Military Reports Skewed Too Positive on ISIS Fight, GOP Task Force Says

A Republican report concluded that the military was overly optimistic.

August 11, 2016, 12:48 PM
PHOTO: ABC News goes to the front lines in the fight against ISIS in Iraq.
ABC News goes to the front lines in the fight against ISIS in Iraq.
ABC News

— -- Reports on the campaign against ISIS and the training of Iraqi security forces from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) were overly optimistic and edited to "more positively reflect the situation on the ground," according to a new report from a House Republican task force.

The GOP investigation found that CENTCOM’s reports from the fall of 2014 to the summer of 2015 relied too heavily on rosy assessments from commanders in the Middle East, as opposed to "vetted" intelligence from analysts. The report was prompted by the Pentagon inspector general’s inquiry into whether intelligence reports were altered. Concerns were first raised by a whistleblower in May of 2015.

The result, according to officials interviewed by the GOP task force set up to investigate CENTCOM intelligence reporting, "cast U.S. efforts in a more positive light" and was more optimistic than other reports from the intelligence community.

"Every time that there was a change it was a change in one direction –- that America was being more successful in defeating ISIS," Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, an Intelligence Committee member who is spearheading the effort, told ABC News.

The report also highlighted several instances where public testimony and statements from CENTCOM appeared more positive than events on the ground.

The findings of the joint task force -- created by the chairmen of the House Armed Services Committee, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense -- stop short of alleging any outright political motivation was behind the overly positive analysis.

"There are many inside of CENTCOM who believe that was the case," Pompeo said. "When the narrative from the administration is that we are defeating ISIS, and the facts on the ground are different, you’re in a really bad spot."

It is also not clear from the report if any of the specific intelligence assessments in question ever made it into President Obama’s briefings.

Democrats, in their own investigation into the manipulation of intelligence reports, found no evidence of politicization, but similarly described an "overly insular" intelligence gathering process that was "sometimes slow and insufficiently accommodating of dissent."

The GOP task force called these "interim conclusions" and said it has not yet received all requested materials from CENTCOM. The task force will continue its work after the investigation by the Department of Defense Inspector General (IG) is complete.

According to Commander Kyle Raines, a spokesman for CENTCOM, the Congressional Joint Task Force initial report has been "seen and we appreciate the independent oversight provided."

"We are reviewing the findings of the initial report; since the Joint Task Force investigation is ongoing, as is the DoD IG's investigation, we will refrain from further comment at this time," he said.

A Pentagon spokesman noted that the Defense Department's inspector general is conducting its own investigation of the matter. Though he could not comment directly on the ongoing I.G. investigation, Commander Patrick Evans said that senior civilian and military leaders use a wide range of assessments provided by the intelligence community and from other sources in their planning and decision making.

"Experts sometimes disagree on the interpretation of complex data, and the Intelligence Community and Department of Defense welcome healthy dialogue on these vital national security topics," said Evans.

Last November Obama addressed the ongoing inspector general probe.

"One of the things I insisted on the day I walked into the Oval Office was that I don’t want intelligence shaded by politics," he said. "It feels to me like, at my level at least, we’ve had a pretty clear-eyed, sober assessment of where we’ve made real progress and where we have not."

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