Sources Detail Skewed Reports On How The U.S. Is Doing Against ISIS

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., (left) and Jack Reed, D-R.I., hear testimony on operations against ISIS from Gen. Lloyd Austin.i
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., (left) and Jack Reed, D-R.I., hear testimony on operations against ISIS from Gen. Lloyd Austin.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

NPR has new details on what investigators are discovering about Pentagon analysis of the battle against ISIS in Iraq.

The Pentagon is looking at whether senior military officials at U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, pressured intelligence analysts into painting a rosy picture of the fight against ISIS. The Defense Department’s inspector general is talking to a group of intelligence analysts who are providing evidence and details on how bias crept into their assessments.

One military source who witnessed the skewing of reports and told NPR he was “a victim of them” said that analysts at CENTCOM got the message as they began writing their assessments of events on the ground. If analysts wanted to include a piece of good news regarding the campaign against ISIS or the progress of Iraqi forces, they needed almost no sourcing. But if they wanted to include bad news — such as Iraqi forces retreating — analysts were required to cite three or four sources.

Two military sources familiar with the investigation say that, while they haven’t discovered a direct order to cherry-pick intelligence, it was something that evolved because of the way data were handled and produced.

“The bad news didn’t just need to be footnoted,” one military source, who did not want to be further identified because he is involved with the inquiry, told NPR. “The intelligence data itself had to be attached to the report. It became pretty clear if they wrote something bad, it was likely to be changed. Knowing that bad news on ISIS wasn’t welcome meant that, over time, the picture of the fight began being rosier.”

A military source described the evolution of one report that came out of CENTCOM’s intelligence shop. It was a dispatch on an ISIS attack in Iraq near the Syrian border. The initial CENTCOM report read, “Iraqi forces retreated.” It was sent back for reworking, the source said. Eventually that report came to read that the Iraqi forces had not retreated, but instead had reinforced another Iraqi position. The final draft suggested a strategic decision had been made. But that was not what happened, the source said — the Iraqi forces ran. A second source confirmed the account of the change in wording to put the Iraqi forces in a more positive light.

The head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Lloyd Austin, was on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He had been called to provide a progress report on the fight against ISIS. But he was obliged to address, although obliquely, the Pentagon investigation into CENTCOM first. “There is an ongoing DOD IG investigation looking into allegations concerning the processing of intelligence information by CENTCOM’s intelligence directorate,” Austin said in his opening remarks. “Because the allegations are currently under investigation … it would be premature and inappropriate for me to discuss this matter.”

All he would say was that the CENTCOM reports, contrary to what had been said in the media, did not go directly to the president, and CENTCOM drew its intelligence analysis from a variety of sources — 1,200 analysts, combat commanders on the ground, and other agencies. Even so, in his testimony, the general seemed to be painting an upbeat picture. “In recent months, Iraq’s security forces have experienced some setbacks, and this is to be expected in a fight as complex as this one,” said Austin. “But overall the Iraqis continue to make progress.”

Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, made clear he wasn’t swallowing Austin’s assessment. “I must say I have been on this committee for 30 years and I have never heard testimony like this,” McCain said. “Never.”

Just the week before his appearance, McCain told the general, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey, had testified that the fight against ISIS was tactically stalemated. “So obviously you and the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have a very different view of what the situation is,” McCain said.

SEPTEMBER 16, 2015 8:09 PM ET
Dina Temple- Raston

Find this story at 16 September 2015

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A Former CIA Official Apologizes to ‘Every American’ For Iraq Intelligence Failures

An intelligence assessment drafted by the CIA months prior to the March 2003 US invasion of Iraq asserting that Saddam Hussein harbored an active weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) cache has been thoroughly debunked time and again.

But even after the deaths of more than 4,000 US soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, CIA officials have never publicly taken responsibility for getting the pre-war intelligence so wrong.

Former CIA deputy director Michael Morell, however, now owns up to the disastrous “mistakes” the agency made on the Iraqi WMD failures.

The veteran intelligence official has written The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight against Terrorism from al Qa’ida to ISIS, which offers a behind-the-scenes look at numerous national security crises since 9/11. Morell writes in the book about the CIA’s Iraq intelligence failures, and he apologizes to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who told the United Nations Security Council on February 5, 2003 that Iraq had “biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more.” When WMDs weren’t located in Iraq after the US invasion, Powell’s credibility was destroyed.

Related: CIA Report Says No Evidence Saudi Arabia ‘Willingly Supported’ al Qaeda Leading up to 9/11

“Let me tell you why I [apologized to] Colin Powell,” Morell told VICE News before a recent appearance at the Richard Nixon Library to promote his book. “Here’s a guy who had a stellar reputation… and quite frankly that reputation was tarnished when he went before the UN and laid out the case. That case turns out to be wrong. Almost every part of it turns out to be wrong. I knew he had said to folks over the years, ‘You know, nobody from the agency has ever apologized to me.’ And so that’s why I wanted to apologize to him…. The apology applies to every single American.”

Morell was somewhat defensive when asked to discuss why CIA analysts were unable to determine that Iraq had abandoned its weapons program in the 1990s. He compared the analysts to “weather forecasters.”

“This is a very difficult business,” he said. “I don’t know a harder job in the world than trying to get an understanding of what’s the status of the Iran nuclear program. Or, what’s the status of North Korea’s long-range missile system. Or, where does Chinese military modernization stand. Or, what are the plans, intentions, and capabilities of al Qaeda in Yemen.”

Watch the VICE News interview with Michael Morell

Ultimately, Morell said the main reason “we were not able to come up with the right answer is that we didn’t do our fundamental job of penetrating [Saddam Hussein’s] inner circle with a human asset. So there was no information to give to the analyst to say, ‘Here’s what this guy is up to.’ This was our failure, and quite frankly a national security failure, to get inside of Saddam’s inner circle to tell us exactly what he was up to with regards to weapons of mass destruction.”

While Morell leaves no doubt that the CIA failed on Iraq, he mounts a full-throated defense when discussing the agency’s so-called enhanced interrogation program, which he “doesn’t like calling torture, because to call it torture says my guys were torturers, and they were told that they weren’t.”

“I have no doubt after spending months looking at this that [the program] was effective,” Morell said. “I’ve seen the intelligence that these guys provided before enhanced interrogation techniques. It was not full answers to questions, it was not specific information, it was not actionable. After enhanced interrogation techniques, full answers to questions, specific information, actionable information. There’s no doubt in my mind it was effective.”

His analysis is at odds with the damning findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which last December released a declassified executive summary of its mammoth report on the CIA’s torture program, an investigation that took five years to complete, cost $40 million, and led to chilled relations between the CIA and the committee.

In fact, the harshest critique in Morell’s book is aimed directly at Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, including the panel’s former chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein, who led the oversight effort into the detention and interrogation program and said what committee staffers discovered in millions of pages of CIA documents clearly rose to the level of torture. He declined to respond to some of the more brutal findings in the Senate report, such as subjecting a handful of detainees to “rectal feeding” and whether that amounted to torture.

So how did the Senate get it wrong if it perused the CIA’s own highly classified documents to reach its conclusions?

“One of the things I learned as an intelligence analyst very early on is it’s very dangerous to speculate,” Morell said. “When you speculate, you get things wrong a lot more then you get right. But I’ll speculate for you with that caveat. Senator Feinstein made it very clear to everyone who would talk to her about this, that she wanted the report to be the nail in the coffin of the country ever doing anything like this again. Well, when you’re on her staff and you hear that day after day after day, and your job is to put this report together, it takes you in a certain direction.”

“Republican leaders in the House and the Senate [approved] this program back in 2002, 2003, 2004. And not only approved the program but encouraged us to go further — they thought we were risk-averse when we stopped the program for a period of time…. So what’s the only way that the [Senate] can get themselves out of this discussion? To say that the CIA lied to them at the time about what we were doing and about the effectiveness of the program. That’s the only way to get themselves off the hook. I can’t prove any of that. I’m speculating.”

VICE News tried numerous times to obtain a comment from Feinstein, but her office failed to respond to our queries.

However, a day before Morell’s book went on sale, Feinstein took the unprecedented step of issuing a press release attacking Morell’s contradictory claims about the torture program and said he did not even bother to read the full 6,700-page report. Feinstein’s office then issued a 54-page point-by-point rebuttal to all of the assertions Morell made in his book about the efficacy of the program.

Morell, who now works for a private security firm founded by former aides to Hillary Clinton, told VICE News that the US is engaged in an “intelligence war.”

“In this new era of terrorism, the enemy is very hard to find, but very easy to kill,” he said. “The finding, which is the hard part, is all about intelligence. So this is an intelligence war…. You cannot capture and kill your way out of this. The other problem that you have to deal with is how do you stop the creation of new terrorists? How do you deal with the radicalization problem of young men and young women around the globe? That’s something that we have not done well as a country or as a coalition of countries… and it’s not going to go away until we get our arms around that.”

An earlier version of this report incorrectly said the CIA’s pre-war Iraq intelligence concluded that Saddam Hussein colluded with Al Qaeda. The story has been updated.

By Jason Leopold
June 25, 2015 | 7:35 pm

Find this story at 25 June 2015

Copyright https://news.vice.com/

Military Analyst Again Raises Red Flags on Progress in Iraq

WASHINGTON — As the war in Iraq deteriorated, a senior American intelligence analyst went public in 2005 and criticized President George W. Bush’s administration for pushing “amateurish and unrealistic” plans for the invasion two years before.

Now that same man, Gregory Hooker, is at the center of an insurrection of United States Central Command intelligence analysts over America’s latest war in Iraq, and whether Congress, policy makers and the public are being given too rosy a picture of the situation.

As the senior Iraq analyst at Central Command, the military headquarters in Tampa that oversees American military operations across the Middle East and Central Asia, Mr. Hooker is the leader of a group of analysts that is accusing senior commanders of changing intelligence reports to paint an overly optimistic portrait of the American bombing campaign against the Islamic State. The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating.

Although the investigation became public weeks ago, the source of the allegations and Mr. Hooker’s role have not been previously known. Interviews with more than a dozen current and former intelligence officials place the dispute directly at the heart of Central Command, with Mr. Hooker and his team in a fight over what Americans should believe about the war.

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Gregory Hooker is critical of reports on the ISIS fight.
Mr. Hooker, who declined to comment, has been an Iraq analyst for more than two decades. Some on his team were at Central Command, or Centcom, when American troops poured into Iraq in 2003. The analysts remained focused on the country long after President Obama officially ended the war in 2011.

“This core group of Iraq analysts have been doing this for a long time,” said Stephen Robb, a retired Marine colonel and a former head of the Centcom Joint Intelligence Center. “If they say there’s smoke, start looking for a firehouse.”

The investigation has repercussions beyond the question of whether the American-led bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria is succeeding. The allegations call into question how much the president — this one or the next — can rely on Centcom for honest assessments of military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and other crisis spots.

In some ways, the Iraq team’s criticism mirrors the disputes of a decade ago, when Mr. Hooker wrote a research paper saying the Bush administration, over many analysts’ objections, advocated a small force in Iraq and spent little time thinking about what would follow the invasion.

That dispute was separate from the battle over flawed intelligence assessments by the C.I.A. and other spy agencies that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Central Command did not contribute significantly to those assessments.

Several current and former officials said that it was the two most senior intelligence officers at Centcom — Maj. Gen. Steven Grove and his civilian deputy, Gregory Ryckman — who drew analysts’ ire with changes in draft intelligence assessments. But why the assessments were changed remains an open question. Some analysts suggested that leaders in Tampa feared that reporting bad news might anger the White House. Others described an institutional bias that makes it hard for the military to criticize its own operations.

Continue reading the main story

Graphic: Where ISIS Has Directed and Inspired Attacks Around the World
Centcom’s leader, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, was chosen for the job in part because the White House regarded him as a steady, cautious loyalist who would execute military operations in the Middle East with little drama — an especially important consideration after the contentious relationship between the White House and Gen. James Mattis, the previous Centcom commander. General Austin gave testimony last week to the Senate Armed Services Committee that was roundly criticized by some lawmakers as being an overly positive assessment of the war’s progress.

Centcom’s mammoth intelligence operation, with some 1,500 civilian, military and contract analysts, is housed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, in a bay front building that has the look of a sterile government facility posing as a Spanish hacienda. In banks of plain cubicles, the analysts try each day to measure the progress of war.

That effort has long been difficult, particularly in campaigns without traditional armies and clear battle lines. During the war in Vietnam, generals were criticized for measuring success in body counts. In the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, the military issues daily reports that suggest tactical victories but offer little hint about how the war is going.

“One airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL cache, three ISIL fighting positions and one ISIL motorcycle,” a report this month said. “Near Ramadi, one airstrike destroyed an ISIL vehicle.”

Brian Hale, a spokesman for the director of national intelligence, played down the significance of Centcom’s conclusions in shaping the thinking of senior policy makers, including Mr. Obama, about the war. In a statement on Wednesday he said that Centcom and other military commanders do not provide “broad or strategic assessments.”

The success of daily airstrikes, experts say, can give the illusion of progress, particularly for Centcom commanders who are judged in Washington on their ability to carry out a successful mission. Iraq analysts, officials said, are less optimistic.

Continue reading the main story
Obama’s Evolution on ISIS
Some of President Obama’s statements about the American strategy to confront ISIS and its effectiveness.

“You can get pulled into watching the laser dot on a target and watching it blow up,” said Kevin Benson, a retired Army colonel who teaches intelligence analysis to officers at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. “After that, it can be hard to hear that you’re not making progress, because you saw it.”

Analysts like Mr. Hooker and his team are supposed to be immune from such pressure because they are employed by the Defense Intelligence Agency. In practice, though, the analysts are reviewed by officials at Centcom.

Although critics have suggested that the bombing campaign’s stalemate proves the need for more troops in Iraq, colleagues say Mr. Hooker’s team is not advocating that approach. “I don’t know anyone outside of a political commercial who thinks we need to send large numbers of troops into Iraq,” said one intelligence official who has worked closely with the Centcom analysts.

Instead, analysts say the dispute centers on whether the military is being honest about the political and religious situation in Iraq and whether a bombing campaign can change it.

“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 alongside the Iraq analysts. “People say: ‘Oh, you’re military. You like that.’ No, we don’t.”

Current and ex-officials said tension about how to portray the war’s progress began almost at the start of the campaign last summer, when Mr. Obama authorized strikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and later expanded the bombings to Syria.

Continue reading the main story

Graphic: How ISIS Expands
Early this year, one former official said, Mr. Hooker’s team concluded that, despite public statements to the contrary, airstrikes against Islamic State-held refineries had not significantly weakened its finances because it had built makeshift refineries to sell oil on the black market. But the finding was not distributed outside Centcom, the ex-official said.

Over this past year, analysts felt pressure to keep their assessments positive. In order to report bad news, current and former officials said, the analysts were required to cite multiple sources. Reporting positive news required fewer hurdles. Senior officials sent emails cautioning against using pessimistic phrases that they said were more likely to get attention, according to one former official. In some instances, officials said, conclusions were completely changed.

Anger among analysts grew so intense that in the spring, Mr. Hooker’s civilian boss, William Rizzio, confronted his superiors about the problems. Mr. Rizzio, a retired Marine colonel who had gradually come to take the side of the analysts in the dispute, had meetings with General Grove and Mr. Ryckman. It is unclear what transpired in the meetings, but three people with knowledge of the situation, who, like some others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter is part of the inspector general’s investigation, said the result was that Mr. Rizzio was punished for siding with the analysts. He was temporarily reassigned, and analysts were left wondering what happened to him after his name was scraped off the front of his office at Centcom’s Joint Intelligence Center.

Mr. Rizzio, who has since returned to his position, declined to be interviewed.

His concerns gained a more sympathetic hearing several months later, when officials began speaking to the Pentagon’s inspector general, who opened his investigation in July. Officials would not say if Mr. Hooker was the first analyst to do so.

The inspector general’s investigation turned a quiet matter into one of the most high-profile intelligence disputes since officials issued new rules that encourage dissenting views. Those rules were intended to prevent a repeat of the debacle over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The investigation has put this team of analysts, who for years worked in relative obscurity, at the center of a dispute that has the attention of intelligence officials across the government.

“Signing onto a whistle-blowing complaint can easily be a career-ender,” David Shedd, a former acting head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, wrote in a column this week on Defense One, a national security news website. “The nation’s analytic professionals are watching closely to see how it is handled.”

Correction: September 24, 2015
An earlier version of this article misstated the year that President Obama officially ended the Iraq war. It was 2011, not 2009.
Kitty Bennett contributed research.

By MARK MAZZETTI and MATT APUZZOSEPT. 23, 2015

A version of this article appears in print on September 24, 2015, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Military Analyst Again Raises Red Flags on Progress in Iraq. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe

Find this story at 23 September 2015

© 2015 The New York Times Company

Inquiry Weighs Whether ISIS Analysis Was Distorted

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating allegations that military officials have skewed intelligence assessments about the United States-led campaign in Iraq against the Islamic State to provide a more optimistic account of progress, according to several officials familiar with the inquiry.

The investigation began after at least one civilian Defense Intelligence Agency analyst told the authorities that he had evidence that officials at United States Central Command — the military headquarters overseeing the American bombing campaign and other efforts against the Islamic State — were improperly reworking the conclusions of intelligence assessments prepared for policy makers, including President Obama, the government officials said.

Fuller details of the claims were not available, including when the assessments were said to have been altered and who at Central Command, or Centcom, the analyst said was responsible. The officials, speaking only on the condition of anonymity about classified matters, said that the recently opened investigation focused on whether military officials had changed the conclusions of draft intelligence assessments during a review process and then passed them on.

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Iraqi Army recruits in Taji in April with U.S. Army trainers. About 3,400 American troops are advising Iraqi forces. Credit John Moore/Getty Images
The prospect of skewed intelligence raises new questions about the direction of the government’s war with the Islamic State, and could help explain why pronouncements about the progress of the campaign have varied widely.

Legitimate differences of opinion are common and encouraged among national security officials, so the inspector general’s investigation is an unusual move and suggests that the allegations go beyond typical intelligence disputes. Government rules state that intelligence assessments “must not be distorted” by agency agendas or policy views. Analysts are required to cite the sources that back up their conclusions and to acknowledge differing viewpoints.

Under federal law, intelligence officials can bring claims of wrongdoing to the intelligence community’s inspector general, a position created in 2011. If officials find the claims credible, they are required to advise the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. That occurred in the past several weeks, the officials said, and the Pentagon’s inspector general decided to open an investigation into the matter.

Spokeswomen for both inspectors general declined to comment for this article. The Defense Intelligence Agency and the White House also declined to comment.

Col. Patrick Ryder, a Centcom spokesman, said he could not comment on a continuing inspector general investigation but said “the I.G. has a responsibility to investigate all allegations made, and we welcome and support their independent oversight.”

Numerous agencies produce intelligence assessments related to the Iraq war, including the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and others. Colonel Ryder said it was customary for them to make suggestions on one another’s drafts. But he said each agency had the final say on whether to incorporate those suggestions. “Further, the multisource nature of our assessment process purposely guards against any single report or opinion unduly influencing leaders and decision makers,” he said.

It is not clear how that review process changes when Defense Intelligence Agency analysts are assigned to work at Centcom — which has headquarters both in Tampa, Fla., and Qatar — as was the case of at least one of the analysts who have spoken to the inspector general. In the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Pentagon has relocated more Defense Intelligence Agency analysts from the agency’s Washington headquarters to military commands around the globe, so they can work more closely with the generals and admirals in charge of the military campaigns.

Mr. Obama last summer authorized a bombing campaign against the Islamic State, and approximately 3,400 American troops are currently in Iraq advising and training Iraqi forces. The White House has been reluctant, though, to recommit large numbers of ground troops to Iraq after announcing an “end” to the Iraq war in 2009.

The bombing campaign over the past year has had some success in allowing Iraqi forces to reclaim parts of the country formerly under the group’s control, but important cities like Mosul and Ramadi remain under Islamic State’s control. There has been very little progress in wresting the group’s hold over large parts of Syria, where the United States has done limited bombing.

Some senior American officials in recent weeks have provided largely positive public assessments about the progress of the military campaign against the Islamic State, a Sunni terrorist organization that began as an offshoot of Al Qaeda but has since severed ties and claimed governance of a huge stretch of land across Iraq and Syria. The group is also called ISIS or ISIL.

Continue reading the main story
Obama’s Evolution on ISIS
Some of President Obama’s statements about the American strategy to confront ISIS and its effectiveness.

In late July, retired Gen. John Allen — who is Mr. Obama’s top envoy working with other nations to fight the Islamic State — told the Aspen Security Forum that the terror group’s momentum had been “checked strategically, operationally, and by and large, tactically.”

“ISIS is losing,” he said, even as he acknowledged that the campaign faced numerous challenges — from blunting the Islamic State’s message to improving the quality of Iraqi forces.

During a news briefing last week, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter was more measured. He called the war “difficult” and said “it’s going to take some time.” But, he added, “I’m confident that we will succeed in defeating ISIL and that we have the right strategy.”

But recent intelligence assessments, including some by Defense Intelligence Agency, paint a sober picture about how little the Islamic State has been weakened over the past year, according to officials with access to the classified assessments. They said the documents conclude that the yearlong campaign has done little to diminish the ranks of the Islamic State’s committed fighters, and that the group over the last year has expanded its reach into North Africa and Central Asia.

Critics of the Obama administration’s strategy have argued that a bombing campaign alone — without a significant infusion of American ground troops — is unlikely to ever significantly weaken the terror group. But it is not clear whether Defense Intelligence Agency analysts concluded that more American troops would make an appreciable difference.

In testimony on Capitol Hill this year, Lt. Gen. Vincent R. Stewart, the agency’s director, said sending ground troops back into Iraq risked transforming the conflict into one between the West and ISIS, which would be “the best propaganda victory that we could give.”

“It’s both expected and helpful if there are dissenting viewpoints about conflicts in foreign countries,” said Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of a forthcoming book, “Red Team,” that includes an examination of alternative analysis within American intelligence agencies. What is problematic, he said, “is when a dissenting opinion is not given to policy makers.”

The Defense Intelligence Agency was created in 1961, in part to avoid what Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense at the time, called “service bias.” During the 1950s, the United States grossly overestimated the size of the Soviet missile arsenal, a miscalculation that was fueled in part by the Air Force, which wanted more money for its own missile systems.

During the Vietnam War, the Defense Intelligence Agency repeatedly warned that even a sustained military campaign was unlikely to defeat the North Vietnamese forces. But according to an internal history of the agency, its conclusions were repeatedly overruled by commanders who were certain that the United States was winning, and that victory was just a matter of applying more force.

“There’s a built-in tension for the people who work at D.I.A., between dispassionate analysis and what command wants,” said Paul R. Pillar, a retired senior Central Intelligence Agency analyst who years ago accused the Bush administration of distorting intelligence assessments about Iraq’s weapons programs before the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003.

“You’re part of a large structure that does have a vested interest in portraying the overall mission as going well,” he said.

By MARK MAZZETTI and MATT APUZZOAUG. 25, 2015
A version of this article appears in print on August 26, 2015, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Inquiry Weighs If ISIS Analysis Was Distorted . Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe

Find this story at 25 August 2015

© 2015 The New York Times Company

Pentagon report predicted West’s support for Islamist rebels would create ISIS

Anti-ISIS coalition knowingly sponsored violent extremists to ‘isolate’ Assad, rollback ‘Shia expansion’

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A declassified secret US government document obtained by the conservative public interest law firm, Judicial Watch, shows that Western governments deliberately allied with al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups to topple Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad.

The document reveals that in coordination with the Gulf states and Turkey, the West intentionally sponsored violent Islamist groups to destabilize Assad, and that these “supporting powers” desired the emergence of a “Salafist Principality” in Syria to “isolate the Syrian regime.”

According to the newly declassified US document, the Pentagon foresaw the likely rise of the ‘Islamic State’ as a direct consequence of this strategy, and warned that it could destabilize Iraq. Despite anticipating that Western, Gulf state and Turkish support for the “Syrian opposition” — which included al-Qaeda in Iraq — could lead to the emergence of an ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the document provides no indication of any decision to reverse the policy of support to the Syrian rebels. On the contrary, the emergence of an al-Qaeda affiliated “Salafist Principality” as a result is described as a strategic opportunity to isolate Assad.

Hypocrisy

The revelations contradict the official line of Western governments on their policies in Syria, and raise disturbing questions about secret Western support for violent extremists abroad, while using the burgeoning threat of terror to justify excessive mass surveillance and crackdowns on civil liberties at home.

Among the batch of documents obtained by Judicial Watch through a federal lawsuit, released earlier this week, is a US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) document then classified as “secret,” dated 12th August 2012.

The DIA provides military intelligence in support of planners, policymakers and operations for the US Department of Defense and intelligence community.

So far, media reporting has focused on the evidence that the Obama administration knew of arms supplies from a Libyan terrorist stronghold to rebels in Syria.

Some outlets have reported the US intelligence community’s internal prediction of the rise of ISIS. Yet none have accurately acknowledged the disturbing details exposing how the West knowingly fostered a sectarian, al-Qaeda-driven rebellion in Syria.

Charles Shoebridge, a former British Army and Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism intelligence officer, said:

“Given the political leanings of the organisation that obtained these documents, it’s unsurprising that the main emphasis given to them thus far has been an attempt to embarrass Hilary Clinton regarding what was known about the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012. However, the documents also contain far less publicized revelations that raise vitally important questions of the West’s governments and media in their support of Syria’s rebellion.”

The West’s Islamists

The newly declassified DIA document from 2012 confirms that the main component of the anti-Assad rebel forces by this time comprised Islamist insurgents affiliated to groups that would lead to the emergence of ISIS. Despite this, these groups were to continue receiving support from Western militaries and their regional allies.

Noting that “the Salafist [sic], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria,” the document states that “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey support the opposition,” while Russia, China and Iran “support the [Assad] regime.”

The 7-page DIA document states that al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the precursor to the ‘Islamic State in Iraq,’ (ISI) which became the ‘Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,’ “supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning, both ideologically and through the media.”

The formerly secret Pentagon report notes that the “rise of the insurgency in Syria” has increasingly taken a “sectarian direction,” attracting diverse support from Sunni “religious and tribal powers” across the region.

In a section titled ‘The Future Assumptions of the Crisis,’ the DIA report predicts that while Assad’s regime will survive, retaining control over Syrian territory, the crisis will continue to escalate “into proxy war.”

The document also recommends the creation of “safe havens under international sheltering, similar to what transpired in Libya when Benghazi was chosen as the command centre for the temporary government.”

In Libya, anti-Gaddafi rebels, most of whom were al-Qaeda affiliated militias, were protected by NATO ‘safe havens’ (aka ‘no fly zones’).

‘Supporting powers want’ ISIS entity

In a strikingly prescient prediction, the Pentagon document explicitly forecasts the probable declaration of “an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria.”

Nevertheless, “Western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey are supporting these efforts” by Syrian “opposition forces” fighting to “control the eastern areas (Hasaka and Der Zor), adjacent to Western Iraqi provinces (Mosul and Anbar)”:

“… there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).”
The secret Pentagon document thus provides extraordinary confirmation that the US-led coalition currently fighting ISIS, had three years ago welcomed the emergence of an extremist “Salafist Principality” in the region as a way to undermine Assad, and block off the strategic expansion of Iran. Crucially, Iraq is labeled as an integral part of this “Shia expansion.”

The establishment of such a “Salafist Principality” in eastern Syria, the DIA document asserts, is “exactly” what the “supporting powers to the [Syrian] opposition want.” Earlier on, the document repeatedly describes those “supporting powers” as “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey.”

Further on, the document reveals that Pentagon analysts were acutely aware of the dire risks of this strategy, yet ploughed ahead anyway.

The establishment of such a “Salafist Principality” in eastern Syria, it says, would create “the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi.” Last summer, ISIS conquered Mosul in Iraq, and just this month has also taken control of Ramadi.

Such a quasi-state entity will provide:

“… a renewed momentum under the presumption of unifying the jihad among Sunni Iraq and Syria, and the rest of the Sunnis in the Arab world against what it considers one enemy. ISI could also declare an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria, which will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of territory.”
The 2012 DIA document is an Intelligence Information Report (IIR), not a “finally evaluated intelligence” assessment, but its contents are vetted before distribution. The report was circulated throughout the US intelligence community, including to the State Department, Central Command, the Department of Homeland Security, the CIA, FBI, among other agencies.

In response to my questions about the strategy, the British government simply denied the Pentagon report’s startling revelations of deliberate Western sponsorship of violent extremists in Syria. A British Foreign Office spokesperson said:

“AQ and ISIL are proscribed terrorist organisations. The UK opposes all forms of terrorism. AQ, ISIL, and their affiliates pose a direct threat to the UK’s national security. We are part of a military and political coalition to defeat ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and are working with international partners to counter the threat from AQ and other terrorist groups in that region. In Syria we have always supported those moderate opposition groups who oppose the tyranny of Assad and the brutality of the extremists.”
The DIA did not respond to request for comment.

Strategic asset for regime-change

Security analyst Shoebridge, however, who has tracked Western support for Islamist terrorists in Syria since the beginning of the war, pointed out that the secret Pentagon intelligence report exposes fatal contradictions at the heart of official pronunciations:

“Throughout the early years of the Syria crisis, the US and UK governments, and almost universally the West’s mainstream media, promoted Syria’s rebels as moderate, liberal, secular, democratic, and therefore deserving of the West’s support. Given that these documents wholly undermine this assessment, it’s significant that the West’s media has now, despite their immense significance, almost entirely ignored them.”
According to Brad Hoff, a former US Marine who served during the early years of the Iraq War and as a 9/11 first responder at the Marine Corps Headquarters Battalion in Quantico from 2000 to 2004, the just released Pentagon report for the first time provides stunning affirmation that:

“US intelligence predicted the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), but instead of clearly delineating the group as an enemy, the report envisions the terror group as a US strategic asset.”
Hoff, who is managing editor of Levant Report — an online publication run by Texas-based educators who have direct experience of the Middle East — points out that the DIA document “matter-of-factly” states that the rise of such an extremist Salafist political entity in the region offers a “tool for regime change in Syria.”

The DIA intelligence report shows, he said, that the rise of ISIS only became possible in the context of the Syrian insurgency — “there is no mention of US troop withdrawal from Iraq as a catalyst for Islamic State’s rise, which is the contention of innumerable politicians and pundits.” The report demonstrates that:

“The establishment of a ‘Salafist Principality’ in Eastern Syria is ‘exactly’ what the external powers supporting the opposition want (identified as ‘the West, Gulf Countries, and Turkey’) in order to weaken the Assad government.”
The rise of a Salafist quasi-state entity that might expand into Iraq, and fracture that country, was therefore clearly foreseen by US intelligence as likely — but nevertheless strategically useful — blowback from the West’s commitment to “isolating Syria.”

Complicity

Critics of the US-led strategy in the region have repeatedly raised questions about the role of coalition allies in intentionally providing extensive support to Islamist terrorist groups in the drive to destabilize the Assad regime in Syria.

The conventional wisdom is that the US government did not retain sufficient oversight on the funding to anti-Assad rebel groups, which was supposed to be monitored and vetted to ensure that only ‘moderate’ groups were supported.

However, the newly declassified Pentagon report proves unambiguously that years before ISIS launched its concerted offensive against Iraq, the US intelligence community was fully aware that Islamist militants constituted the core of Syria’s sectarian insurgency.

Despite that, the Pentagon continued to support the Islamist insurgency, even while anticipating the probability that doing so would establish an extremist Salafi stronghold in Syria and Iraq.

As Shoebridge told me, “The documents show that not only did the US government at the latest by August 2012 know the true extremist nature and likely outcome of Syria’s rebellion” — namely, the emergence of ISIS — “but that this was considered an advantage for US foreign policy. This also suggests a decision to spend years in an effort to deliberately mislead the West’s public, via a compliant media, into believing that Syria’s rebellion was overwhelmingly ‘moderate.’”

Annie Machon, a former MI5 intelligence officer who blew the whistle in the 1990s on MI6 funding of al-Qaeda to assassinate Libya’s former leader Colonel Gaddafi, similarly said of the revelations:

“This is no surprise to me. Within individual countries there are always multiple intelligence agencies with competing agendas.”
She explained that MI6’s Libya operation in 1996, which resulted in the deaths of innocent people, “happened at precisely the time when MI5 was setting up a new section to investigate al-Qaeda.”

This strategy was repeated on a grand scale in the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya, said Machon, where the CIA and MI6 were:

“… supporting the very same Libyan groups, resulting in a failed state, mass murder, displacement and anarchy. So the idea that elements of the American military-security complex have enabled the development of ISIS after their failed attempt to get NATO to once again ‘intervene’ is part of an established pattern. And they remain indifferent to the sheer scale of human suffering that is unleashed as a result of such game-playing.”

Divide and rule

Several US government officials have conceded that their closest allies in the anti-ISIS coalition were funding violent extremist Islamist groups that became integral to ISIS.

US Vice President Joe Biden, for instance, admitted last year that Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Turkey had funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to Islamist rebels in Syria that metamorphosed into ISIS.

But he did not admit what this internal Pentagon document demonstrates — that the entire covert strategy was sanctioned and supervised by the US, Britain, France, Israel and other Western powers.

The strategy appears to fit a policy scenario identified by a recent US Army-commissioned RAND Corp report.

The report, published four years before the DIA document, called for the US “to capitalise on the Shia-Sunni conflict by taking the side of the conservative Sunni regimes in a decisive fashion and working with them against all Shiite empowerment movements in the Muslim world.”

The US would need to contain “Iranian power and influence” in the Gulf by “shoring up the traditional Sunni regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan.” Simultaneously, the US must maintain “a strong strategic relationship with the Iraqi Shiite government” despite its Iran alliance.

The RAND report confirmed that the “divide and rule” strategy was already being deployed “to create divisions in the jihadist camp. Today in Iraq such a strategy is being used at the tactical level.”

The report observed that the US was forming “temporary alliances” with al-Qaeda affiliated “nationalist insurgent groups” that have fought the US for four years in the form of “weapons and cash.” Although these nationalists “have cooperated with al-Qaeda against US forces,” they are now being supported to exploit “the common threat that al-Qaeda now poses to both parties.”

The 2012 DIA document, however, further shows that while sponsoring purportedly former al-Qaeda insurgents in Iraq to counter al-Qaeda, Western governments were simultaneously arming al-Qaeda insurgents in Syria.

The revelation from an internal US intelligence document that the very US-led coalition supposedly fighting ‘Islamic State’ today, knowingly created ISIS in the first place, raises troubling questions about recent government efforts to justify the expansion of state anti-terror powers.

In the wake of the rise of ISIS, intrusive new measures to combat extremism including mass surveillance, the Orwellian ‘prevent duty’ and even plans to enable government censorship of broadcasters, are being pursued on both sides of the Atlantic, much of which disproportionately targets activists, journalists and ethnic minorities, especially Muslims.

Yet the new Pentagon report reveals that, contrary to Western government claims, the primary cause of the threat comes from their own deeply misguided policies of secretly sponsoring Islamist terrorism for dubious geopolitical purposes.

by Nafeez Ahmed
22 May 2015

Find this story at 22 May 2015

Copyright https://medium.com/

Point by Point Analysis of Declassified DIA Docs re Western-Backed Syrian Insurgency

Here, I wrote that these documents “may” say the US/West wanted/want a Salafist Principality in Eastern Syria, because the declassified docs 1) say “Salafist, Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria”; 2) in the next sentence, the doc defines the “The West, Gulf Countries, and Turkey” as the countries that “support the opposition”; 3) they later say the “opposition forces are trying to control the Eastern areas”, where Syria borders Iraq, and, specifically of this control of Eastern areas, say the “Western Countries, the Gulf States, and Turkey are supporting these efforts”. 4) In a section about “effects on Iraq” the docs say that “there is a possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in Eastern Syria…”, then say “this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).”

However, while the document begins by stating that “The West, Gulf Countries, and Turkey support the opposition”, the document, as noted, also defines other groups, which could be considered “powers”, as either components of or supporters of the opposition: Salafists, Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI. The report states: “AQI supported the opposition from the beginning…”

While the FSA is defined as “opposition”, Salafists, Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI are initially described as “the major forces driving the insurgency”, not as “the opposition”. It could be that the document means that the FSA is “the opposition” and the West, its allies, and the Islamic groups are simply all supporting them, but with different individual goals. However, AQI is also directly described as “opposition” to Assad: “AQI declared its opposition of Assad’s government because it considered it a sectarian regime targeting Sunnis.”

In the section that says “there is a possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in Eastern Syria…”, then that “this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want”, this section of the doc defines the opposition forces controlling the Iraq/Syria border as “Syrian Free Army”, the FSA, and says the FSA will try to take “advantage of the sympathy of the Iraqi border population”.

It then says that “If the situation [likely meaning FSA control of the border] unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in Eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).” (The US obviously opposes Iranian expansion and sides with the Sunnis, but the last part of this sentence, as it is framed in terms of Shia expansion, may suggest that here the “supporting powers to the opposition” may be referring not the sentence stating “The West, Gulf Countries, and Turkey support the opposition”, but to earlier sentences stating “AQI supported the opposition from the beginning…” and “AQI declared its opposition of Assad’s government because it considered it a sectarian regime targeting Sunnis.”

Thus, perhaps this is simply unclear writing, or too much is censored, and what this really means is that while both AQI and “The West, Gulf Countries, and Turkey” support the “opposition” (and AQI also comprises the opposition), only the AQI part of that support for the opposition would want a “Salafist Principality” to be established. This is clearly stated regarding the effect on Iraq. However, the US/West do strongly support existing Salafist Principalities, as noted above, including the most ideologically expansionist one, Saudi Arabia. Thus, supporting a Salafist Principality, and annexation of territory (Israel, Cuba, Diego Garcia, etc.), is something the US already does currently. International relations scholar Dr. Nafeez Ahmed notes that a RAND corp report previously advised the US “to capitalise on the Shia-Sunni conflict by taking the side of the conservative Sunni regimes in a decisive fashion and working with them against all Shiite empowerment movements in the Muslim world.”)

The doc says the above-noted “deterioration”, likely referring to the ‘unravels’ term above, “has dire consequences on the Iraq situation.” It continues that this “deterioration” would give more momentum to terrorist groups and could allow them to declare an “Islamic state”, “which will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of its territory.” (A study out of British universities noted that US government/media did not report on ISIS publicly until it began to seize oil fields. Then, the study shows, the US sent drones to try to stop ISIS.)

The last uncensored sentence of the doc says that the third consequence of the “deterioration of the situation” (‘the situation’ likely meaning the FSA control of the border region) would be terrorist elements from all over the Arab world “entering into Iraqi arena.”

The rest of the document is censored, as are some sections before this.

Overall, what we can see in the document clearly states that a Salafist Principality is not desired by the West in terms of the Iraqi situation, but may or may not suggest that this principality is desired in terms of isolating Assad, which is a stated goal of the West and its allies (not just isolating, but removing). However, it is also a goal of AQI and its allies, which are defined both as supporting “the opposition” and having “declared its opposition of Assad’s government”. While this group and its affiliates could be viewed as a strategic asset for isolating Assad, they could also be viewed as a third party outside the wider global contest between West and East, which is opposed to either. However, a group in Syria opposed to both sides could be seen as preferable to having a group allied with the East and opposed to the West.

International security scholar Dr. Nafeez Ahmed analyzes these documents and concludes the US practices a policy of “sponsoring Islamist terrorism for dubious geopolitical purposes.”

“According to the newly declassified US document, the Pentagon foresaw the likely rise of the ‘Islamic State’ as a direct consequence of this strategy, and warned that it could destabilize Iraq. Despite anticipating that Western, Gulf state and Turkish support for the “Syrian opposition” — which included al-Qaeda in Iraq — could lead to the emergence of an ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the document provides no indication of any decision to reverse the policy of support to the Syrian rebels. On the contrary, the emergence of an al-Qaeda affiliated “Salafist Principality” as a result is described as a strategic opportunity to isolate Assad.”

“The secret Pentagon document thus provides extraordinary confirmation that the US-led coalition currently fighting ISIS, had three years ago welcomed the emergence of an extremist “Salafist Principality” in the region as a way to undermine Assad, and block off the strategic expansion of Iran.”

“The establishment of such a “Salafist Principality” in eastern Syria, the DIA document asserts, is “exactly” what the “supporting powers to the [Syrian] opposition want.” Earlier on, the document repeatedly describes those “supporting powers” as “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey.”

Charles Shoebridge, a former British Army and Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism intelligence officer, said (noted by Ahmed) that the documents “raise vitally important questions of the West’s governments and media in their support of Syria’s rebellion.”

“Throughout the early years of the Syria crisis, the US and UK governments, and almost universally the West’s mainstream media, promoted Syria’s rebels as moderate, liberal, secular, democratic, and therefore deserving of the West’s support. Given that these documents wholly undermine this assessment, it’s significant that the West’s media has now, despite their immense significance, almost entirely ignored them.”

Ahmed quotes a former US Marine: ““US intelligence predicted the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), but instead of clearly delineating the group as an enemy, the report envisions the terror group as a US strategic asset.”

Ahmed concludes:

“The rise of a Salafist quasi-state entity that might expand into Iraq, and fracture that country, was therefore clearly foreseen by US intelligence as likely — but nevertheless strategically useful — blowback from the West’s commitment to “isolating Syria.”

What the docs establish beyond doubt is that, in 2012, when they were written, the US saw the likelihood of a “Salafist Principality” or “Islamic State” being established, and was fully aware the insurgency in Syria was mainly driven by Islamic groups, who were fighting Assad and also supporting the FSA, which itself has been shown to have Islamic tendencies. For example, an FSA commander is on video saying he would want to implement Sharia law. But the West and its allies continued their support, as FSA members openly shared their US supplies with the ISIS-related groups, and even converted to ISIS.

As Ahmed puts it, “the Pentagon continued to support the Islamist insurgency, even while anticipating the probability that doing so would establish an extremist Salafi stronghold in Syria and Iraq.

This “entire covert strategy was sanctioned and supervised by the US, Britain, France, Israel and other Western powers.”

“As Shoebridge told me, “The documents show that not only did the US government at the latest by August 2012 know the true extremist nature and likely outcome of Syria’s rebellion” — namely, the emergence of ISIS — “but that this was considered an advantage for US foreign policy. This also suggests a decision to spend years in an effort to deliberately mislead the West’s public, via a compliant media, into believing that Syria’s rebellion was overwhelmingly ‘moderate.’”

Ahmed quotes a former MI5 officer explaining that after Libya and other such projects by the West, we see in this behavior towards Syria “part of an established pattern. And they remain indifferent to the sheer scale of human suffering that is unleashed as a result of such game-playing.”

What we already knew before these docs is that the US and West strongly support extremist Salafist states as part of their strategy of eating away at the parts of the world not under the US thumb, the “East”: Syria, Iran, Russia, and China. The US and West themselves are built on and continue to support and commit theft and annexation of territory, and support, commit, or ignore (if they are not politically helpful) all kinds of mass killings, including by groups worse than ISIS; these have included the Khmer Rouge, the Suharto Regime, and the US itself: the establishment of the USA and the building of it into a superpower was a process that involved crimes worse than anything ISIS will ever accomplish.

Further, ISIS, as pointed out by Kofi Annan and many others, arose as a consequence of the illegal US invasion of Iraq, motivated largely by Bush Jr.’s religious fanaticism, an invasion the international community tried and failed to prevent, which, the most recent and comprehensive report finds, has killed about 1 to 2 million or more people, another feat ISIS will never accomplish.

While studies and many official statements make clear, and it is obvious to any minimally non-US-brainwashed individual, that the invasion was largely about oil, even if we disregard that, ignore the rest of US history, and declare the US had/has “good intentions” regarding Iraq, that puts us at the level of of Japanese fascists, who believed in their “good intentions” regarding their invasions of China and elsewhere.

People with too much power always declare good intentions, and are often sincere, as they get god-complexes and view themselves as humanity’s benevolent saviors. But the reason war (including supporting warring proxies) is outlawed as an instrument of policy is that it has disastrous consequences, as we are seeing, even for the sincerely well-intentioned.

5/25/15 Update

It should be stressed that clearly admitting the West would “want” a Salafist principality in Eastern Syria is not generally the kind of statement people in governments would make of themselves, even in private, hence makes it less likely here that the West is being referred to specifically by that statement, as does the inclusion of the phrase “if the situation unravels” (meaning FSA control of the East) an Islamic state could result. However, it is noteworthy that the West and the Islamists are so easily conflated in this document (this conflation may well be intentional as a way of discussing benefits without clearly stating that they might be desired), as they are clearly delineated as both being opposed to the Assad government, and for similar reasons – opposing Iran and the Shia, backed by Russia and China, the latter part being of greater import to the West. The doc also makes very clear that the FSA was/is being supported by AQI and its Islamist affiliates, and that those Islamists were known to be “the major forces driving the insurgency”. It has long been known that FSA shares its US/Western/Gulf/Turkish supplies with and converts to Islamist groups, and AQI, the ISIS precursor, has always been known as particularly aggressive. And as Dr. Ahmed points out, the document nowhere suggests ending aid to the opposition due to its being driven by AQI and affiliates, and only frames the potential creation of the “Islamic state” as a bad thing in relation to Iraq. In relation to Syria/Assad, it is not framed as a bad thing, but as something that would be seen to “isolate” Assad, a goal shared by the West and the Islamist groups. So, these documents may well be an example of discussing a strategy while attempting to maintain some degree of “plausible deniability”.

It must also be remembered that the US and West not only support extremist Salafi/Wahhabi/Sharia established states, but have on numerous occasions worked with, backed, aided and/or paralleled some of the goals of non-state groups such as the Mujahedin and al Qaeda (in Afghanistan – see Brzezinski, Bob Gates; Bosnia, Kosovo – on these see Fulton in scholarly journal Global Security Studies), including under Obama in relation to Libya. In US support for the Mujahedin in Afghanistan and then the Taliban, the support was not even seen as a means to an end, but a completely acceptable end in itself: the US was fine with the Taliban taking power and staying in power, as long as it cooperated with the US. That is the bottom line. As soon as it proved uncooperative, the US “discovered” the Taliban human rights violations that non-governmental US monitors had been decrying for years, while the US was supporting the Taliban (here). And, as noted, abhorrent behavior is not a deterrent to US support. The US has committed far worse crimes than ISIS and supported groups far worse than ISIS. Only those unfamiliar with history and glued to US TV can think ISIS is some new level of evil in the world, or at least one not seen for a long time. The only qualifier for US support is whether the group in question is willing to cater to US business and strategic interests.

6/6/15 Update:

Dr. Nafeez Ahmed, in another detailed and important report in Middle East Eye, critiqued points from my above analysis and added crucial background information (bold added by me):
Similarly, Robert Barsocchini speculates that “supporting powers” might refer to al-Qaeda in Iraq. However, the US intelligence community does not classify AQI or any other non-state terrorist network as a “power”.
The use of the plural, “supporting powers,” clarifies that the reference is to a group of powers supporting the rebels, not just one entity like AQI.
Barsocchini, like Cole, also suggests that Western governments would not admit to wanting a “Salafist Principality,” even privately. This is incorrect. Declassified files since World War II prove that Western governments frequently and privately admit to cultivating Islamist extremism for geopolitical reasons.
In summary, the Pentagon report is absolutely clear that the West, the Gulf states and Turkey were supporting the Syrian opposition to attain a common goal: the emergence of a “Salafist” political entity in eastern Syria that would help “isolate” Assad.
– See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/pentagon-confirms-west-gulf-states-and-turkey-created-islamic-state-608321312#sthash.fhgZ94ZJ.jjp4g9bW.dpuf Similarly, Robert Barsocchini speculates that “supporting powers” might refer to al-Qaeda in Iraq. However, the US intelligence community does not classify AQI or any other non-state terrorist network as a “power”. – See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/pentagon-confirms-west-gulf-states-and-turkey-created-islamic-state-608321312#sthash.fhgZ94ZJ.jjp4g9bW.dpuf

Similarly [to Prof. Juan Cole], Robert Barsocchini speculates that “supporting powers” might refer to al-Qaeda in Iraq. However, the US intelligence community does not classify AQI or any other non-state terrorist network as a “power”.

The use of the plural, “supporting powers,” clarifies that the reference is to a group of powers supporting the rebels, not just one entity like AQI.

Barsocchini, like Cole, also suggests that Western governments would not admit to wanting a “Salafist Principality,” even privately. This is incorrect. Declassified files since World War II prove that Western governments frequently and privately admit to cultivating Islamist extremism for geopolitical reasons.

In summary, the Pentagon report is absolutely clear that the West, the Gulf states and Turkey were supporting the Syrian opposition to attain a common goal: the emergence of a “Salafist” political entity in eastern Syria that would help “isolate” Assad.

Find this story at 24 May 2015

Copyright http://www.empireslayer.org/

DIA Docs: West Wants a “Salafist Principality in Eastern Syria”?

Newly-declassified US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) documents from 2012:

In Syria:

THE SALAFIST [sic], THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD, AND AQI ARE THE MAJOR FORCES DRIVING THE INSURGENCY IN SYRIA.

AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq, which became ISIS: “ISIS, once called AQI”] SUPPORTED THE SYRIAN OPPOSITION FROM THE BEGINNING, BOTH IDEOLOGICALLY AND THROUGH THE MEDIA…

…OPPOSITION FORCES ARE TRYING TO CONTROL THE EASTERN AREAS (HASAKA AND DER ZOR), ADJACENT TO THE WESTERN IRAQI PROVINCES (MOSUL AND ANBAR), IN ADDITION TO NEIGHBORING TURKISH BORDERS. WESTERN COUNTRIES, THE GULF STATES AND TURKEY ARE SUPPORTING THESE EFFORTS.

IF THE SITUATION UNRAVELS THERE IS THE POSSIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING A DECLARED OR UNDECLARED SALAFIST PRINCIPALITY IN EASTERN SYRIA (HASAKA AND DER ZOR), AND THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE SUPPORTING POWERS TO THE OPPOSITION WANT, IN ORDER TO ISOLATE THE SYRIAN REGIME…

Now for some definitions:

Salafi Movement:

The Salafist movement, also known as the Salafi movement, is a movement within Sunni Islam that references the doctrine known as Salafism.

The Salafi movement is often described as being synonymous with Wahhabism, but Salafists consider the term “Wahhabi” derogatory.[1] At other times, Salafism has been described as a hybrid of Wahhabism and other post-1960s movements.[2] Salafism has become associated with literalist, strict and puritanical approaches to Islam – and, particularly in the West, with the Salafi Jihadis who espouse offensive jihad against those they deem to be enemies of Islam as a legitimate expression of Islam.

In recent years, Salafi methodology has come to be associated with the jihad of extremist groups that advocate the killing of innocent civilians [though not all Salafists can be stereotyped under this umbrella].

Principality:

A principality (or princedom) can either be a monarchical feudatory or a sovereign state, ruled or reigned over by a monarch with the title of prince or by a monarch with another title within the generic use of the term prince.

Thus, what the documents say the Western powers and their collaborators want, a “Salafist Principality” in Easter Syria, is an Islamic monarchical state. It should be no surprise that the US/West want this, as they are allied with so many Islamic dictatorships (ie the Gulf States and Turkey, as noted above).

The strictest sect of Salafism:

Wahhabism (Saudi Arabia)

Wahhabism is a more strict, Saudi form of Salafism, according to Mark Durie, who states Saudi leaders “are active and diligent” using their considerable financial resources “in funding and promoting Salafism all around the world.” Ahmad Moussalli tends to agree with the view that Wahhabism is a subset of Salafism, saying “As a rule, all Wahhabis are salafists, but not all salafists are Wahhabis”.

Saudi Government is funding to increase the Salafi Islam throughout the world. Estimates of Saudi spending on religious causes abroad include “upward of $100 billion”, between $2 and 3 billion per year since 1975 (compared to the annual Soviet propaganda budget of $1 billion/year [and US government/corporate propaganda budgets of many billions per year]),[92] and “at least $87 billion” from 1987–2007.

Its largesse funded an estimated “90% of the expenses of the entire faith“, throughout the Muslim World…

“Books, scholarships, fellowships, mosques” (for example, “more than 1,500 mosques were built from Saudi public funds over the last 50 years”) were paid for.[96] It rewarded journalists and academics, who followed it and built satellite campuses around Egypt for Al Azhar, the oldest and most influential Islamic university.[97] Yahya Birt counts spending on “1,500 mosques, 210 Islamic centres and dozens of Muslim academies and schools”.

This financial aid has done much to overwhelm less strict local interpretations of Islam, according to observers like Dawood al-Shirian and Lee Kuan Yew, and has caused the Saudi interpretation (sometimes called “petro-Islam”) to be perceived as the correct interpretation – or the “gold standard” of Islam – in many Muslims’ minds.

While the Western powers and their collaborators may want a Salafist Principality in Eastern Syria, they, mainly the US, are openly supporting the most extreme Salafist, missionary state in the world: Saudi Arabia.

The US has been supporting Saudi Arabia since oil was discovered there around the 1930s.

The US is the world’s biggest arms trafficker. The biggest arms sale of the world’s biggest arms trafficker was to the Saudi dictatorship, approved by Obama in 2010:

The Guardian:

Barack Obama to authorise record $60bn Saudi arms sale

Biggest arms deal in US history…

The US is the world’s largest arms supplier…

Amnesty reported that, contrary to US gov and media propaganda, the Saudi regime got worse under the last dictator (who recently died), and is getting even worse now under new US-backed dictator Abdulaziz, with Saudi Arabia committing dozens and dozens of beheading/crucifixions, taking the lead in confirmed state executions worldwide.

2009 US documents leaked by Wikileaks revealed Hillary Clinton stating that Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest source of funding for Sunni terrorist groups.

Abdulaziz himself, the top of the Saudi dictatorship, is said by al Qaeda to be one of their sources of funding and support.

Unlike Iran, which has parliamentary representatives and voting, Saudi Arabia is a straight despotism which maintains itself through terror, such as by lashing innocent civilians in public.

Unlike Iran, Saudi Arabia not only does not renounce nuclear weapons (US intelligence does not even say Iran is pursuing them; in fact far from it), but Saudi officials promise never to renounce nuclear weapons, or even negotiate about nuclear weapons, which Iran has agreed to do numerous times, with the US always cancelling the negotiations, as Obama has done before, and did again this week: “US Kills Nuclear Free Mid-East Conference“.

Indeed, Saudi Arabia just announced its intentions to go nuclear, a prospect that has long been known to all.

None of this prevents the US from making its biggest ever lethal arms sale to the dictatorship, or selling them almost a billion dollars worth of banned cluster bombs in 2013, which HRW reports are now being used in the US-coordinated/assisted Saudi aggressive war against Yemen, from which the US refuses to rescue its own civilian nationals, unlike eight other countries including Russia, China, and India, which have performed rescue missions.

To be fair, the US has performed rescue missions in Yemen… for Saudi bombers.

5/24/15 Update:

For those interested, here is a four page, point by point analysis of the declassified DIA docs.

@_DirtyTruths

Author’s research focuses on global force dynamics. He also writes professionally for the film industry. His articles have been noted by professors, scholars, student-groups, and other independent researchers.

Posted on May 23, 2015 by Robert Barsocchini

Find this story at 23 May 2015

© 2007 – 2015 Washington’s Blog

DIA sending hundreds more spies overseas

The Pentagon will send hundreds of additional spies overseas as part of an ambitious plan to assemble an espionage network that rivals the CIA in size, U.S. officials said.

The project is aimed at transforming the Defense Intelligence Agency, which has been dominated for the past decade by the demands of two wars, into a spy service focused on emerging threats and more closely aligned with the CIA and elite military commando units.

When the expansion is complete, the DIA is expected to have as many as 1,600 “collectors” in positions around the world, an unprecedented total for an agency whose presence abroad numbered in the triple digits in recent years.

The total includes military attachés and others who do not work undercover. But U.S. officials said the growth will be driven over a five-year period by the deployment of a new generation of clandestine operatives. They will be trained by the CIA and often work with the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, but they will get their spying assignments from the Department of Defense.

Among the Pentagon’s top intelligence priorities, officials said, are Islamist militant groups in Africa, weapons transfers by North Korea and Iran, and military modernization underway in China.

“This is not a marginal adjustment for DIA,” the agency’s director, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, said at a recent conference, during which he outlined the changes but did not describe them in detail. “This is a major adjustment for national security.”

The sharp increase in DIA undercover operatives is part of a far-reaching trend: a convergence of the military and intelligence agencies that has blurred their once-distinct missions, capabilities and even their leadership ranks.

Through its drone program, the CIA now accounts for a majority of lethal U.S. operations outside the Afghan war zone. At the same time, the Pentagon’s plan to create what it calls the Defense Clandestine Service, or DCS, reflects the military’s latest and largest foray into secret intelligence work.

The DIA overhaul — combined with the growth of the CIA since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — will create a spy network of unprecedented size. The plan reflects the Obama administration’s affinity for espionage and covert action over conventional force. It also fits in with the administration’s efforts to codify its counterterrorism policies for a sustained conflict and assemble the pieces abroad necessary to carry it out.

Unlike the CIA, the Pentagon’s spy agency is not authorized to conduct covert operations that go beyond intelligence gathering, such as drone strikes, political sabotage or arming militants.

But the DIA has long played a major role in assessing and identifying targets for the U.S. military, which in recent years has assembled a constellation of drone bases stretching from Afghanistan to East Africa.

The expansion of the agency’s clandestine role is likely to heighten concerns that it will be accompanied by an escalation in lethal strikes and other operations outside public view. Because of differences in legal authorities, the military isn’t subject to the same congressional notification requirements as the CIA, leading to potential oversight gaps.

U.S. officials said that the DIA’s realignment won’t hamper congressional scrutiny. “We have to keep congressional staffs and members in the loop,” Flynn said in October, adding that he believes the changes will help the United States anticipate threats and avoid being drawn more directly into what he predicted will be an “era of persistent conflict.”

U.S. officials said the changes for the DIA were enabled by a rare syncing of personalities and interests among top officials at the Pentagon and CIA, many of whom switched from one organization to the other to take their current jobs.

“The stars have been aligning on this for a while,” said a former senior U.S. military official involved in planning the DIA transformation. Like most others interviewed for this article, the former official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the program.

The DIA project has been spearheaded by Michael G. Vickers, the top intelligence official at the Pentagon and a veteran of the CIA.

Agreements on coordination were approved by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, a former CIA director, and retired Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, who resigned abruptly as CIA chief last month over an extramarital affair.

The Pentagon announced the DCS plan in April but details have been kept secret. Former senior Defense Department officials said that the DIA now has about 500 “case officers,” the term for clandestine Pentagon and CIA operatives, and that the number is expected to reach between 800 and 1,000 by 2018.

Pentagon and DIA officials declined to discuss specifics. A senior U.S. defense official said the changes will affect thousands of DIA employees, as analysts, logistics specialists and others are reassigned to support additional spies.

The plan still faces some hurdles, including the challenge of creating “cover” arrangements for hundreds of additional spies. U.S. embassies typically have a set number of slots for intelligence operatives posing as diplomats, most of which are taken by the CIA.

The project has also encountered opposition from policymakers on Capitol Hill, who see the terms of the new arrangement as overly generous to the CIA.

The DIA operatives “for the most part are going to be working for CIA station chiefs,” needing their approval to enter a particular country and clearance on which informants they intend to recruit, said a senior congressional official briefed on the plan. “If CIA needs more people working for them, they should be footing the bill.”

Pentagon officials said that sending more DIA operatives overseas will shore up intelligence on subjects that the CIA is not able or willing to pursue. “We are in a position to contribute to defense priorities that frankly CIA is not,” the senior Defense Department official said.

The project was triggered by a classified study by the director of national intelligence last year that concluded that key Pentagon intelligence priorities were falling into gaps created by the DIA’s heavy focus on battlefield issues and CIA’s extensive workload. U.S. officials said the DIA needed to be repositioned as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan give way to what many expect will be a period of sporadic conflicts and simmering threats requiring close-in intelligence work.

“It’s the nature of the world we’re in,” said the senior defense official, who is involved in overseeing the changes at the DIA. “We just see a long-term era of change before things settle.”

The CIA is increasingly overstretched. Obama administration officials have said they expect the agency’s drone campaign against al-Qaeda to continue for at least a decade more, even as the agency faces pressure to stay abreast of issues including turmoil across the Middle East. Meanwhile, the CIA hasn’t met ambitious goals set by former president George W. Bush to expand its own clandestine service.

CIA officials including John D. Bennett, director of the National Clandestine Service, have backed the DIA’s plan. It “amplifies the ability of both CIA and DIA to achieve the best results,” said CIA spokesman Preston Golson.

Defense officials stressed that the DIA has not been given any new authorities or permission to expand its total payroll. Instead, the new spy slots will be created by cutting or converting other positions across the DIA workforce, which has doubled in the past decade — largely through absorption of other military intelligence entities — to about 16,500.

Vickers has given the DIA an infusion of about $100 million to kick-start the program, officials said, but the agency’s total budget is expected to remain stagnant or decline amid mounting financial pressures across the government.

The DIA’s overseas presence already includes hundreds of diplomatic posts — mainly defense attachés, who represent the military at U.S. embassies and openly gather information from foreign counterparts. Their roles won’t change, officials said. The attachés are part of the 1,600 target for the DIA, but such “overt” positions will represent a declining share amid the increase in undercover slots, officials said.

The senior Defense official said the DIA has begun filling the first of the new posts.

For decades, the DIA has employed undercover operatives to gather secrets on foreign militaries and other targets. But the Defense Humint Service, as it was previously known, was often regarded as an inferior sibling to its civilian counterpart.

Previous efforts by the Pentagon to expand its intelligence role — particularly during Donald H. Rumsfeld’s time as defense secretary — led to intense turf skirmishes with the CIA.

Those frictions have been reduced, officials said, largely because the CIA sees advantages to the new arrangement, including assurances that its station chiefs overseas will be kept apprised of DIA missions and have authority to reject any that might conflict with CIA efforts. The CIA will also be able to turn over hundreds of Pentagon-driven assignments to newly arrived DIA operatives.

“The CIA doesn’t want to be looking for surface-to-air missiles in Libya” when it’s also under pressure to assess the opposition in Syria, said a former high-ranking U.S. military intelligence officer who worked closely with both spy services. Even in cases where their assignments overlap, the DIA is likely to be more focused than the CIA on military aspects — what U.S. commanders in Africa might ask about al-Qaeda in Mali, for example, rather than the broader questions raised by the White House.

U.S. officials said DIA operatives, because of their military backgrounds, are often better equipped to recruit sources who can answer narrow military questions such as specifications of China’s fifth-generation fighter aircraft and its work on a nuclear aircraft carrier. “The CIA would like to give up that kind of work,” the former officer said.

The CIA has agreed to add new slots to its training classes at its facility in southern Virginia, known as the Farm, to make room for more military spies. The DIA has accounted for about 20 percent of each class in recent years, but that figure will grow.

The two agencies have also agreed to share resources overseas, including technical gear, logistics support, space in facilities and vehicles. The DIA has even adopted aspects of the CIA’s internal structure, creating a group called “Persia House,” for example, to pool resources on Iran.

The CIA’s influence extends across the DIA’s ranks. Flynn, who became director in July, is a three-star Army general who worked closely with the CIA in Afghanistan and Iraq. His deputy, David R. Shedd, spent the bulk of his career at the CIA, much of it overseas as a spy.

By Greg Miller,December 01, 2012

Find this story at 1 December 2012

© 2012 The Washington Post

Pentagon reportedly planning to double size of its worldwide spy network

More than 1,600 new Defense Department agents will collect intelligence and report findings to CIA, said to be overstretched

The news is likely to heighten concerns about the accountability of the US military amid concerns about the CIA’s drone programme. Photograph: US navy/Reuters

The US military plans to send hundreds more spies overseas as part of an ambitious plan that will more than double the size of its espionage network, it was reported Sunday.

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Pentagon’s military intelligence unit, is aiming to recruit 1,600 intelligence “collectors” – up from the several hundred overseas agents it has employed in recent years, sources told The Washington Post.

Combined with the enormous growth in the CIA since 9/11 attacks, the recruitment drive will create an unprecedented spy network. “The stars have been aligning on this for a while,” an anonymous former senior US military official involved in planning the DIA transformation told the Post.

The news is likely to heighten concerns about the accountability of the US military’s clandestine programmes amid mounting concerns about the CIA-controlled drone programme.

The United Nations said last month that it intends to investigate civilian deaths from drone strikes. The US has refused to even acknowledge the existence of a drone programme in Pakistan. The US military is not subject to the same congressional notification requirements as the CIA, creating yet more potential controversies.

With the US pulling out of Afghanistan and operations in Iraq winding down, government officials are looking to change the focus of the DIA away from battlefield intelligence and to concentrate on gathering intelligence on issues including Islamist militant groups in Africa, weapons trades in North Korea and Iran, and the military build up in China.

“It’s the nature of the world we’re in,” said the senior defense official, who is involved in overseeing the changes at the DIA. “We just see a long-term era of change before things settle.”

The DIA’s new recruits would include military attachés and others who do not work undercover. But US officials told the Post that the growth will be driven a new generation of spies who will take their orders from the Department of Defense.

The DIA is increasingly recruiting civilians to fill out its ranks as it looks to place agents as academics and business executives in militarily sensitive positions overseas.

Officials said the sheer number of agents that the DIA is looking to recruit presents its own challenge as the agency may struggle to find enough overseas vacancies for its clandestine agents. “There are some definite challenges from a cover perspective,” a senior defense official said.

Dominic Rushe in New York
The Guardian, Sunday 2 December 2012 17.03 GMT

Find this story at 2 December 2012
© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

Pentagon increasing spy presence overseas

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is beefing up its spy service to send several hundred undercover intelligence officers to overseas hot spots to steal secrets on national security threats after a decade of focusing chiefly on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The move comes amid concerns that the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s spy service, needs to expand operations beyond the war zones and to work more closely with the CIA, according to a senior Defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the classified program.

The new Defense Clandestine Service will comprise about 15% of the DIA’s workforce. They will focus on gathering intelligence on terrorist networks, nuclear proliferators and other highly sensitive threats around the world, rather than just gleaning tactical information to assist military commanders on the battlefield, the official said.

“You have to do global coverage,” the official said.

Some of the new spies thus are likely to be assigned to targets that now are intelligence priorities, including parts of Africa and the Middle East where Al Qaeda and its affiliates are active, the nuclear and missile programs in North Korea and Iran, and China’s expanding military.

The initiative, which Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta approved last Friday, aims to boost the Pentagon’s role in human intelligence collection, and to assign more case officers and analysts around the globe. The CIA has dominated that mission for decades, and the two agencies have long squabbled over their respective roles.

An internal study by the director of National Intelligence last year concluded that the DIA needed to expand its traditional role and should gather and disseminate more information on global issues. It also found that the DIA did not promote or reward successful case officers, and that many often left for the CIA as a result.

Find this story at 23 April 2012

By David S. Cloud

April 23, 2012, 10:37 a.m.