US Pentagon probing claims of falsely optimistic intel reports on ISIS

ISIS forces in RamadiThe United States Department of Defense is investigating claims that some of its officials doctored intelligence reports to give a falsely optimistic account of the campaign against the Islamic State. Citing “several officials familiar with the inquiry”, The New York Times said in a leading article on Tuesday that the Pentagon launched a probe into the allegations in recent weeks. According to the paper, the probe was launched following a complaint filed by at least one analyst in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Pentagon’s primary human-intelligence agency. According to the analyst, intelligence reports were deliberately tweaked by officials at the US Central Command (CENTCOM), the Pentagon body that directs and coordinates American military operations in Egypt, the Middle East and Central Asia. The reports related to the Islamic State, known also as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a militant Sunni organization that currently controls large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.

Many Middle East observers, including this website, have made notably dire projections about the continuing reinforcement and territorial expansion of ISIS. Earlier this month, the Associated Press published an unconfirmed assessment of a “strategic stalemate” in Syria, which allegedly represented the views of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the DIA and other members of the US Intelligence Community. According to the news agency, the report said that ISIS is “fundamentally no weaker” today than it was a year ago, when the United States began a bombing campaign targeting ISIS strongholds.

But earlier assessments by DIA, which were communicated to senior US policymakers, including President Barack Obama, were far more optimistic about America’s ability to defeat the militant group, said The Times. According to the paper, the DIA analyst had evidence showing that CENTCOM officials had systematically doctored the conclusions of intelligence reports about ISIS before passing them on to American leaders. It appears that the evidence pointing to deliberate manipulation of intelligence assessments was convincing enough to prompt the Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General to launch an official probe into the matter.

When asked to respond to The Times’ allegations, CENTCOM spokesman Colonel Patrick Ryder said he was unable to comment on an ongoing investigation by the Inspector General. If the allegations are substantiated by the probe, the Inspector General is legally required to share them with the intelligence oversight committees of the US Congress.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 August 2015 | Permalink

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UK military scrambling to rehire retired Russian-language analysts

Russian troops in UkraineBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The crisis in Ukraine is causing the British military to reach out to hundreds of retired Russian-language analysts who left the service at the end of the Cold War, according to media reports. British newspaper The Daily Telegraph said on Saturday that Russia’s actions in the Ukraine had exposed significant shortages of Russian-language analysts in the British Armed Forces. The paper said it had seen internal government documents that detailed efforts by military officials to contact associations of retired intelligence personnel in search of qualified Russia experts. The article referenced one recent memorandum from an unnamed senior officer in a military intelligence brigade, which asks retired military personnel to help by contacting retired Russian-language analysts, most of whom are now in their 60s. Other documents suggest that, in addition to analysts, the British military is in need of experts that can help monitor and translate information collected from open-source Russian information channels. The Telegraph places the blame for the shortage on budget cuts implemented by successive British governments on the nation’s Armed Forces. It also faults the defense and security agencies’ “recent focus on the Middle East and Asia”, which is said to have occurred at the expense of Russian linguistic and analytical expertise. The article quotes an unnamed “intelligence source” as saying that Britain’s Ministry of Defense used to offer “extremely good” Russian-language courses, but that “after 9/11” a focus on Arabic displaced Russian and other languages associated with the Cold War. There are also complaints by Russian experts in the British Army that they were “openly derided as being nothing more than a ‘language club’” in the years following 9/11. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #835 (Americas edition)

Rene GonzalezBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►‘Cuban Five’ spy member renounces US citizenship. Cuban intelligence officer Rene Gonzalez, who was a member of the “Cuban Five” spy group in South Florida, was released from a US prison in 2011, after serving 10 years for espionage. He was required to serve three years’ probation in the US. But on Friday US District Judge Joan Lenard ruled that Gonzalez, who had already been allowed to temporarily return to Cuba for his father’s funeral, could stay there if he renounced his US citizenship. Gonzalez is the first of the Cuban Five to return to the island. The other four men continue to serve lengthy sentences in US federal prisons.
►►US Defense Intelligence Agency contemplates austerity. Since 2001, intelligence agencies have had just about all money they wanted, but not anymore, as the cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act are hitting even previously inviolable spook accounts. In a reflection of this new reality, the Defense Intelligence Agency plans a conference with industry at its headquarters on June 27, 2013. Agency leaders will focus on “current and emerging challenges in the context of an increasingly austere fiscal posture”.
►►Report says Canada spies caught off guard by Arab Spring. The 2011 Arab Spring uprising in the Middle East came as a surprise to the Canadian government, which risks getting caught off-guard again without a new approach to gathering intelligence. This is according to a new report by Canada’s Intelligence Assessment Secretariat, a unit of the Privy Council’s Office, the bureaucratic arm of the Office of the Canadian Prime Minister. On the other hand, the report states, “there is no reason to believe that [Canadian intelligence agencies] did any worse than other allied agencies in its analysis of the Arab Spring, and in a few areas it appears to have done somewhat better”.

Ex-CIA analyst says North Korea will launch strikes against South

North and South KoreaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A former senior analyst on North Korea at the United States Central Intelligence Agency believes that the communist state will launch limited strikes against the South before moving to de-escalate the ongoing crisis in the Korean peninsula. On March 27, Pyongyang announced it was withdrawing from  the Korean Armistice Agreement, which it signed along with the United Nations and China at the end of the Korean War, in 1953. Shortly afterwards, North Korea closed all border connections with the South and disconnected the direct telephone line linking it with Seoul. It subsequently declared that it would not hesitate to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against South Korea and the United States. Pyongyang heightened its rhetoric in response to Key Resolve/Foal Eagle, a two-month-long military exercise involving US and South Koran armed forces, which includes the deployment of nuclear-armed airplanes and ships. Although some expert observers are worried, few believe that the rhetorical boxing-match between the two Koreas will result in an outbreak of hostilities. But Columbia University Professor Sue Mi Terry, who headed the CIA’s North Korea analysis unit from 2001 to 2008, believes that Pyongyang will launch military strikes against Seoul before de-escalating the tension. Speaking to Wired magazine’s Danger Room blog, Terry noted that the attack will not be nuclear, nor will it involve mass use of military force. Instead, it will be “a relative small attack” that “won’t leave many people dead”, she said. Read more of this post

German intelligence report sees US leading global energy contest

The Tengiz oil refinery in KazakhstanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A leaked geopolitical study authored by German intelligence sees the United States as the primary beneficiary of the world’s drastically changing energy balance. The report, which was produced by the German Federal Intelligence Service (Bundesnach- richtendienst, or BND) was leaked to the Reuters news agency and accessed by Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. It sides with other recent estimates, notably by the International Energy Agency, which suggest that the domestic oil production of the United States might exceed that of Russia and Saudi Arabia by the year 2020. The BND estimates that, through the technique popularly known as fracking (using pressurized fluid to cause horizontal fractures on underground rock layers), the US will be able to exploit oil and natural gas reserves on its territory that were previously considered inaccessible. This could transform the US from the world’s largest energy importer of energy to a net exporter of both oil and natural gas. According to the report, such a massive transformation of the global energy import-export balance could have “particularly dramatic consequences” in the realm of international relations. Most crucially, it could transform the existing balance of power between the US and China. Specifically, German intelligence analysts forecast that, as the US becomes increasingly self-sufficient in energy, it will limit its import of oil and natural gas to its neighboring countries, namely Canada and Mexico. This could potentially lead the US to gradually disengage from the Middle East, allowing Washington’s foreign policy “increased freedom of action” vis-à-vis energy-rich Arab nations and Israel. At the same time, more Middle Eastern oil will find its way to China, as the Far-Eastern country will emerge as the world’s largest importer of energy. Read more of this post

Analysis: Should the CIA kill less and spy more?

CIA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Central Intelligence Agency’s awkward silence about the recent resignation of its Director, General David Petraeus, is indicative of an organization that remains distinctly uncomfortable with publicity. The added layer of the sexual nature of Petraeus’ impropriety has increased exponentially the degree of unease at Langley. Yet sooner or later the news media will move on to something else and General Petraeus will fade into the distance. For seasoned intelligence observers, however, the question of the CIA’s future will remain firmly in the foreground. In an interview earlier this week with Wired magazine, former CIA Director General Michael Hayden (ret.) opined that Petraeus’ resignation presents the Agency with the opportunity to return to its operational roots. Hayden, who led the CIA from 2006 to 2009, said that the Agency has been “laser-focused on terrorism” for many years. Consequently, much of its operational output “looks more like targeting than it does classical intelligence”, he said. His views were echoed by the CIA’s former Acting Director, John McLaughlin, who told Wired that the most significant challenge for the post-Petraeus CIA “may be the sheer volume of problems that require [good old-fashioned] intelligence input”. Yesterday, meanwhile, saw the publication of two opinion pieces by two of America’s most experienced intelligence watchers. In the first one, The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus urges United States President Barack Obama to pause and think about the role of America’s foremost external intelligence organization before appointing a successor to General Petraeus. For over a decade, argues Pincus, the CIA’s focus has been to fulfill covert-action tasks in the context of Washington’s so-called “war on terrorism”. But through this process, the Agency “has become too much of a paramilitary organization” and has neglected its primary institutional role, which is to be “the premier producer and analyst of intelligence for policymakers, using both open and clandestine sources”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #756 (analysis edition)

Richard FaddenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Intel analysts taking over leading role in spy game. In a recent speech obtained by the Canadian press under Canada’s access-to-information laws, Richard Fadden, Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said that the role of the undercover operative is starting to take a back seat to the job of the behind-the-scenes intelligence analyst. Speaking at a conference of the Canadian Association of Professional Intelligence Analysts in November 2011, Fadden said that, “suddenly the ability to make sense of information is as valued a skill as collecting it”.
►►US intel doesn’t see Syrian regime cracking. Despite major defections and an increasingly tough and brutal resistance, intelligence officials in the United States say that Syria’s government is unlikely to fall anytime soon. A report from Reuters quotes members of the intelligence community who say that Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle is showing no signs of cracking, and without a wide international consensus to intervene militarily —a consensus that does not exist— the ongoing conflict has no end in sight. Officials also describe the war as a “see-saw” battle with rebel forces gaining strength and improving tactics, only to see the military escalate the size and intensity of it own response, with neither side maintaining a decisive edge.
►►Arrests of Iranians in Kenya spark fears of plot. The recent arrest of two Iranians in Kenya on suspicion of plotting bomb attacks has heightened fears that Tehran is widening its covert war against Israel and the United States, as Washington expands its secret intelligence operations across Africa. Kenya security authorities, aided by US and British agents, arrested the two Iranians June 20 in Nairobi, the West African country’s capital. The men reportedly led authorities to a cache of 33 pounds of military-grade explosive, believed to be RDX.