An Administration insider has revealed that President Barack Obama’s intelligence briefings have provided him with specific information since before he won re-election in 2012 about the growing threat of the terror group now known alternatively as ISIS and ISIL.
‘Unless someone very senior has been shredding the president’s daily briefings and telling him that the dog ate them, highly accurate predictions about ISIL have been showing up in the Oval Office since before the 2012 election,’ said a national security staffer in the Obama administration who is familiar with the content of intelligence briefings.
The staffer declined to share anything specific about the content of those briefings, citing his need to maintain a security clearance.
But ‘it’s true,’ he said, ‘that the intelligence community was sending pretty specific intel up to us.’
‘We were seeing specific threat assessments and many of them have panned out exactly as we were told they would.’ The aide said he is familiar with some of the material regarding the Middle East that reaches Obama’s desk.
In a ’60 Minutes’ interview that aired Sunday, the president singled out James Clapper, his director of national intelligence, for blame in failing to understand the significance of the threat posed by the terror army that calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.
‘Our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper,’ Obama said, ‘has acknowledged that, I think, they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.’
This blame pointing by the president is not sitting well in the White House. ‘It’s starting to affect morale around here,’ he said. ‘Any time you’re hired by a boss to advise him about what to do in a high-stakes area, and he ignores you for a long time, it’s going to gnaw at you.’
And choosing a fall guy, he said, has a smell of desperation about it since the president was warned long ago what could happen if ISIS, formerly known in the West as Al-Qaeda In Iraq, were left alone to fester following a U.S. military withdrawal.
The last American boots on the ground were airlifted from Iraq in December 2011. In the months that followed, he explained, U.S. intelligence services compiled detailed information about what the groups he called ‘bad guys’ were doing to take advantage of the sudden power vacuum.
And those briefings were specific about both the breadth of ISIS’s aims and their ability to run roughshod over large swaths of two countries.
There’s ‘no way’ the president should blame the alphabet-soup of intelligence agencies for what resulted, the aide said.
‘He had enough to go on … He knew what was at stake. He knew where all the moving pieces were.’
‘By February 2014 we had generals basically reading out their memos to Congress,’ he added, referring to testimony from Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Flynn predicted ISIS ‘probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria to exhibit its strength in 2014.’ The Islamist terror group had already seized Fallujah and Ramadi, he said, had the ‘ability to concurrently maintain multiple safe havens in Syria.’
By the time Flynn spoke on Capitol Hill, Congress had already heard the story at least once before.
Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee in November 2013 that ISIS had been militarily active all year because of ‘a permissive operating environment due to inherent weaknesses of Iraqi security forces, poor operational tactics, and popular grievances, which remain unaddressed.’
‘It has also benefited from a sanctuary across the porous border in Syria, control of lucrative facilities there, such as oil wells, and regular movement of weapons and fighters between Syria and Iraq,’ McGurk said.
Asked whether the president heard that early warning and found it credible, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told an ABC News reporter that ‘nobody could predict … the (lack of) willingness of the Iraqi security forces to stand up and fight for their own country.’
But a source said that even McGurk’s warning bells were old news in the White House.
The president, he said, was hearing information about ISIS ‘long before that. It goes back to the autumn of 2012.’
Al-Qaeda in Iraq, he said, had already begun to metamorphose into ISIS before Obama ran for president the first time. In 2006 the group’s Mujahideen Shura Council declared an Islamic ‘state’ in western and central Iraq, a development U.S. military intelligence was aware of since they were stationed ‘in country.’
By the late autumn of that year the nascent self-proclaimed Sunni country was organized and holding open-air military parades.
President Obama ordered America’s military to pack up and return home at the end of 2011. By that time, the would-be nation ISIS’s goals had exploded to encompass controlling land in Syria. And its tactical toolbox had grown to include the kind of genocidal preferences that ISIS has showed in 2013 and 2014.
While the U.S. officially left no residual military force in Iraq, the aide said, small contingents of Special Operators and intelligence assets did remain behind. And the information they provided became part of the president’s briefings in the months that followed, right in the midst of presidential campaign season.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Still, Obama repeatedly claimed in his campaign speeches that his administration had left Middle Eastern terror groups hamstrung and hurting.
‘Four years ago, I promised to end the war in Iraq and we did,’ he said during a Sept. 13, 2012 speech in Colorado. ‘I said we’d wind down the war in Afghanistan and we are.’ ‘And while a new tower rises above the New York skyline, al-Qaeda is on the path to defeat and Osama bin Laden is dead.’
Those words came two days after a terror attack that left a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead in Benghazi, Libya.
The administration later claimed he was referring to ‘al-Qaeda core,’ the Pakistan-based mother ship once helped by Osama bin Laden. But ISIS’s roots as an al-Qaeda faction now make Obama’s pronouncements look questionable.
Since the president’s CBS interview aired Sunday night, a few intrepid whistle-blowers have poked their heads above Washington’s parapets to disagree with his claim that his intelligence advisers failed to pinpoint the growing ISIS threat.
One former senior Pentagon aide told The Daily Beast that ‘either the president doesn’t read the intelligence he’s getting or he’s bulls***ting.’ He echoed the Pentagon veteran’s concerns about how the president digests the information that Clapper and others distill for him on a daily basis.
‘It’s pretty well-known that the president hasn’t taken in-person intelligence briefings with any regularity since the early days of 2009,’ the aide said. ‘He gets them in writing.’
‘And it’s well-understood why. No one sits and watches him read them, and no one can come back later and tell Congress in a closed session that “I told the president this specific thing was likely to happen”.’
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, said late Monday in a statement that U.S. intelligence agencies have ‘specifically warned’ for ‘over a year’ that ISIS ‘was taking advantage of the situation in Syria to recruit members and provoke violence that could spill into Iraq and the rest of the region.’
In 2013, he said, his committee ‘formally pressed the administration for action to address the terrorist threat present in Syria.’
‘We all knew that former Iraqi Prime Minster Maliki had mismanaged his military and gutted the ISF (Iraqi Security Forces) of its top commanders. Indeed, over a year ago, our Arab League partners sought U.S. support and leadership for a coordinated effort to address the extremist threat in eastern Syria.’
‘This was not an Intelligence Community failure,’ Rogers said, ‘but a failure by policy makers to confront the threat.’
Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain told a CNN audience on Monday that he was ‘puzzled by the president, some of his statements. … We predicted what would happen if we didn’t leave (a) residual force’ in Iraq.
‘The intelligence people are pushing back hard,’ McCain observed.
‘We predicted this and watched it, it was like watching a train wreck, and warning every step of the way that this was happening.’