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Critics Say Obama Had Plenty Of Warning On ISIS

After President Obama told CBS the U.S. underestimated ISIS's threat, critics say the president had plenty of warnings about the terror group.
Posted at 8:17 PM, Sep 29, 2014

President Obama has been getting a lot of criticism for his recent remarks about U.S. intelligence on the terrorist group ISIS.

PRESIDENT OBAMA VIA CBS: "I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria."

Obama's comments echoed the words of prominent intelligence officials like Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who admitted the U.S. underestimated the ISIS threat and overestimated the Iraqi army's willingness to fight ISIS. National Security Agency director Mike Rogers has also publicly expressed some regret about the NSA's intelligence efforts on ISIS.

But critics accuse Obama of unfairly blaming the intelligence community, claiming the White House received plenty of warnings about the threat ISIS posed.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN VIA CNN"We predicted this, and watched it. It was like watching a train wreck. ... This idea that somehow we didn't know this was happening, of course we knew this was happening. We saw it happen."

RICHARD ENGEL VIA MSNBC"Everyone knew that Islamic extremists were on the rise in Syria and in Iraq. It was well documented. ... The fact that U.S. intelligence missed it is somewhat surprising."

So, when did the administration really know about the ISIS threat, and did the intelligence community really drop the ball?

One of the earliest public warnings came from a State Department official, Brett McGurk, who in Nov. 2013 and again in Feb. 2014 gave a thorough description of ISIS's capabilities and ambitions to House members. (Video via C-SPAN)

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, sounded a similar alarm to the Senate in February, warning ISIS "probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria."

And intelligence officials told Fox News detailed warnings about ISIS had been routinely passed along to the President since 2013.

"The threat from ISIS and Khorasan was well documented in the President's Daily Brief for over a year, but the White House failed to act."

One anonymous former intelligence official told The Daily Beast that, given the amount of warnings, both public and private, that were issued about the ISIS threat, "either the president doesn't read the intelligence he’s getting or he's [lying]."

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest defended the president's remarks Monday, trying to reframe Obama's comments as less about ISIS' potential threat and more about the capabilities of the Iraqi army to combat that threat.

"Everybody knew that there was a threat posed by ISIL, but what nobody could predict, as the director said, is the willingness of the Iraqi security force to stand up and fight for their own country."

Some media outlets are also defending the president's comments, noting they more or less mirror James Clapper's own assessment of U.S. intelligence surrounding ISIS.

And one MSNBC writer doesn't think Obama's remarks were exceptionally controversial.  "ISIS had more success, faster, than anyone expected, including governments in the region. It led everyone, including U.S. officials, to overhaul perceptions and look at the chessboard anew."

The U.S. is currently leading an international coalition to dismantle ISIS and has carried out hundreds airstrikes against the group.

This video includes images from Getty Images.