"Fifty U.S. Spies Say Govt. Altering Reports to Imply We’re Winning War Against ISIS" reads a recent headline. The growing scandal over whether phony intelligence reports are being used to paint rosy portrayals of the war against the Islamic State has even caused the Pentagon inspector general to open an investigation as to whether senior officials are unduly pressuring military subordinates.
But manipulating war intelligence is hardly anything new. Frankly, it goes with the territory, if you know the history of wars, connected as they usually are with "perception management" of public opinion, also referred to as "information warfare."
Serious politicization of intelligence, for example, played out during the Vietnam War, when Westmoreland and other generals, after acrimonious debate behind closed doors, just before the Tet Offensive, decided to arbitrarily cut in half their estimate of the real "enemy troop strength." They were trying to publicly project success and felt they couldn’t let the American news media know there were about twice as many Vietcong enemy. This Vietnam perversion of intelligence to meet political objectives was later detailed in the "War of Numbers," a book written years after CBS News aired its 1982 documentary: "The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception." It thus took a couple decades for the full truth to come out and verify Walter Cronkite’s assessment in 1968 that the Vietnam War was unwinnable.
The publication of the "Downing Street Memo" in May 2005 revealed another explicit example of the politicization of intelligence. Minutes of a secret meeting held in July 2002 revealed that senior British defense and intelligence officials discussed with U.S. officials how they could conduct the build-up to launch war on Iraq. The minutes included direct reference to classified U.S. policy that "(George W.) Bush wanted to remove Saddam Hussein, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
The U.S. resort to torture after 9/11, confirmed by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s six-year long investigation as well as official inspector general and other internal investigations is still another example. Since torture does not work to obtain reliable, timely intelligence, instead serving to extort "confessions" by getting the torture victim to say what the perpetrator wants to hear, its very essence equates to the "fixing of intelligence to justify a prior decision or goal." For instance, the unreliable information that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi gave under torture to Egyptian authorities was constantly cited by the Bush administration in the months preceding its 2003 invasion of Iraq as evidence that Saddam had provided chemical and biological weapons training to al Qaida. Colin Powell even knowingly used this unreliable information in his speech to the U.N. Security Council in February 2003 to justify invading Iraq.
But let’s go back to the current complaint by intelligence analysts of official pressure to exaggerate success in fighting ISIS. We think the broader situation could be far worse. With regard to the larger "global war on terror," it seems there are colossal upsurges in terror despite 14 years of costly fighting led by the U.S. Attacks worldwide have skyrocketed by a stunning 6,500 percent since 2002, according to recent analysis by Reader Supported News (based on State Department and CIA data) with casualties resulting from these attacks increasing by 4,500 percent. A significant jump, from 208 attacks in 2002 to 11,000 in 2005, the so-called “Iraq Effect” occurred early on, after the U.S. invasion of that country, tellingly prompting the State Department to de-emphasize, rename and reconfigure its own report.
No wonder people have long noted: "In war, truth is the first casualty."