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Sources: Pentagon report finds U.S. did not distort progress against ISIS

WASHINGTON -- A Defense Department review delivered to Congress on Tuesday concludes that senior leaders at the U.S. Central Command did not exaggerate the progress the U.S. was making in fighting Islamic State militants, two U.S. officials said.

The long-awaited report from the Pentagon’s inspector general is not expected to satisfy intelligence analysts who complained that officials were improperly reworking intelligence assessments being prepared for President Barack Obama and other top policymakers to offer a rosier view of U.S. operations against ISIS.

Did CENTCOM distort ISIS info? 03:56

The probe began after at least one civilian analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency told authorities he had evidence that officials at the Florida-based Central Command, which overseas operations in the Middle East, were improperly reworking the conclusions of these assessments.

A House GOP task force concluded in a report last year that there were “persistent problems” in 2014 and 2015 with the command’s analysis of U.S. efforts to train Iraqi forces and fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The several hundred-page classified report, however, did not provide evidence that there were intentional efforts to distort intelligence analyses, said one U.S. official who had been briefed on the report.

While the report provided no evidence that ISIS intelligence assessments were altered, it did find that analysts’ concerns were real and that if they didn’t believe their work was being respected that sentiment could have affected the overall intelligence report, a second U.S. official said.

The Battle for Mosul 11:37

That official, who is familiar with the contents of the classified report, said the inspector general found no wrongdoing and no conspiracy or intent to color the intelligence, but concluded more broadly that there should be improvements in personnel management and leadership to address concerns by analysts about the treatment of their work.

As an example, the report notes that analysts who see their words being changed or left out of briefings could be less motivated to provide their best assessments. And if that sentiment made them less likely to bring up key points or conclusions, it affected the intelligence product, the official said.

The official said the report looked more broadly at the intelligence community as a whole and how it develops its assessments. And it said that by making people feel as though their work was not appreciated, there were unintended consequences, including that analysts may have left things out of their reports.

The official said there are no recommendations for anyone to be punished. But the report did include some recommendations that certain personnel develop better leadership skills. And the report talked at length about the need to improve processes and the way the intelligence community works in order to make sure analysts are encouraged to bring their work forward.

The officials were not authorized to speak publicly about the report and demanded anonymity.

An unclassified version of the report is to be released on Wednesday.

In February 2016, the chairman of the House intelligence committee said the panel had been told that CENTCOM personnel had deleted files and emails amid the allegations that intelligence assessments were being altered. CENTCOM said that as a matter of policy, all senior leaders’ emails were stored for record-keeping purposes and could not be deleted.

At the time, the chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., also said the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had briefed the committee on a survey indicating that more than 40 percent of CENTCOM analysts believed there were problems with the integrity of the intelligence analyses and process.

Each year the DNI conducts a survey at all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies to gain feedback on the integrity, standards and objectivity of the process used to analyze intelligence. A report on the survey issued in December 2015 indicated that 40 percent of those who responded at CENTCOM answered “yes” to the question: “During the past year, do you believe that anyone attempted to distort or suppress analysis on which you were working in the face of persuasive evidence?” 

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