Intel and military sources: We could have hit "Khorasan" in June

My colleague at The Fiscal Times, Andrew Peek, offered a different question a week ago than I do today but comes to the same general conclusion. After Barack Obama pointed the finger at the intelligence community for the failure to react in time to stop ISIS — and following a similar effort in 2012 and 2013 to lay the sacking of the Benghazi consulate on intelligence — Andrew marveled how the top two national-security advisers in the Obama administration could still have their jobs. James Clapper and John Brennan didn’t just miss the rise of ISIS, Andrew notes, but also the desire of Russia to expand their control in Europe. We aren’t getting much out of our $50 billion if what Obama says is correct:

It has been well reported by now that drone strikes have gone up under Obama; that Obama spends his weekly counterterrorism hour leafing through binders of aspiring targets to select the ones for culling; that Obama is whacking targets all over Pakistan and the Middle East, reportedly with great daring.

Global counterterrorism – unmanned robots and ninjas killing jihadis, sans warning, sans risk, based on Obama’s personal Book of the Dead – is a crisp distillation of the Obama Weltanschauung. It was bloodless, and certainly not “stupid s***,” and intended to take the place of George Bush’s Long War.

It would eclipse Bush’s big thoughts about WHY terrorists were crazy, where they came from, and why they came from there. Bush, the deep thinker, had been overly intellectualizing a fight that was to the Alpha Betas in the Obama Administration, a simple muscle movement. Who needs this democracy crusade when we have drones?

Brennan and Clapper brought the President “counterterrorism,” and counterterrorism brought us Osama bin Laden. But it also brought us the collapse of Iraq and the unshackling of Russia from any basic strategic constraint. It brought us a host of unexpected and ill-reacted geopolitical upheavals, from the Iranian pro-democracy riots in 2009 to the Arab Spring to the implosion of Syria, ignored until it was a disaster, further ignored until it was a crisis. Redefining the world as a counterterrorism matrix blinded us to the macro shifts; it overlaid a falsely individual heuristic of victory – is X dead? – onto a world that shifts en masse. And despite all the dead bodies in Pakistan, ISIS was one such masse.

So in one sense Clapper and Brennan should not be fired. They’ve given us nothing the President did not want, and have lost none of his confidence. But by now, they should have lost some of ours.

Given what we know now about the warnings from the intel community about ISIS, and the same about the situation in Benghazi, it would not surprise me to hear that the intel on Russia’s intentions may have been better than presumed, too. The intel on what has been called the so-called Khorasan Group certainly turned out to be more robust than we first thought, as Eli Lake reports. They had targets picked out as early as June, but didn’t bother to brief the President on them because they knew it was a waste of time:

The new disclosure that Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) had prepared target packages against al Qaeda’s cell comes as some critics on the left and righthave questioned whether the White House invented the threat from the so-called “Khorasan Group” in order to justify airstrikes that began in September against al Qaeda and ISIS targets in Syria. Skepticism has also mounted because U.S. officials have walked back claims in the last week that the strikes on the Khorasan Group were an attempt to disrupt an imminent threat.

Jenan Moussa of Al-Aan Television this week reported that the Khorasan Groupwas actually an elite unit within al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, which has been focused on its fight inside the country. Other U.S. officials tell The Daily Beast that the group is composed of senior al Qaeda planners focused on attacking the West.

Senior and mid-level U.S. intelligence and defense officials who have tracked the threat tell The Daily Beast that the alarm raised about the Khorasan Group came from within the intelligence community and particularly from the U.S. military’s special operations task forces that monitor al Qaeda and the Levant. “The senior leadership in the military didn’t want to ask the question when they knew the answer would be ‘no,’” said the senior U.S. intelligence official quoted earlier about why the targeting packages were not sent to the White House in June.

It’s true that inside the U.S. government the teams of analysts and operators that track terrorist leaders are often the strongest advocates for going after their targets.  But in this case, the broader U.S. intelligence community was frustrated with a White House that had ruled out any kind of Syrian intervention.

Of course, the intel and military communities have a motive in leaking this to Eli. The President’s attempt to pass the buck about ISIS on 60 Minutes no doubt has them fuming, and rightly so. They also have motive to put the best possible spin on that information, and Eli does a good job of analyzing these competing claims and the larger context in all of his work. The subtext of this revelation is that the war between the IC and the White House has not been quieted by Obama’s attempt to walk back the buck-passing nor by Clapper’s attempt to jolly along the troops.

In my column today for The Fiscal Times, I argue that the Secret Service scandals, the malign neglect of a known-to-be-dysfunctional VA, and the repeated failures to anticipate the obvious shows that the incompetence crisis starts at the very top:

Obama still hasn’t fired Clapper even after blaming the intelligence community for the unpleasant surprise of ISIS’ sweep in Iraq and Syria, either. Speaking to 60 Minutes on Sunday, Obama told Steve Kroft that the intelligence community failed to foresee ISIS’ rise. “They underestimated” the threat, Obama said, referring back to a statement made by Clapper earlier in the week. However, that isn’t what Clapper said, nor did the intelligence community underestimate the threat.

As early as January of this year – when Obama called ISIS the “jayvees” of the terrorist world despite seizing Fallujah – the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency warned Congress that ISIS was poised to seize large swaths of territory in 2014. Former Vice Admiral and Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak put the blame squarely on the White House for not paying attention. “I think it was slow on the part of the entire administration,” Sestak told a visibly stunned Jose’ Diaz-Balart on MSNBC, “to assess that they — what they had to do in order address the threat.”

Let’s say, though, that Obama was justified in blaming the intelligence community for the failure. Why are the same people still in charge? Why would the incompetence and failure, which was repeated with Clapper, not prompt the boss to put someone in charge who can handle the job better? Why did Holder, Sebelius, Clapper, and other incompetents or scapegoats within the administration continue in those positions after demonstrable failure?

The answer is that the incompetence starts at the top. Pierson’s fall from grace may or may not solve the problem at the Secret Service, but the rest of the bureaucracy has already learned that there is usually no price to pay for incompetence in an organization run by Barack Obama.

Michael Ramirez also connects the dots at Investors Business Daily today:


Also, be sure to check out Ramirez’ terrific collection of his works: Everyone Has the Right to My Opinion, which covers the entire breadth of Ramirez’ two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning career, and it gives fascinating look at political history.  Read my review here, and watch my interviews with Ramirez here and here.  And don’t forget to check out the entire site, which has now incorporated all of the former IBD Editorials, while individual investors still exist.