Oh my: Warnings about politicized ISIS intel went all the way to ODNI

Until now, the focus of the probe into politically skewed intel analyses pertaining to ISIS has been on CENTCOM, the subject of a Defense Department Inspector General investigation. The probe has already revealed that analysts got rebuked for submitting pessimistic reports, e-mailed to “cut it out,” in order to support the Obama administration’s rosy projections about the fight against the terrorist quasi-state. Now, however, the Daily Beast’s Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef report that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence heard from analysts complaining about political pressure on their work and did nothing about it:

The complaints, lodged by analysts at U.S. Central Command in 2015, are separate from allegations that analysts made to the Defense Department inspector general, who is now investigating “whether there was any falsification, distortion, delay, suppression, or improper modification of intelligence information” by the senior officials that run CENTCOM’s intelligence group.

This second set of accusations, which have not been previously reported, were made to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). They show that the officials charged with overseeing all U.S. intelligence activities were aware, through their own channels, of potential problems with the integrity of information on ISIS, some of which made its way to President Obama.

The analysts have said that they believe their reports were altered for political reasons, namely to adhere to Obama administration officials’ public statements that the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS is making progress and has put a dent in the group’s financing and operations.

That may lead to yet another uncomfortable confrontation between Congress and DNI James Clapper, whose reputation for honesty has long since vanished on Capitol Hill. Clapper had been asked directly about this issue in September at a Senate hearing, and claimed to have no awareness on the issue:

“It is an almost sacred writ… in the intelligence profession never to politicize intelligence. I don’t engage in it. I never have and I don’t condone it when it’s identified,” Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But Clapper sought to downplay what he called “media hyperbole” about the substance of the analysts’ complaints. “I think it’s best that we all await the outcome of the DOD I.G. investigation to determine whether and to what extent there was any politicization of intelligence at CENTCOM,” Clapper said.

In fact, Clapper knew enough about the probe into politicized intel before this testimony to choose not to investigate it himself, Harris and Youssef report. That could be a supportable decision; the DoD was already investigating the issue, and an ODNI probe could either be redundant or create a conflict with the other investigation that might look like interference. (For that same reason, Congressional committees have steered clear of probing Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server issues until the FBI completes its investigation.)

But this isn’t the first time that Clapper has misled the Senate, and it’s beginning to look like a pattern. He insisted to Ron Wyden that the NSA wasn’t looking at domestic communications just a few months before Edward Snowden absconded with NSA data and exposed those programs (and many other things as well). Clapper later claimed to have “forgotten” about those programs when asked. Now it seems that while he decried the “media hyperbole” around the assumption of politicized intelligence, he knew damned well that it had been skewed, and refused to tell Congress about it.

Did he “forget” again at another convenient moment? If Clapper is this forgetful, why is he still serving as DNI?

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David Strom 8:31 AM on October 05, 2022