Squabble over analysis prompted dueling accusations
by JOSEPH TREVITHICK
A recently-released memo suggests that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency might have tried to ruin a Defense Department employee’s career in a squabble over intelligence analysis.
On July 25, 2014, the CIA told the Pentagon that one of its troops had been running a rogue intelligence operation in Europe — and paying off sources with government funds. More than a year later, the Pentagon’s top watchdog found that there was nothing to back up the story.
“We were unable to substantiate the CIA allegation and could not find any
evidence that [redacted] traveled to Europe or paid any sources,” Anthony Thomas, the Defense Department’s deputy inspector general in charge of intelligence and special-program investigations, wrote in a message dated Sept. 8, 2015. “We verified that [redacted] did not travel to Europe in 2014.”
Far more importantly, “[redacted] asserts that the CIA fabricated the allegation … because [redacted] claimed [redacted] had previously identified and revealed analytical flaws within CIA analysis,” Thomas noted in the letter, which was addressed to the Pentagon’s top intelligence official. “[The] allegation was outside the scope of our investigation.”
War Is Boring obtained the heavily-redacted copy of this memo through the Freedom of Information Act. The inspector general’s full review of the incident is still classified.
In an email to War Is Boring, Kathie Scarrah, a spokesperson for the Pentagon’s inspector general, declined to offer additional details about the case. Since the watchdog couldn’t find any evidence supporting CIA’s claims, the final report didn’t include findings or recommendations for disciplinary action, she added.
The censored memo offers little extra information. With the exception of Thomas’ classification information and signature line, the reviewers removed all names and identifying pronouns.
Over the course of their investigation, the Inspector General’s agents sent out two subpoenas and made 23 “data calls” to gather important details, according to the message. They talked to both Pentagon and CIA employees, including members of U.S. Special Operations Command.
It isn’t clear whether the military spook was a member of the Pentagon’s top commando headquarters or just worked with elite troops. The message doesn’t include any information about the individual’s actual job.
We don’t know what information the CIA alleged the commando was gathering in Europe. The unredacted sections don’t explain the supposedly flawed analysis.
After completing its review, the Pentagon forwarded the counter-complaint to the U.S. intelligence community’s own inspector general. At the time of publication, that office had not been able even determine if anyone there had investigated those new allegations.
“You can say CIA declined to comment,” CIA spokesperson Ryan Trapani told the Federation of American Scientists’ Steven Aftergood in response to questions about the memo. Aftergood got an identical copy of the document through his own FOIA request.
But the very existence of CIA’s initial tip, the Pentagon’s investigation and the counter-accusation are significant.
“It is quite unusual, in my (limited) experience,” Aftergood told War Is Boring in an email. “The fact that the CIA made the allegation in the first place suggests a degree of tension, if not an all-out turf battle, between [the] CIA and [Defense Department].”
When the CIA alerted the Pentagon about the possible “questionable intelligence activities,” a number of crises were boiling over. In March 2014, Russia seized control of Ukraine’s Crimea region. Three months later, Islamic State blitzed across northern Iraq.
Right before the Russians took Crimea, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had assured members of Congress that no invasion was on the horizon. Incensed by this major misjudgement, the House Intelligence Committee demanded a the nation’s top spy and agencies such as the CIA explain what went wrong.
“It was the analytic product, the certain conclusion in one particular case that nothing was going to happen in 24 hours — that was just wrong,” Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, told The Daily Beast after announcing the review. “There was another thing out there from another agency that was different.”
The CIA flatly denied Rogers’ description of its Ukraine intelligence materials.
In August 2016, the same House committee released a report slamming the Pentagon’s top headquarters in the Middle East for overly rosy assessments of the fight against Islamic State. This apparently deliberate manipulation of the facts started in mid-2014, according to the unclassified review.
Intelligence analysts could easily have sparred over sources, methods and conclusions about what was going on Ukraine, Iraq and Syria or elsewhere. Deflecting blame or downplaying mistakes could have been a factor.
Of course, with so few specifics, it’s entirely possible that the incident might not have been related to any larger issue. Something as petty as personal disagreements between two or more individuals could have provoked the allegations.
“It’s a single episode, so no far-reaching conclusions should be drawn from it,” Aftergood made clear. “But it bears watching.”
“If other, similar signs of interagency conflict arise, this one may assume greater importance,” Aftergood added.