Ex-intel officials: Pentagon report proves US complicity in ISIS
Renowned government whistleblowers weigh in on debate over controversial declassified document
by Nafeez Ahmed
This story is published by INSURGE INTELLIGENCE, a new crowd-funded investigative journalism project.
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According to leading American and British intelligence experts, a declassified Pentagon report confirms that the West accelerated support to extremist rebels in Syria, despite knowing full well the strategy would pave the way for the emergence of the ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS).
The experts who have spoken out include renowned government whistleblowers such as the Pentagon’s Daniel Ellsberg, the NSA’s Thomas Drake, and the FBI’s Coleen Rowley, among others.
Their remarks demonstrate the fraudulent nature of claims by two other former officials, the CIA’s Michael Morell and the NSA’s John Schindler, both of whom attempt to absolve the Obama administration of responsibility for the policy failures exposed by the DIA documents.
As I reported on May 22nd, the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) document obtained by Judicial Watch under Freedom of Information confirms that the US intelligence community foresaw the rise of ISIS three years ago, as a direct consequence of the support to extremist rebels in Syria.
The August 2012 ‘Information Intelligence Report’ (IIR) reveals that the overwhelming core of the Syrian insurgency at that time was dominated by a range of Islamist militant groups, including al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). It warned that the “supporting powers” to the insurgency — identified in the document as the West, Gulf states, and Turkey — wanted to see the emergence of a “Salafist Principality” in eastern Syria to “isolate” the Assad regime.
The document also provided an extraordinarily prescient prediction that such an Islamist quasi-statelet, backed by the region’s Sunni states, would amplify the risk of the declaration of an “Islamic State” across Iraq and Syria. The DIA report even anticipated the fall of Mosul and Ramadi.
Divide and rule
Last week, legendary whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, the former career Pentagon officer and US military analyst who leaked Pentagon papers exposing White House lies about the Vietnam War, described my Insurge report on the DIA document as “a very important story.”
In an extensive podcast interview, he said that the DIA document provided compelling evidence that the West’s Syria strategy created ISIS. The DIA, he said, “in 2012, was asserting that Western powers were supporting extremist Islamic groups in Syria that were opposing Assad…
“They were not only as they claimed supporting moderate groups, who were losing members to the more extremist groups, but that they were directly supporting the extremist groups. And they were predicting that this support would result in an Islamic State organization, an ISIS or ISIL… They were encouraging it, regarding it as a positive development, because it was anti-Assad, Assad being supported by Russia, but also interestingly China… and Iran… So we have China, Russia and Iran backing Assad, and the US, starting out saying Assad must go… What he [Nafeez Ahmed] is talking about, the DIA report, is extremely significant. It fits into a general framework that I’m aware of, and sounds plausible to me.”
Ellsberg also noted that “it’s pretty well known” in the intelligence community that Saudi Arabia sponsors Islamist terrorists to this day:
“It’s kind of a deal that the Saudis will support various Islamic extremists, all around the world, and the deal is that they [extremists] will not try to overthrow the corrupt, alcohol-drinking clique in Saudi Arabia.”
Ellsberg, who was a former senior analyst at RAND Corp, also agreed with the relevance of a 2008 US Army-commissioned RAND report, quoted in my Insurge story, and also examined in-depth for Middle East Eye.
The US Army-funded RAND report advocated a range of policy scenarios for the Middle East, including a “divide and rule” strategy to play off Sunni and Shi’a factions against each other, which Ellsberg describes as “standard imperial policy” for the US.
The RAND report even confirmed (p. 113) that its “divide and rule” strategy was already being executed in Iraq at the time:
“Today in Iraq such a strategy is being used a tactical level, as the United States now forms temporary alliances with nationalist insurgent groups that it had been fighting for four years… providing carrots in the form of weapons and cash. In the past, these nationalists have cooperated with al-Qaeda against US forces.”
The confirmed activation of this divide-and-rule strategy perhaps explains why the self-defeating US approach in Syria is fanning the flames of both sides: simultaneously allying with states like Turkey who have continued to covertly sponsor ISIS, while working with Assad through the Russians to fight ISIS. Ellsberg added:
“As Assad is the main opponent of ISIS, we are covertly coordinating our airstrikes against ISIS with Assad. So are we against Assad, or not? It’s ambivalent… I think that Obama and everybody around him is clear that they do not any longer as they’ve been saying want Assad to leave power. I don’t believe that that is their intention anymore, as they believe anyone who succeeds Assad would be far worse.”
If true, Ellsberg’s analysis exposes the deep-rooted hypocrisy of the previous campaign against Assad, the current campaign against ISIS, and why both appear destined for failure.
Coleen Rowley, retired FBI Special Agent described my report on the DIA document as “excellent.”
Rowley, who was selected as TIME ‘Person of the Year’ in 2002 after revealing how pre-9/11 intelligence was ignored by superiors at the FBI, said of the document:
“It’s like the mad power-hungry doctor who created Frankenstein, only to have his monster turn against him. It’s hard to feel sorry when the insane doctor gets his due. But in our case, that script is constantly repeating. The quest for ‘full spectrum dominance’ and blindness of exceptionalism seems to mean we are doomed to keep repeating the ‘Charlie Wilson’s Frankenstein War’ script… The various neocon warmongers and military industrial complex, most of them inept Peter Principles, just don’t care.”
Also commenting on the declassified Pentagon report, former NSA senior executive Thomas Drake — the whistleblower who inspired Edward Snowden — condemned “the West’s role in ISIS and threat of ‘violent extremists’, justifying surveillance and libercide at home.”
Alastair Crooke, a former senior MI6 officer who spent three decades at the agency, said yesterday that the DIA document provides clear corroboration that the US was covertly pursuing a strategy to drive an extremist Salafi “wedge” between Iran and its Arab allies.
The strategy was, Crooke confirms, standard thinking in the Western intelligence establishment for about a decade.
“The idea of breaking up the large Arab states into ethnic or sectarian enclaves is an old Ben Gurion ‘canard,’ and splitting Iraq along sectarian lines has been Vice President Biden’s recipe since the Iraq war,” wrote Crooke, who had coordinated British assistance to the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s. After his long MI6 stint, he became Middle East advisor to the European Union’s foreign policy chief (1997–2003).
“But the idea of driving a Sunni ‘wedge’ into the landline linking Iran to Syria and to Hezbollah in Lebanon became established Western group think in the wake of the 2006 war, in which Israel failed to de-fang Hezbollah,” continued Crooke. “The response to 2006, it seemed to Western powers, was to cut off Hezbollah from its sources of weapons supply from Iran…
“… In short, the DIA assessment indicates that the ‘wedge’ concept was being given new life by the desire to pressure Assad in the wake of the 2011 insurgency launched against the Syrian state. ‘Supporting powers’ effectively wanted to inject hydraulic fracturing fluid into eastern Syria (radical Salafists) in order to fracture the bridge between Iran and its Arab allies, even at the cost of this ‘fracking’ opening fissures right down inside Iraq to Ramadi. (Intelligence assessments purpose is to provide ‘a view’ — not to describe or prescribe policy. But it is clear that the DIA reports’ ‘warnings’ were widely circulated and would have been meshed into the policy consideration.)
“But this ‘view’ has exactly come about. It is fact. One might conclude then that in the policy debate, the notion of isolating Hezbollah from Iran, and of weakening and pressurizing President Assad, simply trumped the common sense judgment that when you pump highly toxic and dangerous fracturing substances into geological formations, you can never entirely know or control the consequences… So, when the GCC demanded a ‘price’ for any Iran deal (i.e. massing ‘fracking’ forces close to Aleppo), the pass had been already partially been sold by the US by 2012, when it did not object to what the ‘supporting powers’ wanted.”
Crooke’s analysis of the DIA report shows that it is irrelevant whether or not “the West” should be included in the “supporting powers” described by the report as specifically wanting a “Salafist Principality” in eastern Syria. Either way, the report groups “the West, Gulf countries and Turkey” as supporting the Syrian insurgency together — highlighting that the Gulf states and Turkey operated in alliance with the US, Britain, and other Western powers.
The observations of intelligence experts Ellsberg, Rowley, and Drake add further weight to Crooke’s analysis. They come in addition to comments I had previously received on the DIA document from former MI5 counter-terrorism officer, Annie Machon, and former counter-terrorism intelligence officer, Charles Shoebridge.
The comments undermine the recent claims of disgraced US national security commentator, John Schindler, a retired NSA intelligence officer, to the effect that the August 2012 DIA report is “almost incomprehensible,” “so heavily redacted that its difficult to say much meaningful about it,” “Nothing special here, not one bit,” “routine,” “a single data point,” and so on.
Schindler cites the DIA’s use of ‘Curveball’ — the Iraqi informant who fabricated claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) — as evidence of the agency’s “less than stellar reputation.” But this misrepresents the fact noted by the CIA’s Valerie Plame Wilson that “it was widely known [in the intelligence community] that CURVEBALL was not a credible source and that there were serious problems with his reporting.”
As I’ve documented elsewhere, the WMD threat mythology was not the outcome of an ‘intelligence failure’, as Schindler and his ilk like to claim, but a consequence of the corruption and politicization of intelligence under the influence of dubious vested interests.
Also contrary to Schindler’s misinformation, an IIR provides raw intelligence data from human sources (HUMINT), not simply rumour, gossip or opinion. Before wider distribution, the IIR is vetted to determine whether it is worthy of dissemination to the intelligence community. IIRs then provide a source basis for evaluation, interpretation, analysis and integration with other information.
Far from justifying the dismissal of the relevance of the declassified DIA documents, this shows that urgent questions must be asked:
What happened to this raw intelligence data, described by six US UK intelligence experts as providing damning confirmation of how Western strategy led to the rise of ISIS?
And why did it not lead to a change in policy, despite DIA analysts’ clear warning of the outgrowth of an ISIS-entity from Western allies’ desire to see a ‘Salafist Principality’ in the region — a warning which was, in hindsight, quite accurate?
Are intel critics traitors?
Schindler previously characterized NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as a traitor and “pawn… of America’s adversaries.”
He now declares that those who cite the DIA report as proof the intelligence community “knew more about the rise of the Islamic State than they let on” are at best “fools; at worst, they’re deceivers who have lied to the American people.”
On the contrary, six decorated former senior US and British intelligence officials, many with direct experience of IIRs and their function, agree that the DIA report provides significant insight into the kind of intelligence available to the US intelligence community at the time.
Yet for Schindler, it seems, Ellsberg, Drake, Rowley, Crooke, Machon and Shoebridge are all, effectively, traitors simply for lending their expertise to public understanding of the newly declassified documents.
As Marcy Wheeler points out in Salon, the large corpus of secret DIA documents obtained by Judicial Watch demonstrates, at the least, that:
“The Intelligence Community (IC) knew that AQI had ties to the rebels in Syria; they knew our Gulf and Turkish allies were happy to strengthen Islamic extremists in a bid to oust Assad; and CIA officers in Benghazi (at a minimum) watched as our allies armed rebels using weapons from Libya. And the IC knew that a surging AQI might lead to the collapse of Iraq. That’s not the same thing as creating ISIS. But it does amount to doing little or nothing while our allies had a hand in creating ISIS. All of which ought to raise real questions about why we’re still allied with countries willfully empowering terrorist groups then, and how seriously they plan to fight those terrorist groups now. Because while the CIA may not have deliberately created ISIS, it sure seems to have watched impassively as our allies helped to do so.”
However, Wheeler overlooks that the reliance on foreign allies is a standard proxy war strategy — as Ellsberg explained in his interview — used by the covert operations arm of the US government to guarantee ‘plausible deniability.’
As I noted in my Middle East Eye analysis of the DIA document, there is extensive evidence against which to contextualize the DIA report’s assertions. This evidence shows that the CIA did not merely watch “impassively” as the Gulf states and Turkey supported violent extremists in Syria, but actively supervised, facilitated and accelerated this policy.
The August 2012 DIA document further corroborates this by repeatedly pointing out that the support to the Syrian insurgency from its allies was itself backed by “the West” — despite awareness of their intent to establish an extremist Salafi political entity.
While the DIA document was, indeed, just one data-point, analyzing it in context with the other DIA reports along with incontrovertible facts in the public record, establishes that the Pentagon was complicit in its allies’ support of Islamist terrorists, despite recognizing this could create an “Islamic State” in Iraq and Syria.
These revelations show that the real traitors are not the courageous whistleblowers who sacrifice everything to speak out on behalf of the public interest, but shameless shills like Schindler and Morell who willfully sanitize a dysfunctional and dangerous ‘national security’ system from legitimate public scrutiny.
Dr Nafeez Ahmed is an investigative journalist, bestselling author and international security scholar. A former Guardian writer, he writes the ‘System Shift’ column for VICE’s Motherboard, and is also a columnist for Middle East Eye. He is the winner of a 2015 Project Censored Award, known as the ‘Alternative Pulitzer Prize’, for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his Guardian work, and was selected in the Evening Standard’s ‘Power 1,000’ most globally influential Londoners.
Nafeez has also written for The Independent, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, New Internationalist, Counterpunch, Truthout, among others. He is the author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It (2010), and the scifi thriller novel ZERO POINT, among other books. His work on the root causes and covert operations linked to international terrorism officially contributed to the 9/11 Commission and the 7/7 Coroner’s Inquest.
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