Last year, 50 professional intelligence officers at US Central Command filed a formal complaint that their intelligence reports were being altered by senior officers. Now, we can say for certain that they were right. A Congressional task force investigating the complaint has found convincing evidence that the reports generated by junior officers were far more dire in analysis of the threat from the Islamic State (ISIS), and that those reports became altered only once senior officers close to US Central Command (CENTCOM) leadership became involved. Those altered intelligence reports sometimes made it into the President’s briefing material, where they could reinforce his judgment that ISIS was not a threat he had to take seriously.
Worse, these altered intelligence reports formed the basis for sworn testimony given by then-CENTCOM Commander Lloyd Austin. General Austin’s testimony to Congress thus painted a rosier picture than was accurate. This gave allies of the President in Congress the opportunity to downplay the need for policy changes, and undermined Republican efforts to drive a more serious response to the ISIS threat. Such false statements by General Austin may have been perjury, especially if he was aware that they were false.
In a familiar pattern of behavior, it looks as if senior officials have been destroying records — especially emails— to block the ongoing Defense Department Inspector General investigation.
[S]ome of CENTCOM’s intelligence analysts already are concerned that the DoD IG report will not have as much teeth as the House Republican task force report. These military analysts told The Beast that the head of CENTCOM’s intelligence directorate, Maj. Gen. Steven Grove, and his civilian deputy, Gregory Ryckman, had deleted emails and files from computer systems before the inspector general could examine them.
The destruction of public records in the form of emails is a hallmark of this administration’s approach to violating the law for political reasons. The Department of Justice closed its investigation into the IRS targeting of Republican and Tea Party groups without charges, after the erasure and destruction of numerous hard drives containing email records relevant to the case. The IRS has continued to destroy hard drives into this year, even in defiance of court orders.
Most famously, of course, the FBI recommended no prosecution of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in spite of finding compelling evidence that she had knowingly mishandled classified information on unsecure servers, then arranged for her lawyers to destroy the evidence “in such a way as to preclude complete forensic recovery.” The Department of Justice once again elected no charges, this time following a private meeting between the head of the Justice Department and Bill Clinton in a private plane on the tarmac in a distant state. The meeting was in violation of the Department’s ethical regulations, but it appears those won’t be enforced either.
General Austin has a history with President Obama. It was General Austin who had to testify before Congress that his efforts to produce a counter-ISIS force had generated only “four or five” people who would reliably fight, in spite of a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. General Austin also warned the President not to withdraw from Iraq as precipitously as President Obama eventually elected to do. The President later attempted to blame Austin for his decision, saying that he was acting on Austin’s advice. In fact, Austin had recommended keeping 20,000 troops in the country to ensure its stability as a fledgling democracy. It was ignoring that advice that created the conditions in which ISIS initially began to blossom.