Command in Middle of Intelligence Scandal Admits It Can’t Vet a Twitter Picture

As a number of outlets are reporting, CentCom released this statement yesterday afternoon.

U.S. Central Command was notified at approximately 1 p.m. today that a commander of a New Syrian Forces element operating in Syria surrendered some of his unit’s Coalition-issued equipment to a suspected Al Nusra Front intermediary purportedly in exchange for safe passage within their operating area.

“Today the NSF unit contacted Coalition representatives and informed us that on Sept. 21-22 they gave six pick-up trucks and a portion of their ammunition to a suspected Al Nusra Front intermediary, which equates to roughly 25 percent of their issued equipment,” said Col. Patrick Ryder, U.S. Central Command spokesperson. “If accurate, the report of NSF members providing equipment to Al Nusra Front is very concerning and a violation of Syria train and equip program guidelines.”

Earlier this week, Al Nusra Front tweeted an image of a Coalition-issued rifle and claimed that the newest NSF members had handed over all their weapons upon re-entering Syria last week. Central Command conducted an analysis of the image depicted in the Tweet and determined the claim to be false.  This determination was based on NSF members reporting that all personnel and equipment were under NSF control and because the tweeted image was an old picture repurposed from the Facebook page of a previously deployed NSF fighter from a different training class.

“In light of this new information, we wanted to ensure the public was informed as quickly as possible about the facts as we know them at this time,” said Col. Ryder.  “We are using all means at our disposal to look into what exactly happened and determine the appropriate response.”

That is, CentCom is explaining that when they claimed reports the rebels had handed over their weapons early in the week was a lie, they were wrong. They had based that assertion on the representations of our trained and vetted rebels, including the claim that a picture posted to Twitter was a recycled image (something that happens a lot in propaganda from Syria, from all sides). Given their caveat about whether this latest claim — that the rebels handed over six pick-ups and a bunch of ammunition — may not be accurate, it suggests they still don’t actually know. Which, in turn, suggests they didn’t have the means to vet the tweeted picture, nor do they have enough independent HUMINT coming from the region to be able to fact check what the latest batch of vetted and trained rebels tell them.

This may or may not have to do with the allegations that the intelligence at CentCom is cooked. It, at a minimum, speaks to collection and analysis issues, only the latter of which was covered in the complaint to the Inspector General.

Whatever the cause, though, it does raise real concerns about how blind CentCom is right now.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

4 replies
  1. Don Bacon says:

    This was a result of the corrupt SOCOM train & equip contracts to Purple Shovel LLC, a six-person freight forwarding firm in Virginia, as described <a href="“>here, and if you haven’t seen CENTCOM’s General Austin’s ridiculous congressional testimony it’s here.

  2. Don Bacon says:

    this should be better: (crosses fingers)
    This was a result of the corrupt SOCOM train & equip contracts to Purple Shovel LLC, a six-person freight forwarding firm in Virginia, as described here, and if you haven’t seen CENTCOM’s General Austin’s ridiculous congressional testimony it’s here.

  3. Les says:

    It looks like both Iraq/Syria and Nigeria are turning to Russia and Chine to help combat these US-manufactured insurgencies. That’s one of the drawbacks of this policy. You have to keep propping up these rebels in order to force the governments to host your military. Once you’re in, they find out this is nothing more than a Mafia-esque protection racket.

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