Politicized Intelligence: Telling the Boss What He Wants to Hear
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The August 10 report of a joint task force of the House Armed Services Committee and Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence shows that a serious corruption of intelligence by U.S. Central Command (“CENTCOM”) senior officers has been used to feed President Obama’s narrative that the fight against the Islamic State has been going well since 2014.

The report says, in part:

Based on its own investigation, the Joint Task Force has substantiated that structural and management changes made at the CENTCOM Intelligence Directorate starting in mid-2014 resulted in the production and dissemination of intelligence products that were inconsistent with the judgments of many senior, career analysts at CENTCOM. These products were consistently more optimistic regarding the conduct of U.S. military action than that of the senior analysts. Based on specific case studies evaluated by the Joint Task Force, during the time period evaluated by the Joint Task Force, CENTCOM produced intelligence that was also significantly more optimistic than that of other parts of the Intelligence Community (IC) and typically more optimistic than actual events warranted. Additionally, many CENTCOM press releases, public statements, and congressional testimonies were also significantly more positive than actual events.

The report is based, in part, on a survey of CENTCOM intelligence analysts. The survey found that after the mid-2013 departure of CENTCOM commander Marine General James Mattis, imposed management changes made the environment toxic for intelligence analysts. Forty percent of the analysts reported that they had experienced management attempts to distort or suppress intelligence within the past year.

The report also says that despite receiving the survey results in December 2015 as well as whistleblower complaints, “…neither CENTCOM, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, nor the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) took any demonstrable steps to improve the analytic climate within CENTCOM.”

For a bureaucratic underling to tell his boss what the boss wants to hear is par for the course in mismanaged organizations. But this is vastly worse.

We don’t know the origin of the “management changes” that were imposed on the CENTCOM intelligence operation in 2014, but the fact that the most senior generals and civilians at CENTCOM — as well as the Defense Intelligence Agency, the DNI, and the Undersecretary for Intelligence — knew about the problem and did nothing to fix it is evidence that they were either directed by their bosses to leave the disease uncured or they were afraid to fix the problem because their bosses didn’t want it to be fixed.

Their bosses are few: Defense Secretary Carter, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and President Obama.

Whoever the source of the direction or fear was they have done the nation great harm. Policymaking on the basis of false information — for that is what was done — makes our nation and our allies far less secure and paints a false picture for the public.

Let’s make this perfectly clear: anyone who either participated in falsifying intelligence or allowed or caused it to happen is unfit for their job. Any military officer who did should be discharged and never permitted to participate in intelligence operations again in any capacity. The same goes for any civilians involved up to and including the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Advisor, the USD(I), the DNI, and the DIA chief.

President Obama is no less unfit, but he can’t be fired. Fortunately, the Constitution removes him next January.

It’s unlikely that Donald Trump would fix this if he were elected because he has evidenced no interest in these matters. And, if the past is prologue, we can predict that Hillary Clinton will follow her husband’s example.

On April 28, 1998 President Bill Clinton dropped in on a meeting National Security Advisor Sandy Berger was having with supporters of legislation that would have applied sanctions to nations that limited religious freedom. Clinton told the group:

“What always happens if you have automatic sanctions legislation is it puts enormous pressure on whoever is in the executive branch to fudge an evaluation of the facts of what is going on. And that’s not what you want. What you want is to leave the president some flexibility, including the ability to impose sanctions, some flexibility with a range of appropriate reactions.” [Emphasis added.]

Clinton didn’t want the facts. He admitted that he’d change them to suit his agenda. He clearly preferred not to get intelligence information that wouldn’t suit his political agenda.

A report of the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, issued almost a year later, contained what was called an “Intelligence Side Letter.” Its principal author, former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, brought it to my attention years ago to illustrate his belief that intelligence — especially unfavorable facts — had to be honestly reported. The Side Letter said, in part:

The President’s recent discussion of “fudging” occurred in the context of a discussion of the effects of sanctions laws on his flexibility to conduct diplomacy.… However its effects are manifested, “fudging” has a corrupting influence on both the policy making and intelligence communities. A symbiotic relationship between the consumer and the provider of intelligence can easily be established in which they shape their questions and answers to satisfy the needs of the moment or to avoid unwanted, unpleasant and uncomfortable longer-term consequences.

In plainer terms, unless the relationship between intelligence providers and consumers is one of trust and cooperation, the falsification of intelligence or the conclusions drawn from it pose a serious threat to the nation.

If intelligence is politicized it cannot be relied on for any purpose. The House report tells us that the CENTCOM intelligence operation has been thoroughly politicized and we are left to wonder how deeply that disease has infected the rest of the intelligence community. The deeper the infection goes, the more serious the danger to our nation.

The first step to reform is to purge the system of those who — for whatever reason — falsify intelligence reports to suit anyone’s political agenda.

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