Isis crisis: politicans didn’t listen, say spies
Washington – The rise of Isis – the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – has led to clashes between spies and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.
The CIA and MI6 have lashed out at accusations that they were guilty of intelligence failures when al Qaeda renegades swept into Iraq from Syria.
Former CIA officers have accused the Obama administration of seeking to cover up its own policy failures by laying the blame at the door of America’s spies after Iraqi soldiers fled from an attack by Isis jihadists. Similarly, sources close to the Secret Intelligence Service in London have blamed the Foreign Office and Downing Street for ignoring the growing menace of extremists in Syria.
A former CIA officer who served undercover in Iraq said responsibility for failing to foresee the Isis advance lay squarely on Obama’s shoulders.
‘‘It was as if the Obama admin-
‘‘It was as if the Obama administration saw thunderclouds rolling in, heard the thunder, saw flashes of lightning and the wind picking up, then said they were really surprised when it started raining. It’s just not credible. ’’ Former CIA officer
istration saw thunderclouds rolling in, heard the thunder, saw flashes of lightning and the wind picking up, then said they were really surprised when it started raining,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s just not credible.’’
A CIA spokesman, Dean Boyd, said: ‘‘Anyone who has had access to and has actually read the full extent of CIA intelligence products on and Iraq should not have been surprised by the current situation.’’
A US intelligence official said analysts routinely warned the Obama administration of the growing strength of Isis and its threat to Iraq’s stability. It was also told of efforts by Isis to set off uprisings in areas with substantial Sunni populations, and how the Iraqi army’s weakness in ‘‘Mosul, specifically, allowed the group to deepen its influence there’’.
Lieutenant-General Michael Flynn, head of the US Defence Intelligence Agency, warned Congress in February that Isis ‘‘probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria to exhibit its strength in 2014’’.
A Pentagon adviser with extensive experience in Iraq described Obama’s inability – or unwillingness – to broker a deal to keep troops in the country after 2011 as disastrous. At the height of the Iraq war, the CIA had more than 1000 people stationed in Baghdad.
‘‘We threw away so much of our capability as the war was winding down,’’ he said. ‘‘Iraq is the perfect example of how that can go wrong.’’
Republicans on Capitol Hill have indicated that they will investigate whether the Obama administration ignored CIA warnings.
‘‘This is not an intelligence failure; this is a policy failure,’’ said Congressman Mike Rogers, chairman of the House intelligence committee, last week.
The British government’s decision to withdraw most of its intelligence assets from Iraq is also blamed for ‘‘sketchy’’ briefings on Isis for ministers in London.
At a National Security Council meeting this month, David Cameron ordered spy chiefs to provide more information.
A minister who was present said: ‘‘The quality of the infor- mation about Isis, who they are, what they want, how many of them there are, was notably lacking. The spies had their eye off the ball.’’
But sources close to MI6 say Cameron and William Hague, the foreign secretary, were more interested in asking the intelligence services to identify moderates in the Syrian opposition that they could deal with than they were in monitoring extremists.
‘‘There has been great political reluctance to focus on these extremist groups because that would have called into question our entire strategy of opposing Bashar al-Assad and talking to the Syrian opposition,’’ the source said.
‘‘We have been completely caught off balance by this.’’
Another source briefed on the intelligence from Iraq said listening posts in Baghdad run by the GCHQ listening station were helping to build up intelligence on Isis.