WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s assertion that US intelligence agencies failed to predict the rapid rise of Islamic State 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 US agencies had underestimated the “will to fight” of Islamic State and overestimated the fighting capability of the Iraqi army.
However, Clapper also asserted that US agencies did accurately report the Islamic State’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 Islamic State 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, US 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 used an alternative acronym for the Islamic State.
He said that in 2013 his committee had formally pressed the Obama administration to act to address the threat.