President Obama claimed over the weekend he was caught off guard by the rise of the terrorist army of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and the campaign it began in May to capture large areas of Iraq and blamed U.S. intelligence agencies for underestimating the ISIS threat.
Many dispute that this was an intelligence failure, but the president is in more trouble with his critics over a comment he made in January equating ISIS to a second-string junior-varsity basketball team.
The Langley Intelligence Group Network (LIGNET) — Newsmax Media’s global intelligence and forecasting service — has long been warning about the threat from ISIS and never regarded it as a “JV” terrorist group.
I wrote in a July 2
Newsmax article that Obama administration officials claimed in June they didn’t understand the seriousness of the ISIS threat because of an intelligence failure. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., the chairman of the House intelligence committee, disagreed, saying the Iraq crisis is a policy and not an intelligence failure. My article noted that Rogers has been concerned about ISIS for years and that there was a wealth of open information over the last year on the growing risk of a sectarian war in Iraq and the rise of ISIS.
Some of those warnings came from LIGNET.
LIGNET has been closely covering rising sectarian tensions in Iraq since U.S. forces withdrew in late 2011. In August 2013, LIGNET noted the looming al-Qaida threat in Iraq, warning:
“A sharp increase in deadly bombings in Iraq last month reflects the growing regional influence of al-Qaida and a return of the deadly sectarian violence that swept Iraq after Saddam Hussein was forced from power in 2003. The violence is now so severe that Iraqi officials were recently forced to ask for U.S. counterterrorism assistance.”
In a Nov. 7, 2013, analysis, Maliki’s Sunni Purge Brings Bloody Al-Qaida Backlash to Iraq
, LIGNET discussed how an al-Qaida affiliate was seizing control of territory in Iraq. While this article incorrectly treated ISIS and the al-Qaida franchise Al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) as separate entities (they merged in early 2013), it provided this information on how the Iraqi government was losing control of territory to al-Qaida affiliated groups:
“AQI is now gaining momentum toward achieving its operational objectives in Iraq. It is carrying out 40 mass-casualty attacks per month across multiple cities. AQI also has begun to govern and defend terrain. There is clear evidence of AQI operating shadow governments in the Southern Kukurk, Eastern Salah ad Din, and Northern Diyala provinces. Local terrorist cells now appoint emirs and Shura councils in provinces under their control.”
ISIS, which broke from al-Qaida, seized control of Fallujah and parts of the city of Ramadi in December. LIGNET sounded the alarm in a January 10 article, which said:
“The second edition of the Iraq War has begun, and the new urban battleground would be disturbingly familiar to U.S. veterans: Fallujah and Ramadi. Less than a month into the new year, Sunni fanatics affiliated with al-Qaida again are mounting an insurgency against an Iraqi central government just 40 miles away.”
Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, issued a similar warning in February when he testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that ISIS “will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria to exhibit its strength in 2014, as demonstrated recently in Ramadi and Fallujah, and the group’s ability to concurrently maintain multiple safe havens in Syria.”
Despite many warnings about ISIS in open-source assessments late last year, President Obama in January dismissed the ISIS threat in an interview with New Yorker magazine writer David Remick as a “JV basketball team.” Obama said:
“The analogy we use around here (the White House) sometimes and is accurate is if a JV team puts on Laker uniforms, that doesn't make them Kobe Bryant.”
LIGNET did not share the president’s view and continued to warn about ISIS this spring. LIGNET assessed in an April 25 analysis that the ISIS threat was so serious that the West might be forced to settle with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to defeat this terrorist group.
I don’t claim the analysis by U.S. intelligence agencies or LIGNET about ISIS has been perfect. But the record is clear that LIGNET’s professional analysts, using openly available information and our sources, painted an accurate picture of the growing risk of sectarian war in Iraq since 2012 and the ISIS threat by late last year.
It is certain, given their access to classified sources and State Department reporting, that U.S. intelligence analysts issued similar warnings over the last year to the White House with more detail about the ISIS threat to Syria, Iraq, and the region.
President Obama can’t blame his failure to recognize the threat from ISIS on U.S. intelligence agencies or anyone else because numerous classified and open-source assessments — including from LIGNET — were available on this threat by at least late last year. The president’s depiction of ISIS as a JV team suggests that despite compelling information to the contrary, Mr. Obama was in denial about the security situation in Iraq.
It is my hope that the president will quickly get beyond assigning blame for his mishandling the Iraq crisis and adopt a comprehensive policy to destroy ISIS so it does not turn large areas of Syria and Iraq into a terrorist sanctuary that will threaten the region and beyond.
Fred Fleitz served for 25 years with the CIA, the State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. He is currently Chief Analyst with LIGNET.com, Newsmax Media’s global intelligence and forecasting service. Read more reports from Fred Fleitz — Click Here Now.
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