In the last few weeks, there have been several reports that senior intelligence officials were skewing the intelligence on how (un)successful the military campaign against ISIS has been. “Officials at United States Central Command – the military headquarters overseeing the American bombing campaign and other efforts against the Islamic State – were improperly reworking the conclusions of intelligence assessments prepared for policy makers, including President Obama, the government officials said,” the New York Times was the first to report.
Patrick Eddington – himself a former CIA whistleblower – put that allegation into historical context, reminding how intelligence agencies have focused on good news going back to the Vietnam War and repeating in the lead-up to the Iraq War.
While the history lesson is worthwhile by itself, Eddington makes another important point. He notes that Department of Defense’s Inspector General, which is investigating the claims, can’t be trusted to carry out such an investigation. “The allegations reported by the Times and the Daily Beast are too serious a matter to be left to the DOD IG, particularly given the DOD IG’s recent track record in dealing with high-profile whistleblower complaints.” Eddington focuses on the treatment that Thomas Drake and other NSA whistleblowers experienced when they alerted DOD’s IG to an ineffective boondoggle designed to make SAIC rich, and argues the Intelligence Community and Source Protection Office should conduct the investigation, particularly since other intelligence agencies may also be politicizing intelligence about Syria.
But there’s an even more important example why DOD’s IG should not be investigating this allegation: as became clear during the investigation into leaks about the Osama bin Laden raid to the makers of Zero Dark Thirty, DOD’s IG may not issue reports on senior DOD officials and will not on people who work in other agencies (as Leon Panetta did when he disclosed classified information). “Due to ‘a longstanding Department policy,’ … referrals of alleged misconduct by senior officials would have to be removed before [the Zero Dark Thirty report] could be published,” Senator Chuck Grassley learned when investigating whistleblower complaints of that investigation.
That’s a problem given that reports blame “senior officials” for the politicization of this intelligence.
DOD’s policy of suppressing information on top officials may only pertain to leaks and not all misconduct. Indeed, DOD’s IG has referred a number of generals for misconduct in recent years.
Yet given how closely this issue – spinning happy stories about our operations in Syria – relates to the prior example – spinning the most positive stories about the Osama bin Laden killing – there’s good reason to worry that DOD IG won’t implicate any senior officials even if they are politicizing the intelligence on Syria.