U.S. Central Command Accused of Manipulating Data on ISIS Threats

August 11, 2016 Updated: August 11, 2016

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) officials manipulated intelligence to downplay the threat from ISIS, a U.S. House task force argues in a report released on Wednesday.

The report comes after months of investigation by Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-KS), Congressman Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), and Congressman Ken Calvert (R-CA) after allegations made by a whistleblower in May 2015.

From mid-2014 to mid-2015, CENTCOM’s most senior intelligence leaders manipulated the command’s intelligence products to downplay the threat of the terrorist group in Iraq, the report found.

“The result: consumers of those intelligence products were provided a consistently ‘rosy’ view of U.S. operational success against ISIS,” said Pompeo in a statement.

“That may well have resulted in putting American troops at risk as policymakers relied on this intelligence when formulating policy and allocating resources for the fight,” he added.

The congressman said that the manipulation of intelligence “provided space for both ISIS and al-Qaeda to grow, putting America at risk.”

Pompeo noted that intelligence products can contain incorrect information, but that during that timeframe “nearly every error was in one direction: downplaying the threat from radical Islamic terror consistent with the administration’s narrative that this threat was not significant.”

Iraqi fighters from the Shiite popular mobilisation unit hold their weapons in the outskirts of Baiji refinery north of Tikrit on May 25, 2015. (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)        (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi fighters from the Shiite popular mobilisation unit hold their weapons in the outskirts of Baiji refinery north of Tikrit on May 25, 2015. (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images) 

The intelligence products from CENTCOM were “significantly more optimistic” compared to other parts of the U.S. Intelligence Community, which is comprised of 17 federal agencies, and were also “typically more” positive than actual events. CENTCOM press releases, public statements, and congressional testimonies were also more optimistic than actual events, the task force found.

In 2015 press statements, officials said “ISIL is on the defense.” Shortly afterwards another official said  ISIS “is losing ground” and declared “the strategy of the international coalition supporting Iraqi forces against ISIL has forced the terrorist group into a defensive position.” A week later, ISIS overran the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) positions in Ramadi, taking over the city and causing the ISF to retreat, the report said.

Intentions Unclear

Despite establishing the fact that intelligence on ISIS was intentionally manipulated, the congressional report does not give a reason as to why it happened.

“Despite nearly nine months of review, we still do not fully understand the reasons and motivations behind this practice and how often the excluded analyses were proven ultimately to be correct,” Wenstrup said in a press statement.

“We cannot win the war against ISIS with incomplete intelligence,” he said.

‘Leadership Failures’

Leadership at CENTCOM and its Intelligence Directorate “deteriorated significantly” after 2013 when Marine General James Mattis and his senior intelligence leaders left Central Command, according to the report.

In a survey conducted by the task force, dozens of analysts said they viewed the succeeding leadership as toxic, while 40 percent of them said they had “experienced an attempt to distort or suppress intelligence in the past year.”

“The leadership failures at CENTCOM reach to the very top of the organization,” said Calvert.

“What happened at CENTCOM is unacceptable–our warfighters suffer when bad analysis is presented to senior policymakers. We must continue our efforts until we fix it,” he added.

The task force called for the Department of Defense Inspector General to take action.