Eli Lake: Intelligence Community Warned Obama of Islamic State

IS fighters marching in Syria / AP
September 29, 2014

Daily Beast reporter Eli Lake said in an article published Sunday that Obama is falsely claiming his intelligence analysts underestimated the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS).

President Barack Obama said in a Sunday interview that his intelligence analysts, specifically James Clapper, director of national intelligence, were caught off guard by the rise of ISIL.

This claim is untrue, said Lake.

Nearly eight months ago, some of President Obama’s senior intelligence officials were already warning that ISIS was on the move. In the beginning of 2014, ISIS fighters had defeated Iraqi forces in Fallujah, leading much of the U.S. intelligence community to assess they would try to take more of Iraq.

"Either the president doesn’t read the intelligence he’s getting or he’s bullshitting," a former senior Pentagon official told Lake following Obama’s interview.

Still, other senior intelligence officials have been warning about ISIS for months. In prepared testimony before the annual House and Senate intelligence committees’ threat hearings in January and February, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the recently departed director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said the group would likely make a grab for land before the end of the year. ISIS "probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria to exhibit its strength in 2014." Of course, the prediction wasn’t exactly hard to make. By then, Flynn noted, ISIS had taken the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, and the demonstrated an "ability to concurrently maintain multiple safe havens in Syria."

The ability of ISIS to hold that territory will depend on its "resources, local support, as well as the responses of [Iraqi security forces] and other opposition groups in Syria," Flynn added. He noted that while many Sunnis likely opposed ISIS, "some Sunni tribes and insurgent groups appear willing to work tactically with [ISIS] as they share common anti-government goals."

Lake points out that other officials such as CIA director John Brennan and Clapper himself presented evidence that ISIL was growing in power. Additionally, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) also warned of the group’s rise in Syria in early February.