Former DIA Chief Michael Flynn Says Rise of Islamic State was “a willful decision” and Defends Accuracy of 2012 Memo

Lengthy discussion of the DIA memo begins at the 8:50 mark.

In Al Jazeera’s latest Head to Head episode, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Michael Flynn confirms to Mehdi Hasan that not only had he studied the DIA memo predicting the West’s backing of an Islamic State in Syria when it came across his desk in 2012, but even asserts that the White House’s sponsoring of radical jihadists (that would emerge as ISIL and Nusra) against the Syrian regime was “a willful decision.”

Amazingly, Flynn actually took issue with the way interviewer Mehdi Hasan posed the question—Flynn seemed to want to make it clear that the policies that led to the rise of ISIL were not merely the result of ignorance or looking the other way, but the result of conscious decision making:

Hasan: You are basically saying that even in government at the time you knew these groups were around, you saw this analysis, and you were arguing against it, but who wasn’t listening?
Flynn: I think the administration.
Hasan: So the administration turned a blind eye to your analysis?
Flynn: I don’t know that they turned a blind eye, I think it was a decision. I think it was a willful decision.
Hasan: A willful decision to support an insurgency that had Salafists, Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood?
Flynn: It was a willful decision to do what they’re doing.

Hasan himself expresses surprise at Flynn’s frankness during this portion of the interview. While holding up a paper copy of the 2012 DIA report declassified through FOIA, Hasan reads aloud key passages such as, “there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria, and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

Rather than downplay the importance of the document and these startling passages, as did the State Department soon after its release, Flynn does the opposite: he confirms that while acting DIA chief he “paid very close attention” to this report in particular and later adds that “the intelligence was very clear.”

Lt. Gen. Flynn, speaking safely from retirement, is the highest ranking intelligence official to go on record saying the United States and other state sponsors of rebels in Syria knowingly gave political backing and shipped weapons to Al-Qaeda in order to put pressure on the Syrian regime:

Hasan: In 2012 the U.S. was helping coordinate arms transfers to those same groups [Salafists, Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda in Iraq], why did you not stop that if you’re worried about the rise of quote-unquote Islamic extremists?

Flynn: I hate to say it’s not my job…but that…my job was to…was to to ensure that the accuracy of our intelligence that was being presented was as good as it could be.

The early reporting that treated the DIA memo as newsworthy and hugely revelatory was criticized and even mocked by some experts, as well as outlets like The Daily Beast. Yet the very DIA director at the time the memo was drafted and circulated widely now unambiguously confirms the document to be of high value, and indicates that it served as source material in his own discussions over Syria policy with the White House.

As Michael Flynn also previously served as director of intelligence for Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) during a time when its prime global mission was dismantling Al-Qaeda, his honest admission that the White House was in fact arming and bolstering Al-Qaeda linked groups in Syria is especially shocking given his stature.

Consider further the dissonance that comes with viewing the Pentagon’s former highest ranking intelligence officer in charge of the hunt for Osama bin Laden now calmly and coolly confessing that the United States directly aided the foot soldiers of Ayman al-Zawahiri beginning in at least 2012 in Syria.

This confirmation is significant to my own coverage of the DIA report, as I was contacted by a number of individuals who attempted to assure me that the true experts and “insiders” knew the document was unimportant and therefore irrelevant within the intelligence community and broader Syria policy.

This began after a Daily Beast article entitled The ISIS Conspiracy That Ate the Web  cited former NSA officer John Schindler as an expert source. Schindler concluded of the DIA document: “it’s difficult to say much meaningful about it… Nothing special here, not one bit.”

To my surprise, only hours after I published a rebuttal of Schindler and the Daily Beast article, I was contacted by a current high level CIA official who is also a personal friend from my time living in the D.C. area.

This official, who spent most of his career with CIA Public Affairs, made a personal appeal urging me to drop my comments attacking John Schindler’s credibility, as I had noted that Schindler is a highly ideological and scandal-laden commentator who consistently claims special insider knowledge in support of his arguments. This CIA official further attempted to convince me of Schindler’s credibility as an insider and expert, assuring me that “he has written insightfully.”

Mehdi Hasan’s historic interview with General Flynn should put the issue to rest—the declassified DIA report is now confirmed to be a central and vital source that sheds light on the origins of ISIS, and must inform a candid national debate on American policy in Syria and Iraq.

As it is now already becoming part of the official record on conflict in Syria among respected international historians, knowledge of the declassified document must make it into every American household.

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45 thoughts on “Former DIA Chief Michael Flynn Says Rise of Islamic State was “a willful decision” and Defends Accuracy of 2012 Memo

  1. I’m sure you realize that is a totally misleading headline and that the article completely butchers the interview.

      1. Thanks for asking. I don’t really know what better way of responding than to ask you to go to 10 minutes into the broadcast where the quote is taken from. Nowhere does he say that the by now infamous quote is an accurate summation of what was happening on the ground. The interviewer tries to put these words in his mouth four (depending on how you count them) times, and he dodges that.

        Let’s be clear. This guy is not criticizing the administration for supporting Salafists et al. He’s blaming the administration for pulling out of Iraq too soon and not aiding the Syrian opposition soon enough.

        The best the author can do is given in the few lines he quotes. But these quotes do not at all prove the author’s point.

        It’s actually a good interview of a very tough, shifty guy.

    1. “But these quotes do not at all prove the author’s point.”

      It seemed to me that the primary point of this article was to make clear once and for all that the DIA doc wasn’t merely something written up on a low level and never put to the attention of anybody in a more senior position.

      To the contrary, Flynn states that he himself was fully aware of the report and its contents, and that he brought it to the attention of the Obama administration (or he at least says this in so many words).

      As far as the specific quote from the document regarding the emergence of IS, I think it’s of secondary importance whether Flynn explicitly acknowledges this as a real characterization of facts on the ground. The fact that he dodged the issue 4 times (as you say) doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence that it’s a mischaracterization; if it were really off-the-wall, why wouldn’t Flynn say so (again, given ample opportunity to do just that)?

      Flynn knew of the report, thought it was significant enough that, according to him, he tried to raise attention about it, and he didn’t at any time challenge what it actually says.

      Aren’t these basically the points made in the above article ?

      1. ” it’s of secondary importance whether Flynn explicitly acknowledges this as a real characterization of facts on the ground”

        But of course he didn’t.

        “if it were really off-the-wall, why wouldn’t Flynn say so”

        I can think of lots of reasons he wouldn’t want to be drawn into this morass.

    2. Yes I know he didn’t, and I said its of secondary importance whether or not he did. The U.S. govt DID back elements within the insurgency in Syria, and on more than one occasion ended up helping jihadists. The fact that the whole time parts of the govt were predicting the rise of a “Salafist principality” doesn’t make the story any less of a blunder.

      For this story to be significant I don’t think it requires Flynn to say “Yes we knew we were helping groups full of jihadists (or groups who work with them) at the time,” it’s enough that this report was written and shared, and support continued anyway, and the result was essentially just as predicted, the rise of a “Salafist principality”.

  2. When IS got popular, nobody said “oh yeah we knew this would happen for years,” everyone ran around shocked and surprised.

    It’s newsworthy that intelligence agencies seemed to know exactly what was happening the whole time, and the horrible policy still continued. Maybe the Obama admin disagreed with the report, but seems they were wrong. I’m not fan of Flynn,

  3. It does not surprise me at all….
    The USA keeps doing the same mistakes over and over again . Supporting religious fanatics who are 100 times worse than the dictator they want to overthrow. it’s political gain and they never care about the risks and consequences … The USA do not care if the people they are arming are very dangerous psychopaths. Every time they plunge the planet in total chaos and violence . For this reason I now consider USA one of the most dangerous and arrogant countries in the world. And it’s time the world stopped following them blindly…

  4. I listened and I heard ” they willfully continue
    Their policy to support the fall of Assad knowing there were element of salafi and brother hood etc. you are editorializing. I’m waiting to see what will put to issue to rest . I have not seen it yet

  5. Yeah Juan Cole is an absurd case.. He was a major cheerleader for the Libyan intervention, which has turned that place into a jihadists wasteland. His last reference to anything about Libya is a piece written in early 2012 reporting that there was a mostly peaceful outcome from toppling Gadaffi. Just two sides of the same perpetual war coin. The blind left that takes no account of Obama’s equally disastrous Middle East policy.

  6. I will venture a guess that Intel agencies never saw the Daesh rat caliphate coming as it appears to have blindsided all of the players in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, KRG and Iran. In fact, Daesh rat is an internationalist Islamic movement, not a local Podunk Salafist tribalist gathering of Arab fighters. The USA role was in pouring arms into a conflict without any controls over where the weapons ended up. FSA was overrun by warriors of Islamic jihad by 2012; they didn`t stand a chance against battle hardened jihadi. It was die, join or run for their lives.

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