Tensions between the White House and top military and intelligence officials have never been greater.
The Daily Beast In interviews with many of them, a common theme is sounded: The threat from al Qaeda is rising, but the White House is looking to ratchet down the war against these Islamic extremists. As a result, intelligence gathered on these threats remain shrouded from the public and, in many cases, from senior government officials. And now Congress and the White House are beginning to consider modifying—and possibly revoking—the very authority to find, fix and finish those terrorists who pose the threat today.
One senior U.S. intelligence official said the frustration was that there is pressure from the White House to downplay the threat from some al Qaeda affiliates. “It comes from the top, it’s the message that al Qaeda is all these small franchise groups and they are not coordinated and threatening,” this official said. “It’s the whole idea of getting us out to place resources against something that they don’t think is a problem. It’s not their war, it’s not our conflict.”
But some senior U.S. intelligence officials, like Defense Intelligence Agency Director Gen. Michael Flynn, fought hard against that assessment, which amounted to an official pronouncement of the American intelligence community’s collected wisdom. Flynn and his faction won a partial victory, striking the judgment that the terrorist group no longer posed a threat to the homeland. “Flynn and others at the time made it clear they would not go along with that kind of assessment,” one U.S. intelligence officer who worked on the al Qaeda file told The Daily Beast. “It was basically: ‘Over my dead body.’”
One reason why CIA officers were so quick to conclude the Benghazi attack was an act of terrorism (not a response to a video) was because some of the fighters who participated in the attack were being watched by CIA officers at the time on the ground in Libya, according to U.S. intelligence officials and congressional investigators.