Are intel manipulation claims a symptom of a deeper problem?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," November 23, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Folks want to pop off and have opinions about what they think they would do, present us a specific plan. If they think that somehow their advisers are better than the chairman of my Joint Chiefs of Staff and the folks who are actually on the ground, I want to meet them.

So to the extent that it's been shaded, again, I don't know the details of what the I.G. may discover, but it feels to me like at my level, at least, we've had a pretty clear-eyed, sober assessment of where we've made real progress and where we have not.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Well, the White House says today the president is not afraid of getting bad news. But it may be bad news as the Defense Department expands the investigation into possibly cooking the books on intel about the situation with ISIS.

This comes as breaking news at the top of the show. The State Department releases a worldwide warning for U.S. citizens. The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to possible risks of travel due to increased terrorist threats. Current information suggests that ISIL, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and other terrorist groups continue to plan terrorist attacks in multiple regions.

Now this also comes as new FOX polls show how people are feeling out there. The Obama administration on ISIS -- this is not the one we're looking for. We're looking for poll number five. The Obama administration on ISIS not aggressive enough, now, and this is one of the most important issues facing the country.

You know what, I'm going to bring in the panel because that's where we're looking at, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, Robert Costa, national political reporter for The Washington Post, and Juan Williams, columnist with The Hill. Barring my poll calling there, Steve, what about this investigation into, and how serious is this? In what we have seen before, Fox first reported the story a ways back.

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes. We've been sort of all over this for a long time.

Look, there are three different investigations or discussions of investigation. There is the ongoing Pentagon inspector general investigation which is looking, as far as we can tell, at manipulation intelligence related to ISIS based on the Cent Com. There is some discussion, I talked to some people today, who believe that Pentagon inspector general investigation is expanded to include the manipulation of intelligence on Afghanistan as well.

What the president was talking about was a second investigation, another investigation that he wants to look at the manipulation of intelligence or potential manipulation of intelligence. I would submit that that won't be a very serious investigation because I think the manipulation of intelligence has been happening at the behest of the White House, and potentially at the direction of the White House.

There is a third investigation that Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has been basically conducting now for several years. He was one of the first members of Congress to be looking seriously at allegations of manipulating intelligence on the Usama bin Laden documents. They've made some head way on that. I think Nunes properly sees that as part of this latest investigation.

So the ISIS scandal investigation that we're talking about now is really a symptom of a deeper problem, and you've had senior U.S. officials on the record, Mike Flynn, former head of the DIA, Derek Harvey who ran CENTCOM's Afghanistan-Pakistan unit, senior U.S. officials say on the record that this intelligence manipulation was happening. It's quite serious.

BAIER: Nunes was here a week ago tonight. I asked him about this investigation and the disconnect between the administration and intel on ISIS.


REP. DEVIN NUNES, R-CALIF.: I think at a minimum it seems like the White House is surrounding themselves with a bunch of yes men, because when members of my committee, on the intelligence committee, we go out and visit these countries or meet with analysts, we always get a different picture that is painted for us than what we see in final product that's produced or in what the president and his advisers are saying on national television.


BAIER: The chairman of the House intelligence committee. Robert?

ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST: Nunes is an important figure to watch because he's close to Speaker Ryan and he's having the endorsement and the support of the speaker to pursue this. And you see a lot of House Republicans and Senate Republicans taking Nunes' line. There is a lot of concern about what the president is hearing from his advisers. I was just in Iowa over the weekend and saw seven presidential candidates. When especially I heard Senator Rubio and Senator Cruz and others speak out, they're talking about the information the president is getting. So not only is this a rising issue on Capitol Hill, but it is a big issue on the campaign trail.

BAIER: Steve mentioned Mike Flynn, Lieutenant General Flynn. I talked to him months ago about the disconnect with the administration and intel. Take a look at this.


BAIER: So your conclusions, your assumptions, were not tracking with what was coming out publicly with the Obama administration?

DIRECTOR: They were no longer assumptions. They were facts. You couldn't look at the facts as they were with the size, scale, numbers of organizations, the network that we saw, the thickening of lines between different groups, groups in Pakistan, groups in Yemen, groups in east Africa, groups in the Maghreb, the Mali area. And factually we knew that those lines were thicker and those organizations were more robust. What I know the intelligence said was not necessarily what we hear.

BAIER: It was diametrically opposed, wasn't it?

FLYNN: I would say from my perspective it was just the opposite.


BAIER: The former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS, THE HILL: Well, this is just a scandalous kind of development because you have to have good intelligence -- I don't care which political party you belong to -- in order to conduct a successful, effective strategy and military operation. Without information in the age we live in, you are running blind and it's ineffective.

And we've seen this before. We've seen it obviously with the weapons of mass destruction argument back in the Bush administration when you had obviously people talking about, CIA people talking about it's going to be a slam-dunk with regard to weapons of mass destruction, or the Defense Department, the Pentagon, saying we know the way around Tikrit and all the rest, and they didn't. They didn't know where things were. That tells you how serious this is. I don't care about the politics of it.

It does open the question, though, exactly whether or not this is being engineered by the Obama administration specifically, pressure coming from the president and his top aides and the National Security Council.
That would be Susan Rice. So Steve says, oh, you think it does have some connect to the White House specifically. I don't see that we've jumped that bridge yet, but I do think what we're dealing with here is the question about intelligence gathering that has dogged the United States now for a decade.

BAIER: Which is problematic. I'm going to try these polls again. Number nine, Obama's plan for the U.S. to accept 10,000-plus Syrian refugees over the next year, favor is at 28 percent, opposed is at 27 percent. It sounds really good. It's better if you could see it.

FOX 10, the poll, likelihood of at least one Syrian refugee who comes to the U.S. to carry out an attack, there you go, and there you see breakdown by the party. There is concern here, Steve, about the refugee issue, and it seems like the White House is disconnected on that issue as well.

HAYES: The White House would rather have a different argument. I think the White House now would rather have a discussion on gun control. But I think what you're seeing reflected on these poll numbers is the American public in a sense catching up to what a lot of senior intelligence officials has been.

And to go back to Juan's point, I think there is a pattern from this White House. I think you're right, we need to wait ask find out exactly what the White House was saying, if the White House was in fact ordering manipulation of intelligence or putting pressure. We need to find that out. But there is also a distinct pattern from the White House of downplaying this threat that stretches back to the days even before President Obama was elected. And if you look at things like the response to the Christmas day attempted bombing attack, when the president calls Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab an isolated extremist despite the fact that the FBI has already learned that he was sent by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, you can go forward and plot a number of these responses from the White House that suggests the president just wasn't interested in the facts.

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