About a year ago, a document surfaced on the internet that spurred all kinds of chatter about links between the US government and ISIS. I heard about it from many different people, asking what I thought about it. It received attention here and here, among many others.I meant to write about it some time ago, but never got around to it. Here’s the quick rundown of my take:
A) The documents in question were released under FOIA, a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
B) Thus, there is every reason to believe they are real. Other times, documents of questionable provenance emerge through leaks and claim to be real, but their authenticity is unverifiable.
C) The document comes from the Department of Defense, and is listed in the original as “Information Report: Not Finally Evaluated Evidence.” This is on page 2 of the PDF.
D) The report is from Aug 12, 2012- though I can only find the 2012 part in a report about the document, not in the document itself.
E) The report itself is about Iraq and discusses events in Syria next door as they potentially threaten Iraq.
F) The passage in question is here:
This comes under subheading 8, “The Effects on Iraq” and starts with a conditional, “if the situation unravels, there is a possibility…”. When read in conjunction with the rest of the report, linked above and here, it becomes clear this is a threat estimate, not a policy prescription. What gives this even more context, is the section that preceded it, where the report lists the stability of the Syrian regime, with no such “Salafist principality” :
Note that I deliberately screenshotted the continuity of the report to show that I left nothing out, but again if you don’t believe me just go back to the original for yourself. Point A clearly lists the possibility that the regime solidifies and survives, while B lists the potential for a proxy war. This again supports my conclusion that this is a threat estimate, not a policy prescription. Along with the labeling of the document at the top saying it was “not finally evaluated evidence”, making claims that this proves the USA and other opposition powers brought ISIS into being are not supported by this document. To be clear, this document doesn’t prove the opposite, that the USA had nothing to do with the emergence of ISIS in Syria. It proves neither.
G) The larger questions of who wrote this document, who it was sent to, and what other exercises it was tied to are not clear and should likewise preclude any jumping to conclusions. There is coded information at the top of the document I don’t have the insider knowledge to pick apart. We don’t know, for example, if this document was responded to, embraced, rejected, ignored, etc. This is a key for archival research. Singular documents rarely tell the whole story, they must be triangulated with many others to get the full picture. Thus, even without the points I made about what the document says, the conclusions being drawn from one subsection of this document cannot be supported.
H)Finally, why would the document be released if it actually proved what many think it proves? The US government is notorious for releasing documents through FOIA that are so heavily redacted they become unreadable. There is no explanation for why this would be released if it was actually so incriminating.
Just so that it’s clear, no, I am not defending the US government or the DOD. I am a regular critic of American foreign policy and especially all the ways American military force is used around the globe. I am also a regular critic of President Obama, again especially on foreign policy. One need not like these policies in any way to point out what I am pointing out here.