Defense Secretary Ash Carter wants "unvarnished" intelligence on the military campaign in Iraq following reports of an ongoing Pentagon inspector general probe into allegations that intelligence on Iraq was politicized to support Obama administration views.
Congressional oversight committees also are investigating reports of biased intelligence that sought to portray the administration’s military campaign against the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL) as more successful than intelligence assessments showed.
The probes followed a report that two intelligence analysts at the U.S. Central Command in July formally called for the IG probe, claiming reports on the Islamic State and al Qaeda in Syria were altered improperly by unidentified senior officials.
Peter Cook, Pentagon press secretary, told reporters Thursday that he would not comment on the allegations, reported last month in the New York Times and this week in the Daily Beast, until after the inspector general finishes the investigation.
The defense secretary receives intelligence from a variety of different sources, and analysts disagree, he said.
"That’s a good thing," Cook said. "We want that tension as part of this process."
Carter recently directed Marcel Lettre, acting defense undersecretary for intelligence, to "consult with his leadership, with the combatant commands, to reinforce that message," he added.
"Unvarnished, transparent intelligence is what this secretary expects on a daily basis," Cook said.
The alleged politicization of intelligence on the Iraq military campaign followed major intelligence failures on Iraq in the early 2000s. Intelligence analysts falsely reported that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. The intelligence reports of WMD, many of which were later found to have been based on false information supplied by an Iraqi defector, were a key driver in the George W. Bush administration’s decision to launch a military invasion. The invasion failed to uncover large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.
After that intelligence failure, a number of measures were created to avoid intelligence politicization. In 2006, the office of the director of national intelligence designated an ombudsman for analysis to check whether intelligence reports were being politicized. A DNI spokesman said the ombudsman is ready to assist the Pentagon IG but is not conducting an independent inquiry.
The intelligence dispute is raising new questions about the president’s yearlong military campaign against IS terrorists, which administration officials, including the president, have said is so far successful.
The Islamic State continues to hold a large swath of territory in both Iraq and Syria and made significant gains over the past year, including control over key cities in Iraq.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R., Texas), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said his committee is investigating.
"No doubt that these allegations are troubling and the committee is looking into them," Thornberry said. "Accurate intelligence and unbiased analysis can often be a life or death matter and must remain free from political pressure."
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, said his panel is also reviewing the allegations, which he said "make sense" based on recent claims by administration officials and military leaders concerning operations in Iraq.
For example, military officials said weeks ago that Iraqi forces, backed by coalition air power, were close to retaking the Iraqi city of Ramadi. However, the city today remains under IS control.
"So they either got bad intelligence or they are cooking the intelligence," McCain said on the Fox News Channel. "This is obviously a matter for hearings in the Armed Services Committee."
Rebecca Watkins, a spokeswoman for Richard Burr (R., N.C.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the committee is aware of the allegations. She would not say whether the panel is investigating the charges of politicization. The panel "conducts regular, vigilant oversight of the activities of the intelligence community," she said.
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence also is reviewing the matter.
"The politicization of intelligence products would be a major issue, and these allegations need to be thoroughly investigated," said Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. "The Intelligence Committee will take all appropriate action to ensure our nation’s policymakers receive unbiased analysis from the intelligence community."
Central Command spokesman Col. Patrick Ryder declined to comment on the specific IG probe but said in a statement the IG is responsible for investigating all allegations and "we welcome and support their independent oversight."
"The Intelligence Community routinely provides a wide range of subjective assessments related to the current security environment," Ryder said. "These products and the analysis that they present are absolutely vital to our efforts, particularly given the incredibly complex nature of the multi-front fights that are ongoing now in Iraq and Syria."
Ryder said senior civilian and military leaders review and consider the assessments while planning and making decisions, along with information from ground commanders and other key advisers, intelligence assets, and prior experience.
"The multi-source nature of the assessment process purposely guards against any single report or opinion unduly influencing leaders and decision-makers," he said.
The intelligence politicization also follows the disclosure last month that military airstrikes have not targeted IS training camps, including 60 facilities that are turning out some 1,000 fighters a month.
Pentagon officials told the Washington Free Beacon that the failure to target the camps has raised questions about whether the administration is pursuing a campaign to degrade and destroy IS.
Ryder, the Central Command spokesman, said at the time that 19 airstrikes were carried out against IS training camps out of more than 6,419 airstrikes over the past year.
Thornberry confirmed that the anti-IS strategy, as well as military operations in Afghanistan, are being limited by Obama policymakers.
"It’s true in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan," Thornberry said in an interview. "The constraints that [Obama] has put our military leaders under as far as when they can take action are very restrictive. It raises questions about whether the United States is serious about degrading ISIS."