On Monday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest fended off questions about why President Barack Obama said “they” and not “we,” regarding whether there was an intelligence failure in not predicting the rise of the Islamic State, and if Obama was blaming his intelligence offcials.
During a "60 Minutes" interview Sunday, Obama was asked about the United States not anticipating the Islamic State's threat. He answered that his Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, "has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks about the street protests in Hong Kong during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, Sept. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Earnest said the president wasn't blaming U.S. intelligence and several times said, “the president has complete confidence in the intelligence community.”
“Everybody was surprised to see the rapid advance that ISIL was able to make from Syria across to the Iraqi border and how they were able to take over such large swaths of territory in Iraq did come as a surprise,” Earnest said. “That's something the president said several times and it's something senior members of the intelligence community have acknowledged as well. A lot of that was predicated on the underestimation of the will of Iraqi security forces to fight for their country.”
But ABC News reporter Jonathon Karl pointed to Nov. 13, 2013 testimony in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk who warned about the growing threat and the weakness of Iraqi defenses.
“AQ/ISIL has benefited from a permissive operating environment due to inherent weaknesses of Iraqi security forces, poor operational tactics, and popular grievances, which remain unaddressed, among the population in Anbar and Ninewa provinces. It has also benefited from a sanctuary across the porous border in Syria, control of lucrative facilities there, such as oil wells, and regular movement of weapons and fighters between Syria and Iraq,” McGurk told the House panel.
Karl asked added that two months after McGurk's testimony to Congress, Obama called the Islamic State a “JV team.”
Karl added that Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency, made a similar warning before Congress in February.
The reporter pressed: “Did the president hear this? Did he know? You mentioned Clapper. We know he heard what Clapper said, the head of the DNI. Do we know what these other top officials in his own administration were saying about the threat from ISIL?”
Earnest said, “I'm not going to get into what sort of private conversations the president had with the intelligence community.”