The White House’s Less-Than-Clear Answer on When Obama Knew About the Danger Posed by the Islamic State

President Barack Obama had detailed information about the severity of the danger posed by the Islamic State a year before the Sunni militant group took over large amounts of territory in Iraq, a former Pentagon official told Fox News.

This undated image posted on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014 by the Raqqa Media Center of the Islamic State group, a Syrian opposition group, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows a fighter from the Islamic State group, armed with a knife and an automatic weapon, next to captured Syrian army soldiers and officers, following the battle for the Tabqa air base, in Raqqa, Syria.  (AP Photo/Raqqa Media Center of the Islamic State group, File)

Asked about the story Tuesday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest didn’t give a direct answer.

“I’m not in a position to give details of the president’s daily briefing,” Earnest told reporters. “This is a closely held intelligence document. But I can tell you that for years, the president and members of his national security team have expressed concern about extremist elements in Syria and the destabilizing impact they could have on the broader region.”

The Islamic State claimed Tuesday that it had beheaded Steven Sotloff, a second American journalist, after announcing it had executed James Foley last month.

The former Pentagon official in Fox’s report said it would not be accurate to say the administration lacked the intelligence to be prepared for the terror group’s threat.

Fox reported that Obama “was given detailed and specific intelligence about the rise of the Islamic State as part of his daily briefing for at least a year before the group seized large swaths of territory over the summer.”

Earnest said the administration had been in close consultation with allies about extremist groups.

“That’s why you’ve seen the United States work very closely with countries throughout the region to counter this threat,” Earnest said. “It’s why you’ve seen the American government at the direction of the president work to support the moderate elements of the Syrian opposition, both to counter President [Bashar] Assad and to counter the extremist elements in that country.”

Obama in January was quoted in a New Yorker article referring to the Islamic State as a “JV team” wearing a Lakers uniform.

The former Pentagon official told Fox, “[we] were ready to fire, on a moment’s notice, on a couple hundred targets” but no order was given. In a few cases, targets were tracked for a “long period of time,” but eventually slipped away,” the former official said.