After a damning Daily Beast report and the launch of an inspector general investigation, Pentagon officials are hitting back on implications that intelligence reports on ISIS and al Qaeda threats were skewed to favor U.S. dominance.
According to published reports, the Defense Department IG is looking into whether high-level intelligence officials and even the president were presented with information on the ISIS threat that made it appear that the U.S. was in better control of the situation and that ISIS was weaker than they actually are. The Daily Beast reported that as many as 50 intelligence analysts at U.S. Central Command backed that claim, with two senior analysts filing a complaint that spurred the IG investigation, alleging that senior officials were cooking the reports.
But at least one senior-level intelligence official at DoD denies that intelligence analysis is being altered to support more favorable or otherwise controlled findings.
"We look at a vast amount of information to deliver an assessment to our decision-makers," said Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. "We take great pride in speaking truth to power…we don't serve a president, we serve the president, whoever that is. We deliver the truth wherever the data takes us."
Stewart, speaking Sept. 10 at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington, suggested that data and the resultant analysis isn't always cut-and-dry – something that could instead be subjective, a gray area up for interpretation and even dispute.
"It's not clean, it's not science. It is as much art and experience and judgment as anything else," Stewart said. "When you go through the process there can be some very rough-and-tumble debate. There are variations of views on what the data says. So you have this clash and tension among analysts about what the data really means."
Stewart declined to go into detail on the IG investigation specifically – and his co-panelists at the event, the heads of the other five major intelligence agencies, declined to comment at all. But Stewart did indicate that he, and likely his colleagues, will be keeping a close eye on what comes out of the official query.
"At some point, at the end of the day, you have to say, 'this is the best judgment of what the data says,' and present that to decision-makers," Stewart said. "The investigation will play itself out. We'll figure out if we did something wrong, and we will do better as a result of a very open investigation."