Revealed: Whistleblower who rebelled against doctored ISIS reports named
Gregory Hooker, the same analyst who a decade ago criticized plans for the 2003 Iraq invasion as being “amateurish and unrealistic,” was named by the New York Times as one of the originators of the July complaint against the US Central Command (CENTCOM). Filed by Hooker and another analyst, the complaint was endorsed by 50 of their colleagues, the Daily Beast revealed earlier this month.
CENTCOM employs some 1,500 intelligence analysts composed of civilian employees, members of the military, and contractors at the MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. The complaint accuses two senior intelligence officials at CENTCOM, Major General Steven Grove and his civilian deputy, Gregory Ryckman, of altering draft intelligence assessments on the offensive against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, according to the Times.
The man at the center of a revolt at CENTCOM over cooked ISIS intelligence, and the group of analysts he leads http://t.co/BDNLz4X6c3— Mark Mazzetti (@MarkMazzettiNYT) September 24, 2015
Current and former officials at CENTCOM who spoke to the paper had different takes on what might have prompted the alterations to the intelligence assessments. Some analysts suggested that CENTCOM leaders feared bad news might anger the White House, while others spoke of an institutional bias within the military.
One specific example given to the paper was that analysts were told to cite multiple sources to confirm bad news, while good news needed a much lower standard of verification. Senior officials sent emails cautioning against using certain pessimistic phrases, according to one official. In some cases, a report’s conclusions were completely altered.
Ultimately, the dispute is about whether the military is being honest about the political and religious situation in Iraq and whether a bombing campaign can change it, according to the Times.
“What are the strategic objectives here? There are none. This is just perpetual war,” said David Faulkner, the former targeting director at CENTCOM who worked with the dissident analysts.
A former head of the CENTCOM Joint Intelligence Center, retired Marine Colonel Stephen Robb, believes that the analysts might be on to something. “If they say there’s smoke, start looking for a firehouse,” he said.
While the Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating the complaint, staffers from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Armed Services Committee have already met with Hooker.
“We are initiating a process to gather information about this, and we are working closely with all the committees of jurisdiction to have a coordinated effort,” the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Devin Nunes, told Bloomberg.
Because signing onto a whistleblowing complaint can easily be a career-ending move, the analyst community is watching the investigation closely, David Shedd, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, wrote this week in a column for Defense One.
“Intelligence analysts exist to provide unbiased, unvarnished assessments to decision-makers. Those assessments must be free to go wherever facts and reason dictate, even if it means going against the grain of a particular political narrative,” Shedd wrote. “Any distortion in analysis has the potential to lead to flawed policy decisions and, in the long-term, to failed policies.”
The US-led coalition officially launched a campaign against the self-proclaimed Islamic State in September 2014, flying over 50,000 sorties and launching 6,700 airstrikes against the group, at the cost of $4 billion. Though US officials have insisted that the campaign was having an effect in “degrading” IS, the group has made gains in both Iraq and Syria since the beginning of the offensive.
Reportedly frustrated with the progress of the campaign, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL announced this week that he would retire in November. Officially, however, former Marine General John Allen cited concerns over his wife’s poor health.