President Obama’s former top military intelligence official said Tuesday that the White House ignored warnings about the rise of terrorist groups like the Islamic State (IS) in 2012 because it would harm the president’s reelection "narrative."
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014. He claims that a 2012 report warning about the establishment of "an undeclared Salafist principality," or Islamist state, was ignored because it contradicted the White House’s claim that terrorist groups were on the run.
"I think they did not meet a particular narrative that the White House needed, I'll be candid with you," Flynn said to CNN host Jake Tapper.
Flynn said that the inner circle advising Obama "advised him incorrectly" about the strength of terrorist groups like IS. He added that it is ultimately the president’s responsibility to ensure he receives "the unvarnished truth" from the intelligence community.
Flynn’s charge is the latest evidence that top administration officials downplayed the threat of terrorism.
Earlier this year, 50 intelligence analysts working for the U.S. military’s Central Command filed a formal complaint that their intelligence had been distorted to show that the U.S. was winning the war against IS and al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. That allegation is being investigated by the Pentagon’s inspector general.
In October, it was revealed that top officials knew within hours that the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya had been orchestrated by a terrorist group. Nonetheless, these officials obscured the connection to terrorism in the weeks following the attack, telling the public the attack was the result of a spontaneous protest of an anti-Islam video.
"I actually think it all goes back to the White House," Flynn said.
JAKE TAPPER: In 2012, your agency put out a now-declassified report that seems to have predicted the rise of ISIS. It says the deteriorating security situation could lead to an Islamic State with our organizations in Iraq and Syria which will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and protection of its territory. It was not long after you issued that report that President Obama referred to ISIS as the jayvee team. Do you feel your warnings were ignored?
GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN: I think they did not meet a particular narrative that the white house needed, I'll be candid with you. I have said, and I believe, that people that were around the president, the inner circle advising him, advised him incorrectly.
TAPPER: What was the narrative.
FLYNN: I think the narrative was that al Qaeda was on the run, Bin Laden was dead—
TAPPER: The election—
FLYNN —Yeah and they were dead, these guys are, you know, we've beaten them. We knew that. We have killed more leaders in the al Qaeda/ISIS/AQI, Boko Haram, more leaders than we can say, and they continue to multiply. We have to get more realistic on what it is we're facing. We're not facing a bunch of criminals. These are not criminals. These are hardcore radical Islamists who have a deeply-held belief, well organized, well led. They have a vision of the world that is complete opposite to what the vision of what you and I would want for our own families.
TAPPER: The Pentagon, as you know, the inspector general is looking into whether or not any intelligence was cooked. That people on the ground were saying one, and up the line people were finessing it to make it sound like ISIS was weaker than it was. What can you tell us about that?
FLYNN: I believe the role of intelligence and the importance of intelligence begins at the very top of our government, the president sets the priorities. If he feels like he's getting poor intelligence, then he needs to either, you know, find different people or he needs to figure out what's the matter with the system that is in place, because that is a huge system, it's the best in the world if it's focused properly. And I believe that, you know, whatever they find in the investigation at CENTCOM with the great analysts that have complained about the sort of abuse of the system, I actually think it all goes back to the White House.
TAPPER: How so?
FLYNN: Because the White House, the president has to say, hey, I need the best—whatever it is that you have, I want the unvarnished truth, that's what I want. And if I am not getting unvarnished truth, I need to basically find it from other people that will give it to me. If he's getting something that he—that those that are around him want him to hear versus what he needs to hear, he's going to make poor decisions. This is an ideology that we're facing. It’s an ideology that we're facing and that ideology has to be defeated and it has to be changed.