Devin Nunes is leveling a heavy charge.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Lawmaker Accuses Military of Deleting Evidence in Intel Probe

Eli Lake is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun and UPI.
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The chairman of one of the House committees investigating manipulation of military intelligence on the Islamic State said Thursday that e-mails and other files needed for the investigation have been deleted.

Representative Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, made that allegation in his opening remarks at a hearing on worldwide threats. "It is vital that this committee protect and seriously consider the testimony of the many whistleblowers who provide information to us," Nunes said. "For example, we have been made aware that both files and e-mails have been deleted by personnel at CentCom, and we expect that the Department of Defense will provide these and all other relevant documents to the committee."

These charges are serious. Central Command has been under investigation by the Pentagon's inspector general since last year when scores of CentCom intelligence analysts complained to the watchdog that their findings were being selectively edited to paint a far rosier picture in 2014 and 2015 about the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State than the facts warranted.

The New York Times reported in November that military officials alleged that important e-mails and files that should have been turned over to the inspector general had instead been deleted. But that report also said the Pentagon's inspector general could not verify the files had been deleted. At the time, Nunes himself queried the inspector general about these deletions.

Now Nunes is saying publicly that whistleblowers tell him important files have been deleted. This opens a new line of inquiry for the House committees on intelligence and armed services investigating CentCom. Congress is not only investigating intelligence manipulation about the Islamic State, but also an effort from senior officials to cover that up.

The scandal inside CentCom harkens back to the George W. Bush presidency, when military intelligence analysts came forward to question the unrealistic plans for fighting the insurgency in Iraq.

Indeed, one of the leading CentCom analysts who initially complained to the inspector general was Gregory Hooker, who went public in 2005 about the Pentagon's failed strategy in Iraq.

At the hearing Thursday, Nunes referenced an anonymous survey of military intelligence analysts about the quality of the intelligence process. He said this survey found that 40 percent of the respondents "feel there are problems with analytic integrity." When asked about those results, Lt. General Vincent Stewart, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said he considered these results "unusually high."  

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Philip Gray at philipgray@bloomberg.net