New CIA director David Petraeus, who served as commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, has denied reports he wants the spy agency to give greater weight to the US military’s more upbeat view of the war.
“No one on the CIA leadership team has directed that our analysts pay more attention to or place more weight on the views of our military colleagues,” Petraeus said in a statement late Friday to agency employees.
The retired four-star general, who took over as CIA chief last month, issued the unusual rebuttal after the Associated Press reported that Petraeus approved a change requiring CIA analysts to confer with battlefield officers before presenting their findings to the head of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan.
In the past, CIA analysts had first presented their assessment to chiefs of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), who then shared the results with officers in the field.
Petraeus acknowledged a change in how analysts would go about their work in Afghanistan, but said the suggestion that it was “somehow designed to impose a military viewpoint on our analysis” was “flat wrong.”
“The change was simply this: to ask our analysts to discuss their findings with working-level ISAF officers before discussing them with the ISAF leadership — the same steps, but just in a different order,” he said.
The tone of his statement suggested the report had hit a raw nerve, as the armed forces and the CIA have long disagreed about the course of the war, with the intelligence service taking a more skeptical view than senior military officers on the ground.
Before taking over as CIA director, Petraeus had gone to great lengths to try to reassure those inside and outside the agency that he would take care not to push a military mindset onto the intelligence service.
But less than two months after starting his new job, Petraeus found himself on the defensive, pledging to CIA workers that he was not seeking to meddle in intelligence assessments.
Petraeus said the new approach would not alter the “objectivity” of CIA analysis of the war in Afghanistan and that the change was “one of process, not substance.”
“We will still ‘call it like we see it,’ but now with even better ground truth,” he said.
Before arriving at the Central Intelligence Agency, Petraeus retired from the military in a move designed in part to underline his break with his previous career and build trust with the agency’s work force.
For the CIA, any perceived pressure over intelligence findings is a sensitive issue.
Officials in the administration of former president George W. Bush were accused of manipulating intelligence in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and pushing the CIA to promote the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime.
In his message Friday to employees, Petraeus said he stood by his previous pledges to fully back independent analysis by intelligence officers without interference.
“Before my confirmation and after my arrival at our Agency, I made it abundantly clear that I support strong, objective analysis,” he said.
He and fellow CIA leaders agreed that agency analysis “is wholly owned by our analysts,” Petraeus said. “It’s yours.”
“And when I head downtown to the White House to present the CIA’s findings, I take great pride in faithfully presenting your work to the President and to other leaders of our government.”
Petraeus, with an acute intellect and high media profile, became the country’s most influential officer for his role as commander in Iraq, where he won praise in Washington for rescuing the troubled US war effort.
His legacy in Afghanistan remains unclear, but during his year-long tenure there that ended in July, Petraeus argued the US-led campaign was making steady progress. The CIA, however, has tended to present a less hopeful view, US officials say.
The AP report said the change in how the CIA would prepare its analysis was requested by the current US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, who took over from Petraeus.
The change was endorsed by the then acting CIA director, Michael Morell, before Petraeus arrived at the agency in September, according to the report and the CIA chief’s statement.