Washington, DC – It has been a hectic few weeks, as yet again another scandal is unfolding on Capitol Hill. The events surround an investigation into deliberate manipulation of intelligence reports by senior officials within the US Central Command (CENTCOM) sent to the Pentagon. On 9/9/2015, Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef of the Daily Beast originally reported:
“More than 50 intelligence analysts working out of the U.S. military’s Central Command have formally complained that their reports on ISIS and al Qaeda’s branch in Syria were being inappropriately altered by senior officials….Two senior analysts at CENTCOM signed a written complaint sent to the Defense Department inspector general in July alleging that the reports, some of which were briefed to President Obama, portrayed the terror groups as weaker than the analysts believe they are. The reports were changed by CENTCOM higher-ups to adhere to the administration’s public line that the U.S. is winning the battle against ISIS and al Nusra, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the analysts claim….That complaint was supported by 50 other analysts, some of whom have complained about politicizing of intelligence reports for months.”
Under the protection of anonymity, one analyst told The New York Times, “the senior intelligence officers are flipping everything on its head… the complaints involve the highest-ranking officials in CENTCOM’s intelligence unit, run by Army Maj. Gen. Steven R. Grove.” As a result of their actions, the Department of Defense Inspector General has launched an official investigation into the alleged manipulation of evidence by CENTCOM.
Last Tuesday, 9/15/2015, a spokesperson representing the pentagon and the inspector general, Bridget Serchak stated, “The investigation will address whether there was any falsification, distortion, delay, suppression or improper modification of intelligence information.” She went on to say the pentagon will also investigate any and all, “personal accountability for any misconduct or failure to follow established processes.”
In response to the investigation and comments made by Mrs. Serchak, a CENTCOM representative, Col. Patrick S. Ryder stated, “many different intelligence agencies provide assessments to policy makers, all derived from a wide range of sources, the system is structured to guard against any single report or opinion unduly influencing leaders and decision makers.” Mr. Ryder went on to add “the inspector general has a responsibility to investigate all allegations” but that he “cannot comment on an ongoing investigation.”
This past Friday, 9/18/2015, pentagon investigators held a conference with congress to discuss concerns, answer questions and loosely discuss protocol surrounding the recent media reports and subsequent investigation of CENTCOM and senior officials. In a meeting with the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, Llyod Austin, commander of the United States Central Command, presented a somewhat mixed message. In response to questions about the U.S. efforts in Syria, Austin said that of the original 54 United States-trained Syrian refugee fighters, “only 4 or 5 remained.” In response to United States efforts on the ground in Iraq, Mr. Austin stated that U.S. forces, “are making a difference, but until the Iraqis commit to a more rapid force generation, gains will likely remain limited.” Adding to the mixed messages set forth in his testimony, General Austin stated that the U.S., “won’t reach the goal we initially established for ourselves,” but later added that he still believes that efforts in the region are, “on track.”
Just this past weekend it was announced that in the Fall of 2015, John Allen will be stepping down from his position as envoy to the global coalition against the Islamic State. The news it not terribly surprising to those paying attention, as John’s wife remains in fading medical condition and he has already served for a full year after initially agreeing to stay on for just 6 months. But given recent turmoil on Capitol Hill, the new Pentagon investigation and allegations flying around intelligence communities, this resignation could not have come at a worse time. In a statement over the weekend, Mr. Allen reminisced, “Where we were a year ago today, I wasn’t sure how it was going to unfold. It was not clear to me even that Iraq would survive this. In the intervening months, we’ve seen remarkable progress in many respects.”
The situation in Washington remains fluid and the fight against the Islamic State is far from over. The messages coming from the highest levels of communication remain clear that the effort is ongoing, the United States is making progress, but we still have much work to do. Where do we go from here? What will the Pentagons investigation reveal? What is the next strategic move to make in Iraq and Syria? All the world is waiting to find out.