01:59 - Source: CNN
Debate reality check: gun control

Story highlights

The team rated claims either: True; Mostly True; True, but Misleading; False; or It's Complicated

The team compared candidate statements against research and reporting

Washington CNN —  

The Democratic candidates for president gathered in Las Vegas for their first debate Tuesday, and CNN’s Reality Check team spent the night putting their statements and assertions to the test.

The team of reporters, researchers and editors across CNN listened throughout the debate, selecting key statements and then rating them: True; Mostly True; True, but Misleading; False; or It’s Complicated.

Reality check: Martin O’Malley says U.S. has “failed” to invest in overseas human intelligence

O’Malley said, “We have failed as a country to invest in the human intelligence that would allow us to not only make better decisions in Libya, but better decisions in Syria today. It’s a huge national security failing.”

Given the opacity of the available data, it is difficult to issue a verdict on O’Malley’s statement, but it is possible to provide some context to what he claims.

The National Intelligence Program requests congressional funding for the intelligence-gathering activities of six federal departments, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

As a matter of policy, the government does not disclose information about the budget of the NIP beyond the aggregate, or “top-line” amount requested and the amount approved by Congress.

The most recent year for which data on the approved congressional appropriation for the NIP is available is FY 2014. The aggregate amount approved for the year ending March 2015 was $50.5 billion. This amount represents a 3% increase over the previous year, which saw an annual NIP appropriation of $49.0 billion, partially due to reductions associated with the sequester.

The amount appropriated in FY 2012, the year during which the attack took place on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, was $53.9 billion, the second-highest appropriation during the decade 2005-2014.

In August 2013, The Washington Post obtained documents from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden regarding the previously undisclosed $52.6 billion FY 2013 budget, and providing a level of detail that had never been released on a previous U.S. intelligence budget. The documents indicated that the United States has 107,035 employees in the intelligence community. Of these, the largest employer of civilian intelligence officials is the CIA, which had the equivalent of 21,459 full-time civilian employees.

According to the leaked documents, in FY 2013, “human intelligence operations,” consisting of “clandestine acquisition” of documents and other material, “collection by personnel in diplomatic and consular posts” and “official contacts with foreign governments” comprised an annual budget of $3.6 billion.

While specific data on human intelligence operations is not available for other years, CNN military analyst Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling notes that the government has cut human intelligence operations relative to other forms of intelligence collection, fueling a major debate in the intelligence community since the 1990s.

An additional obstacle to effective human intelligence gathering is the lack of racial diversity within the CIA’s own ranks, according to CIA Director John Brennan. Minorities make up less than 24% of the CIA workforce, and only 10.8% of its top senior intelligence service. Brennan noted that, in many of the countries that are the focus of the CIA’s current work, it is harder for white employees, and easier for many minorities, to operate covertly.

VERDICT: True

Reality check: Lincoln Chafee on training and equipping Syrian rebels

Chafee said: “We just spent half a billion dollars arming and training soldiers, the rebel soldiers in Syria, they quickly joined the other side.”

The Obama administration recently announced it was going to suspend the train and equip program in Syria and not take on new recruits while they assessed how to better to improve on the program. To be sure, the program faced many challenges despite the near $500 million price tag. In testimony last month, U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin said only “four or five” graduates of the program were on the battlefield at that time, nine months after the program began.

An initial group of 54 rebels that had been put into northern Syria this summer came under attack by al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and ceased to function as a fighting force, the Pentagon said last month. At least five of those forces were captured by al Nusra but their fate is not clear. Pentagon officials told CNN in August that some of those rebels got stuck in Turkey and never actually crossed the border into Syria, while others just simply ran away after coming under attack and never came back to regroup with their unit.

And then U.S. officials confirmed last month that coalition-issued pickup trucks and ammunition had fallen into the hands of al Qaeda-linked forces in Syria. But rather than evidence of rebels joining the other side, that equipment was given up in order to gain “safe passage,” according to Central Command spokesman Col. Patrick Ryder.

To suggest that all graduates of the program defected from their ranks to groups opposing the U.S.-led coalition is not true.

VERDICT: False

Opinion: Clinton brings it

Reality check: Did Hillary Clinton not have a position on Keystone?

Clinton said she never had a position on the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline before she said last month that she would oppose it.

“I never took a position on Keystone until I took a position on Keystone,” she said.

But as a member of the Obama administration, the then-secretary of state indicated she was likely to support it – though she never said so explicitly.

“We haven’t finish all of the analysis,” Clinton told the Commonwealth Club in October 2010. “So as I say, we’ve not yet signed off on it. But we are inclined to do so and we are for several reasons.”

Over the next five years, Clinton would repeatedly decline to say what her opinion was while the Obama administration studied the project. Last month she finally said, “I oppose it.”

VERDICT: True, but misleading

Trump: Sanders made ‘big mistake’ on Clinton emails

Reality check: Martin O’Malley’s economic record

O’Malley made the pitch Tuesday night that he could do better than all the promises made by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and others because he had already pushed those priorities into law when he was governor.

“We raised the minimum wage, passed the living wage, invested more in infrastructure, went four years in a row without a penny’s increase for college tuition,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley did achieve a key victory last year, during his final year in office, when he won approval of a minimum wage increase from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour. It put a bookend to his first year in office, when he won a requirement that state contractors pay workers a baseline living wage.

He also increased spending on roads and capital projects and succeeded, after many years of failed attempts, in increasing the state’s gas tax to pay for those improvements.

In addition, O’Malley followed through on a campaign promise from 2006 to freeze tuitions at Maryland’s public universities – a promise that lasted until 2010, when the state stopped subsidizing the public university tuition freeze.

But his record on infrastructure investment was far more complicated and his debate claim left out an important fact. O’Malley and Democratic lawmakers came under criticism by Maryland’s county leaders and Republicans as they withdrew money from the state’s transportation trust fund to cover budget shortfalls throughout the recession. The budget-patching maneuver resulted in a referendum drive to place new limits on how and when state leaders could pull money from transportation projects to cover budget shortfalls.