Sources Detail Skewed Reports On How The U.S. Is Doing Against ISIS : The Two-Way The Pentagon is looking at whether senior military officials pressured intelligence analysts into painting a rosy picture of the fight against the militant group.
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Sources Detail Skewed Reports On How The U.S. Is Doing Against ISIS

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

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

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This next the story gets to the heart of the war against the Islamic State. It's the question of whether top Pentagon officials really know what's going on and whether they want to know. The military relies on intelligence analysts to sift information from the battlefield. Now the Pentagon is investigating whether analysts were pressured to bend their conclusions to make it seem like the war was going better than it really was. Here's NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: The head of U.S. Central Command, General Lloyd Austin, was on Capitol Hill yesterday testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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LLOYD AUSTIN: Good morning, Chairman McCain, Senator Reid and distinguished members of the committee.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The general was there to discuss the progress of the fight against ISIS in Iraq, but he had to address something else first.

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AUSTIN: There is an ongoing DOD IG investigation looking into allegations concerning the processing of intelligence information by CENTCOM's intelligence directory.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Central Command is known as CENTCOM.

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AUSTIN: Because the allegations are currently under investigation, it would be premature and inappropriate for me to discuss this matter.

TEMPLE-RASTON: So he didn't. But according to two sources with direct knowledge of the investigation, while there was never a direct order to skew the intelligence reports, it was something that did happen gradually because of the way the intelligence was handled. One military source, who witnessed the skewing of reports and was a victim of them, said that if analysts wanted to put a piece of good news about the conditions on the ground regarding ISIS or Iraqi forces, they needed almost no sourcing. But if there was bad news, like Iraqi forces retreating, analysts were required to cite three or four sources and not just footnote them. The intelligence data itself had to be attached to the report. That meant that writing a good news report was easy and a bad news one was doubly difficult. That had the effect, the source said, of biasing the intelligence that came out of CENTCOM, making the battle on the ground seem more positive than it was. In his progress report yesterday, General Austin seemed to be painting an upbeat picture, as well.

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AUSTIN: In recent months, Iraq security forces have experienced some setbacks, and this is to be expected in the early stages of a fight as complex as this one.

TEMPLE-RASTON: And then he added...

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AUSTIN: But overall, the Iraqis continue to make progress.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Senator John McCain, the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made clear that he wasn't swallowing Austin's assessment.

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JOHN MCCAIN: General Austin, Ms. Warmith, I must say, I've been a member of this committee for nearly 30 years, and I have never heard testimony like this, never.

TEMPLE-RASTON: A week earlier, he said, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, had told the committee that the fight against ISIS was tactically stalemated.

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MCCAIN: So obviously you and the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have a very different view of what the situation is.

TEMPLE-RASTON: To give an example of how intelligence can be subtly biased, a source described a report of an ISIS attack in Iraq near the Syrian border. The initial CENTCOM report read, Iraqi forces retreated. It was sent back for re-working. Eventually, that report came to read that the Iraqi forces had not retreated but instead had reinforced another Iraqi position. The final draft suggested there was a strategic decision made, but that was not what happened, the source said. The Iraqi forces ran. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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