Manipulated Intel and the Kabuki War against the Islamic State

Dozens of analysts complain about manipulation of ISIS status reports

It has long been suspected, and already been reported, that the government is cooking the books on intelligence regarding the strength of the Islamic State. But the scope and specificity of Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef's most recent report on the subject, published last night, is jaw-dropping:

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, The Daily Beast has learned.

The complaints spurred the Pentagon’s inspector general to open an investigation into the alleged manipulation of intelligence. The fact that so many people complained suggests there are deep-rooted, systemic problems in how the U.S. military command charged with the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State assesses intelligence.

"The cancer was within the senior level of the intelligence command," one defense official said.

The reporters claim to have verified this information with 11 sources, and further note the obvious: "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 echo of the left's claim that intelligence regarding the 2003 invasion of Iraq was manipulated for political purposes is unmistakable—and yet the outrage this morning is difficult to detect, even though the nature of the lying is quite clear. Month after month the Pentagon releases Kabuki-theater like reports on progress in the ironically named Operation Inherent Resolve—numbers of vehicles and "staging areas" destroyed, insurgents killed—while nothing actually seems to change on the battlefield. The terrorists hold or, as in Ramadi, take more ground. Our handful of trained Syrian rebels are annihilated on the battlefield, possibly betrayed by Turkey. Millions of refugees flee the region, destabilizing immediate neighbors and now Europe. Russia deploys troops and planes to Syria, exploiting the crisis to expand its footprint at a Mediterranean base.

The Pentagon's metrics for success have about as much credibility as did reports of Communist body counts in Vietnam.

But, with a few exceptions, the press doesn't seem to care, because most of them are liberals, and so most of them share President Obama's allergy for intervention in the Middle East. Manipulations such as those alleged in the Daily Beast's report serve a defensible purpose, because, in the view of most liberals, significant American military action in the region will go horribly wrong, and so local "partners" must be forced to "take responsibility." Have they noticed that this strategy has also gone horribly wrong? Do they care? Since the American withdrawal from Iraq and the start of the Syrian civil war, the region has collapsed, and the chaos now aids the rise of a revanchist Russia allied to an emboldened and soon-to-be nuclear Iran, and is currently destabilizing the politics of the European Union. Inaction has consequences, too.

The damage is not confined to the Middle East. On the evidence provided in the Daily Beast's report, there is a moral toll being inflicted on the U.S. military, which is reduced to making ineffectual gestures that achieve little on the battlefield and then lying about the consequences. And there is a grave threat to American lives, right here at home. The arrogance of our campaign is breathtaking. How long do we think we can poke away at dangerous men with a drone strike here and an air raid there, failing to defeat them even as we occasionally kill their friends or loved ones? The national security establishment is worried about so-called "lone wolf" attacks, but there is absolutely no reason that another terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11 couldn't be in the planning stages.

The Islamic State now has a safe haven and resources of which al Qaeda in 2001 could only have dreamed. Every day we lazily, arrogantly provoke them without finishing the job. No one should be surprised by the consequences, which are as predictable as they are terrible.