Biden Defense Pick Lloyd Austin May Face Senate Opposition Over Alleged Manipulation of ISIS Intelligence

President-elect Joe Biden's pick for the next Secretary of Defense—retired General Lloyd Austin—may face a confirmation process hindered by allegations that, under his command, U.S Central Command downplayed the threat of Islamic State militants while American forces were fighting against them in eastern Syria and northern Iraq.

Austin, 67, has been described as a safe pair of hands that will dutifully carry out instructions from Biden, who he knows well from his time commanding American forces in Iraq and elsewhere during President Barack Obama's terms.

Four sources told The Associated Press that Biden had chosen to nominate Austin for the role, and that the official announcement could come as soon as Monday.

Austin would make history as the first Black leader of the Pentagon, assuming he is approved and receives an additional Congressional waiver exempting him from a law stating that former military members must be out of uniform at least seven years before serving as secretary of defense.

But his nomination will face opposition among both Republicans and Democrats. On the left, Austin's post-retirement role as a board member for the Raytheon defense contractor—for whom former Defense Secretary Mark Esper lobbied for years—will prompt unease.

So too will his role in America's failed efforts to fund and arm rebels in Syria, plus continued allegations that U.S. forces inflicted unacceptable civilian casualties—or even committed war crimes—in their push to dislodge ISIS fighters from their final holdouts in Iraq and Syria.

GOP lawmakers will take issue with Austin's record leading CENTCOM, during which time the command was accused of downplaying the threat posed by ISIS and manipulating intelligence to support its flawed premise.

The Atlantic wrote in 2016 that Austin told the White House that ISIS was "a flash in the pan," prompting Obama to tell The New Yorker that the group—which came to control a swathe of territory in Iraq and Syria and has launched multiple terrorist attacks in the West—was terrorism's "jayvee team."

A spokesman for Austin told the magazine: "At no time has General Austin ever considered ISIL a 'flash in the pan' phenomenon," using an alternative acronym for the group which is still operational across the Middle East and Africa.

But a Congressional panel found in 2016 that Austin's CENTCOM tried to downplay the threat of the group, leading to "widespread dissatisfaction" among intelligence analysts.

The task force—set up by the Republican chairmen of the House Armed Services Committee, Intelligence Committee and Defense Appropriations Subcommittee—said: "Intelligence products approved by senior CENTCOM leaders typically provided a more positive depiction of U.S. antiterrorism efforts than was warranted by facts on the ground and were consistently more positive than analysis produced by other elements of the intelligence community."

"Throughout the first half of 2015, many Central Command press releases, statements and congressional testimonies were significantly more positive than actual events," the report said.

The panel found no evidence that pressure to do so was coming from the White House. Still, members of both parties pointed to a failure among CENTCOM's leadership, at the head of which sat Austin.

Then-Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo said CENTCOM's "most senior intelligence leaders manipulated the command's intelligence products to downplay the threat from ISIS in Iraq."

California Rep. Adam Schiff said in a statement that the command "created an overly insular process for producing intelligence assessments on ISIL and Iraqi Security Forces," which "stalled the release of intelligence products," undermined analyst morale and "insufficiently accommodated dissenting views."

Newsweek has contacted the Biden transition team to request comment on these concerns.

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Gen. Lloyd Austin, then commander of U.S. Central Command, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 16, 2015 in Washington, D.C. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/Getty