Congress blocks funds for key military intel program, calls for Pentagon-wide investigation

Analysts’ findings often subjected to ‘suppression’

Military intelligence officers under Gen. Lloyd Austin “instituted various organizational and process changes that negatively affected the quality and timeliness of intelligence production,” a task force has reported. (Associated Press) more >

By Carlo Muñoz - The Washington Times - Sunday, December 4, 2016

Lawmakers critical of the Obama administration’s cherry-picking of intelligence in the war on terror fired one last shot via the defense spending bill working its way through Congress.

Members of the House Armed Services Committee inserted a little-noticed provision to block funds for a key intelligence program run by U.S. Central Command, agreeing to release the funds only after a Pentagon-wide investigation is opened into intel operations at other regional commands.

Investigators from the Defense Department’s Inspector General’s Office would lead the inquiry at major U.S. commands in the Pacific, South America, Europe and Africa, according to language in the House version of the defense spending bill for fiscal year 2017.

“Additionally, the [defense bill] will fence funding for [Central Command’s] intelligence Fusion Center until the Committee receives documentation about the center’s operation and the DOD IG inquiry has been completed,” House lawmakers added in a statement summing up the legislation’s highlights.

The legislation, which requires approval from defense lawmakers in the Senate, stems from a joint investigation of the House defense panel and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence looking into the accusations against Central Command in August.

The joint task force found that a slew of personnel changes within the command’s intelligence directorate, beginning in mid-2014, resulted in the “dissemination of intelligence products that were inconsistent with the judgments of many senior, career analysts at CENTCOM” regarding the burgeoning U.S. involvement in the fight against Islamic State.

“These products were consistently more optimistic regarding the conduct of U.S. military action than that of the senior analysts,” task force members wrote in the executive summary of the 15-page review of the command’s efforts.

Aside from the criticism from within its own ranks, the intelligence findings from the command ran contrary to analysis from the CIA and other civilian intelligence agencies reviewing the early days of Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State.

The command’s intelligence operations already were under investigation by the Pentagon’s inspector general, starting in 2015, looking into the “toxic” command environment in the intelligence directorate that came after then-Gen. James Mattis was forced out by the Obama White House over his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.

Gen. Mattis recently was announced as the nominee for defense secretary in President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming administration.

After Gen. Mattis’ departure in 2013, more than 40 percent of the military analysts at the command had “experienced an attempt to distort or suppress intelligence in the past year,” according to the congressional task force report.

The situation did improve dramatically once Gen. Joseph Votel, who is now Central Command chief, took over as the command’s top intelligence officer in 2014 under former command chief Gen. Lloyd Austin.

But problems still persisted even under Gen. Austin’s watch, according to the task force.

Intelligence officers under Gen. Austin “instituted various organizational and process changes that negatively affected the quality and timeliness of intelligence production,” task force members found.

Command leaders argued the changes would streamline and sharpen “analytic tradecraft and timeliness” of its intel operations across the region, “but the changes ultimately were unsuccessful and had the opposite effect.”