This is a scandal. And those involved believe that it reaches into the White House.
Stephen F. Hayes writes: Barack Obama says he wants the truth. On November 21, the New York Times reported allegations that military intelligence officials provided the president with skewed assessments that minimized the threat from ISIS and overstated the success of U.S. efforts against the group. The Times story was an update of reporting from the Daily Beast earlier this fall. “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 Beast reported in September. These analysts say their superiors regularly massaged pessimistic assessments to make them more upbeat before sending them up the chain of command. The analysts registered their grievances with the inspector general at the Pentagon, who is investigating their claims.
Obama was asked about this investigation at a press conference on November 22. The president said he doesn’t know the details of the allegations. But he added: “What I do know is my expectation, which is the highest fidelity to facts, data—the truth.”
“We were certainly blocked from seeing all the documents, and we were given limited time and resources to exploit the ones we had.”
— Michael Pregent, a DIA analyst on the CENTCOM team
The allegations are serious. We’re told by sources with knowledge of the investigation that the analysts who made them knew well in advance they’d be filing an official complaint. So they were ready when they did, providing the IG with extensive documentation—going back more than a year—to support their claims.
Why were they so well prepared?
Among other reasons: They’d seen such pressures before, up close. And they understood that by formalizing their complaints they would be challenging not their immediate superiors alone but in some important respects an entire system that had encouraged analysts and other national security officials to downplay the jihadist threat.
“The obvious question: Why would the president’s National Security Council intervene to block access to the bin Laden documents for analysts from the DIA and CENTCOM—analysts who are providing intelligence to those on the frontlines of America’s battle with jihadists?”
The current storm over ISIS intelligence is not a new controversy, though most of the media are treating it as such. It’s better understood as an installment in a long-running scandal that extends beyond CENTCOM in Tampa, into the upper reaches of the U.S. intelligence community and perhaps into the White House.
“After a bitter interagency dispute, James Clapper, director of national intelligence, allowed analysts from CENTCOM and the Defense Intelligence Agency to have time-limited, read-only access to the documents. What they found was fascinating and alarming.”
Readers of this magazine are familiar with the story of the documents obtained in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The Sensitive Site Exploitation team on the raid collected more than a million documents—papers, computer hard drives, audio and video recordings. Top Obama administration officials at first touted the cache as the greatest collection of terrorist materials ever captured in a single raid and boasted that the contents would fill a “small college library.”
An interagency intelligence team, led by the CIA, conducted the initial triage—including keyword searches of the collection for actionable intelligence. And then, according to senior U.S. intelligence officials with firsthand knowledge of the controversy, the documents sat largely untouched for as long as a year. The CIA retained “executive authority” over the documents, and when analysts from other agencies requested access to them, the CIA denied it—repeatedly.
“What they found was fascinating and alarming. Much of what these analysts were seeing—directly from Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders—contradicted what the president and top administration officials were saying publicly.”
After a bitter interagency dispute, James Clapper, director of national intelligence, allowed analysts from CENTCOM and the Defense Intelligence Agency to have time-limited, read-only access to the documents. What they found was fascinating and alarming. Much of what these analysts were seeing—directly from Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders—contradicted what the president and top administration officials were saying publicly. While drone strikes had killed some senior al Qaeda leaders, the organization had anticipated the U.S. decapitation strategy and was flourishing in spite of it; bin Laden remained intimately involved in al Qaeda decision-making and operational planning; the relationship between al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban remained strong despite the Obama administration’s attempts to weaken it by negotiating with Taliban leaders; al Qaeda’s relationship with Iran, while uneven and fraught with mutual distrust, was far deeper and more significant than U.S. intelligence assessments had suggested.
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Sean Davis reports: A review of recently released e-mails shows that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeatedly originated and distributed highly classified national security information. Clinton’s classified e-mail missives were not constrained to State Department staff, either. She also sent classified information to Sidney Blumenthal, a former Clinton White House operative banned by the Obama White House.
An analysis by The Federalist of e-mails released by the State Department late Monday shows that scores of e-mails sent by Clinton contained highly confidential national security information from the beginning, even if they weren’t marked by a classification authority until later.
The original date of classification of Hillary’s e-mails can be discerned by noting the declassification dates noted next to redactions in the e-mails. Under a 2009 executive order signed by President Barack Obama, classified material in most circumstances is to be automatically declassified after 10 years. In some instances, that duration may be extended up to 25 years. In certain circumstances, classification authorities may adjust the classification duration based on the nature of the underlying information.
In this July 2010 e-mail, for example, the entirety of Hillary Clinton’s message was redacted prior to its public release under the federal FOIA law. The redactions of the material were provided pursuant to a provision of law protecting national security information. The printed redaction code “1.4(D),” cited next to the redaction and at the top of the document next to the official classification date, pertains to information on “[f]oreign relations or foreign activities of the United States, including confidential sources[.]” At the top of the document, a declassification date of July 1, 2025 is clearly noted:
That declassification date is highly significant because it is precisely 15 years after the date on which the e-mail was sent, rather than the date on which it was marked. Read the rest of this entry »
The nine individuals who most recently returned to the battlefield were all released during the George W. Bush administration. During the Bush administration, Guantánamo had a recidivism rate of 20.7 percent, with 110 of 532 individuals released returning to battle
Elias Groll Between July and January, nine former inmates of the American prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, returned to the battlefield to carry out terror attacks or join insurgencies around the world, according to a new report by the U.S. intelligence community.
“The new study was compiled by the Director of National Intelligence, in collaboration with the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency…”
The report, an assessment of recidivism rates at the prison that was first reported by Vice, presents a macro view of the rate at which detainees at the controversial detention facility have returned to battle after their release. In total, 100 of the 603 individuals released from Guantánamo are confirmed to have once more picked up arms to engage in either insurgent or terrorist activity, amounting to a recidivism rate of 17.9 percent. Of those 100, 17 are dead, 27 are in custody, and 56 remain free. Another 74 individuals are suspected but not confirmed to have returned to the fight.
“…Its release comes amid a continuing debate about whether to close the prison. Large segments of the American population oppose doing so, even though it’s continued operation has been used as a recruitment tool by terrorist organizations and widely condemned by U.S. allies and human rights group alike.”
The new study was compiled by the Director of National Intelligence, in collaboration with the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency. It defines “terrorist” or “insurgent” activity as “planning terrorist operations, conducting a terrorist or insurgent attack against coalition or host-nation forces or civilians, conducting a suicide bombing, financing terrorist operations, recruiting others for terrorist operations, arranging for movement of individuals involved in terrorist operations, etc.”
“Last month, U.S. forces in Afghanistan killed a former Guantánamo detainee and former Taliban commander who had been operating as a war lord in southern Afghanistan and had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. The militant, Mullah Abdul Rauf, was released from Guantánamo in 2007.”
Its release comes amid a continuing debate about whether to close the prison. Large segments of the American population oppose doing so, even though it’s continued operation has been used as a recruitment tool by terrorist organizations and widely condemned by U.S. allies and human rights group alike. The prospect that a released prisoner might once more pick up arms against the United States now hangs over the effort to shut the facility. Read the rest of this entry »
Reality Check: Al Qaeda Wasn’t ‘on the Run’
Stephen F. Hayes writes: In the early morning hours of May 2, 2011, an elite team of 25 American military and intelligence professionals landed inside the walls of a compound just outside the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. CIA analysts had painstakingly tracked a courier to the compound and spent months monitoring the activity inside the walls. They’d concluded, with varying levels of confidence, that the expansive white building at the center of the lot was the hideout of Osama bin Laden.
“Many of the analysts and military experts with access to the documents were struck by a glaring contradiction: As President Obama and his team campaigned on the coming demise of al Qaeda in the runup to the 2012 election, the documents told a very different story.”
They were correct. And minutes after the team landed, the search for bin Laden ended with a shot to his head.
The primary objective of Operation Neptune Spear was to capture or kill the leader of al Qaeda. But a handful of those on the ground that night were part of a “Sensitive Site Exploitation” team that had a secondary mission: to gather as much intelligence from the compound as they could.
“As the public heard this carefully managed story about al Qaeda, analysts at CENTCOM were poring over documents that showed something close to the opposite.”
With bin Laden dead and the building secure, they got to work. Moving quickly—as locals began to gather outside the compound and before the Pakistani military, which had not been notified of the raid in advance, could scramble its response—they shoved armload after armload of bin Laden’s belongings into large canvas bags. The entire operation took less than 40 minutes.
The intelligence trove was immense. At a Pentagon briefing one day after the raid, a senior official described the haul as a “robust collection of materials.” It included 10 hard drives, nearly 100 thumb drives, and a dozen cell phones—along with data cards, DVDs, audiotapes, magazines, newspapers, paper files. Read the rest of this entry »
— Marc Hilliker (@MarcHilliker) July 14, 2014
When US-Soviet relationships were at their frostiest in the 1980s, there was no telling what sort of exotic threat was about to come roaring through Russia’s Iron Curtain. That’s where the Defense Intelligence Agency came in.
This low-profile intelligence agency—the DoD’s answer the the CIA—worked around the clock to discover emerging Soviet military menaces and report them to Washington. Because of the Top Secret nature of these subjects, the agency employed a team of artists to create highly accurate renderings of each threat, for use in policy briefings and DIA publications like Soviet Military Power. These subjects were so top secret that the renderings themselves were considered classified material.
Between 1965 and 1989, DIA’s artists created more than 1000 paintings and drawings of Soviet threats—now known as the DIA Military Art Collection. Here are ten of the most intimidating weapons we thought the Soviets were developing.
Soviet Space-Based Strategic Defenses by Ronald C. Wittmann, 1987
Just because the Soviets were publicly opposed to President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, aka “Star Wars,” doesn’t mean they weren’t feverishly working on their own version. The Soviet Space-Based Strategic Defenses were part of a unified land, air, and space-based shield against Moscow-bound ballistic missiles
Space Particle Beam by Ronald C. Wittmann, 1987
Rather than try to hit a tiny satellite zooming thousands of miles an hour miles overhead with a ground-based laser, why not just send up another satellite to shoot it out of the sky? The Soviets explored the idea of hunter-killer satellites armed with particle-beam, kinetic, and laser-based weaponry throughout the 1980s. None of the technologies were ever launched, though.
WASHINGTON–by Ken Dilanian and David S. Cloud – In July 2012, senior U.S. intelligence officials drove to the Capitol to secretly brief top lawmakers on the first indications that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against its own people. Read the rest of this entry »
By Craig Whitlock and Barton Gellman