World Bulletin/News Desk
President Barack Obama's assertion that U.S. intelligence agencies failed to predict the rapid rise of ISIL in Syria and Iraq drew a sharp riposte from several top congressmen and intelligence community members in Washington on Monday.
"This was not an Intelligence Community failure, but a failure by policy makers to confront the threat," Mike Rogers, chairman of the House of Representative Intelligence Committee said.
Several current officials from the CIA and other agencies declined to publicly comment on the president's statement. But privately, officials cited many warnings, some made public in Congressional testimony, which had spelled out the growing threat over the last year.
Former intelligence officials objected to Obama's statement. They suggested he was holding the spy agencies up as a scapegoat to mask what the president's critics say was his own slowness to react to the danger.
In an interview with the CBS "60 Minutes" show on Sunday Obama quoted James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, as having "acknowledged that... (US agencies) underestimated what had been taking place in Syria."
Clapper had told Washington Post columnist David Ignatius earlier this month that U.S. agencies had underestimated the "will to fight" of ISIL and overestimated the fighting capability of the Iraqi army.
However, Clapper also asserted that US agencies did accurately report the ISIL's growing "prowess and capability" as well as "deficiencies" of the Iraqi military. "It boils down to predicting the will to fight, which is an imponderable," he said.
Adam Schiff, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee said agency analysts clearly understood ISIL was a growing threat. "I don't fault the intelligence community for this _ there is a difference between providing valuable intelligence and having a crystal ball," he said.
Rogers said in a statement: "For over a year, U.S. intelligence agencies specifically warned that ISIL was taking advantage of the situation in Syria to recruit members and provoke violence that could spill into Iraq and the rest of the region."
He said that in 2013 his committee had formally pressed the Obama administration to act to address the threat.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest, quizzed repeatedly on what Obama meant in the CBS interview, said the president did not mean to cast blame on the U.S. intelligence community and said he had a high degree of confidence in its abilities.
Earnest conceded that Obama and the agencies had both underestimated the rise of ISIL. "Predicting the will of foreign security forces to fight for their country is difficult, right?" he said.
U.S. agencies, and some Congress members, have over the last year issued many explicit warnings about the ISIL's growing strength, its expansion into Iraq, its apparent interest in moving on Baghdad, and the weakness of Iraqi security forces.
Former senior U.S. intelligence officials said Obama and his policy advisors shared the blame for failing to spot the rapid and devastating advance of ISIL, which has drawn the U.S. military back to the region in a new air campaign.
"The intelligence community is always a convenient scapegoat for White House failures," said Bruce Riedel, a former senior CIA expert on the region who has sometimes advised Obama on policy.
"If the President believes these are in fact intelligence failures then it behoves him to get new leaders to ensure there are no more such failures," Riedel added.Last Mod: 30 Eylül 2014, 11:05