In recent days news broke by Jacob Zenn that Boko Haram fighters are in Sirte Libya helping Islamic State fight the U.S. backed Libyan government. Of course Boko Haram fighters would refer to themselves as Islamic State in West Africa. Yet they are in North Africa fighting for the global jihad, which is unsurprising to those who saw the tactical advantages of an allegiance that was fundamentally ideological. At the same time, the New York Times and Daily Beast have put out some good articles where they clearly establish that DoD intelligence analysis on IS has been politicized to conform with the cheery portrayal of the White House that the campaign to defeat the nuisance that is Islamic State is going well.
Freefire blog predicted the alliance between Boko Haram and IS in early January this year because of some very basic elements of strategic intelligence analysis. That is an assessment of a threat based on the culture and beliefs of a hostile actor which accounts for what they say about themselves and their intentions. If an analysts fails to implement said first step and then war-games out the logic of a hostile actor based on assumptions from his own culture, he will always get it wrong. It’s a rookie mistake called ‘mirror-imaging.’ We see it often in the media but that type of poor analysis would have worse implications for analysts with consequential jobs in the intelligence community. As useless as that type of intelligence would be, it is not as bad is the politicization of intelligence analysis (which has been well documented regarding Boko Haram) described by the NYT and the Daily Beast. In a Western Democracy there is a strategic need for political leadership to be honest about the threats a country faces because politics drive policy. Particularly for an administration ill equipped to apply intelligence strategically.
Voters should note the pitfalls of electing an executive that sees intelligence and foreign policy as outliers that can be used and driven by domestic political priorities. The power of the United states, then, was never really brought to bare on IS with any significant consequence while so many lives have been lost. Those who can wield American power should be the type of intelligence consumers that understand the tactical implications of ideas and ideology. If we are not even interested in understanding an enemy, who would believe we had the resolve to defeat them? The reporting by the Daily Beast and New York Times show us that we had good intelligence analysis from the good folks doing their jobs at DIA and DoD which was rendered worthless by mirror-imaging and politicization by the White House and higher ups at CENTCOM who didn’t stand by their analysts and stand up to the pressure.