr. Kyle Raines of CENTCOM's media department said that CENTCOM had not received the final findings from the congressional task force and would refrain from weighing in at present, citing a separate ongoing investigation by the Pentagon inspector general on the topic.
    He did say that, "We appreciate the independent oversight provided by the task force, cooperated fully with this investigation and encouraged personnel to speak freely with investigators and congressional staff members."
    The Republican congressional staffer said it is unclear if there was an explicit political motivation to provide the more optimistic analysis.
    It is also not clear what part, if any, of that material made its way to intelligence briefings presented to President Barack Obama, according to several congressional staffers familiar with the conclusions of the investigation.
    A report is expected this week from the members of the House Armed Services, Appropriations and Intelligence committees, which conducted the review. The Democrats did not join in the report.
    But some of the differences did erupt into public view, according to the staffers.
    The CENTCOM commander at the time, Gen. Lloyd Austin, said on March 3, 2015, that "we have significantly degraded his (ISIS') capability -- his ability to command and control his forces and also his primary sources of revenue, namely his oil refineries and his crude collection points. The fact is that he can no longer do what he did at the outset, which is to seize and to hold new territory. He has assumed a defensive crouch in Iraq."
    But just 10 days later, CIA Director John Brennan presented a more dire view, using another name for ISIS.
    "ISIL is well-armed and well-financed. Its fighters are disciplined, committed, and battle-hardened. Left unchecked, the group would pose a serious danger not only to Syria and Iraq, but to the wider region and beyond, including the threat of attacks in the homelands of the United States and our partners," he said.
    The congressional review says that "procedures and processes" led to senior intelligence officials at Central Command being able to exert greater control and editing of the conclusions offered by lower-level intelligence analysts from the Defense Intelligence Agency, the congressional staffer said.
    "A combination of organizational process and personnel changes combined at the same time to yield intelligence which was in fact more favorably assessed progress against ISIS," the staffer said. Senior CENTCOM officials told congressional investigators they felt justified in making some of the changes to reports based on their own professional expertise.
    "We got heavy pushback from senior leaders," who felt they had the obligation and authority to make the changes, when necessary in their view, the staffer said.
    The review is a result of a whistleblower from CENTCOM allegation claiming that intelligence was altered in the timeframe between mid-2014 and mid-2015.
    The congressional review has no legal standing, but the Pentagon inspector general's investigation could involve military legal action if wrongdoing were to be found.