Did the White House put enough pressure on the Pentagon to get CENTCOM intelligence analysts cashiered over their negative assessments about US policy regarding the “Syrian Free Army”? The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef found three sources that claim reprisals took place when analysts warned that the Obama administration oversold the capabilities of the so-called “moderate rebels,” and that they could effectively fight ISIS. The report ratchets up the heat on the ongoing investigation into cooked intelligence at CENTCOM, and who ordered it (via Instapundit):
Two senior intelligence analysts at U.S. Central Command say the military has forced them out of their jobs because of their skeptical reporting on U.S.-backed rebel groups in Syria, three sources with knowledge of their claim told The Daily Beast. It’s the first known instance of possible reprisals against CENTCOM personnel after analysts accused their bosses of manipulating intelligence reports about the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS in order to paint a rosier picture of progress in the war.
One of the analysts alleging reprisals is the top analyst in charge of Syria issues at CENTCOM. He and a colleague doubted rebels’ capabilities and their commitment to U.S. objectives in the region. The analysts have been effectively sidelined from their positions and will no longer be working at CENTCOM, according to two individuals familiar with the dispute, and who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The analysts’ skeptical views put them at odds with military brass, who last year had predicted that a so-called moderate opposition would make up a 15,000-man ground force to take on ISIS in its self-declared caliphate. An initial $500 million program to train and arm those fighters failed spectacularly. And until the very end, Pentagon leaders claimed the operation was more or less on track. Lawmakers called the plan a “joke” when Gen. Lloyd Austin, the CENTCOM commander, finally testified last September that there were just “four or five” American-trained fighters in Syria.
In other words, the issue of cooked intelligence isn’t limited to that on ISIS itself:
Earlier allegations from CENTCOM, the military command responsible for overseeing the Middle East, had focused on leaders there fudging intelligence reports about U.S. efforts to attack ISIS and undermine its financing operations. That analysts are now raising red flags around reporting on Syrian rebel groups suggests that, at least from the analysts’ perspective, there is a broader systemic problem than was previously known.
Five months ago, former Defense Intelligence Agency head Gen. Michael Flynn said the probe should focus on the White House, and this makes the Obama administration even more likely as the chief suspect:
Many of them have been deployed for many years in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere… so I think that the focus of really this investigation, they’ll find whoever they’re going to find and some of the tactical issues at central command, but the focus of this investigation ought to start at the top. Where intelligence starts and stops is at the White House. The president sets the priorities and he’s the number one customer. So if he’s not getting the intelligence he needs and if he’s not paying attention to what else is going on, then something else is wrong there between them and the advisers he has. …
Nobody can sit here today — no one, particularly the amount of intelligence that the White House got — and say, “We didn’t know this was a problem.” I mean, give me a break.
This makes that point much more solid. Obama could have argued — and did argue — that he got surprised by ISIS because of faulty intelligence, which caused his slow response to the crisis. On Syria, though, it was Obama driving the policy, not the intelligence driving a lack of one. He insisted on a reliance of a supposedly strong “moderate” army that could take on Assad and ISIS simultaneously, but that army only existed in Obama’s imagination. He spent a half-billion dollars on that policy and ended up with only 60 fighters, most of whom were killed off quickly.
No one can claim that our intelligence community would have failed to notice the fact that only 60 people ended up in this program, nor that the so-called army of “moderates” ready to ally with the US failed to materialize. Even more than on ISIS, Flynn’s rejection of the “we didn’t know this was a problem” excuse holds even more firmly on this point. If the Daily Beast report is accurate, the White House can’t even excuse themselves by claiming to be very bad at following up on their own policy initiatives. The Pentagon and the White House knew damned well that the policy was a failure from the get-go, and instead of admitting to it, they cooked the intelligence by punishing those who pointed it out. That was apparently enough pour encourager les âutres, at least for a while.