Good news for America’s intelligence professionals and military forces: USCENTCOM didn’t manipulate intelligence in order to present a rosy picture of successes and progress fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). That’s according to a 200-page report issued by the Department of Defense Inspector General (DoD IG). The report is nearly 500 pages long.

To conduct this investigation, the DoD IG fielded a multi-disciplinary Inspector General A-Team of “administrative investigators, intelligence analysts, Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) digital forensics specialists, auditors, attorneys, and statisticians.” Over the course of the investigation, this cross-functional team of experts evaluated—get this—“15.35 terabytes of unclassified, secret, and top secret data.”

If you’re interested in organizational leadership at all, it’s truly a valuable piece of work shedding light not just on the findings themselves, but on the entire intelligence gathering, analysis, reporting process and the CENTCOM intelligence apparatus. There’s a tremendous amount to learn in the report. One topic stands out, however: communications.


So what went wrong? According to the DoD IG report, the biggest problem was command climate. It’s easy to imagine how a poor command climate can affect the readiness of combat arms organizations, but leadership failures have equally devastating effects on supporting organizations, which of course bleed over to those being supported, the customer.

According to the report, new CENTCOM J2 leadership Army Maj. Gen. Steven Grove and Vice Director of Intelligence Gregory Ryckman “inherited a difficult command climate . . . .” Ultimately, Grove and Ryckman took some positive steps that, over time, improved command climate, something neither easy nor quick to change.

It’s apparent that communications failures are largely to blame for the debilitating command climate and, thus, a good deal of the problems. That’s not surprising. The CCJ2 was enduring “a stressful environment, a rapid pace of work, workforce reductions, crisis production, and an ambiguous relationship with DIA intelligence analysts assigned to the combatant command.” To survive in that sort of atmosphere, organizations have to have strong, trusted, candid, tactful communications processes; otherwise, very quickly rumors augmented by paranoia run rampant. Organizations divide into tribes and cliques. And trust among colleagues collapses. Suddenly, everything is a conspiracy meant to undermine the most noble efforts.

Communication products like the leader’s vision, command philosophy, open-door policy, and other organizational cultural information are tremendously important. And if those policies aren’t allowed to inform decisions up and down the chain, then they’re perceived as nothing more than propaganda, which adds to the conspiratorial environment. Indeed, “The initial impressions and uncertainty about MG Grove’s outlook and actions affected the workforce’s perceptions of his actions.” Further, “Due to these communication problems, individual leadership styles, and limited time to interact with JICCENT analysts, MG Grove and Mr. Ryckman did not establish initial mutual trust with many JICCENT analysts and leaders. This contributed to the perception that they had intentionally distorted intelligence to impose a pre-ordained narrative.”


In best IG style, the report offers nearly 30 recommendations for better organizational communications and processes, and they’re all well-worth reading, no matter how large or small your organization is. The report discusses with examples and before and after characterizations topics like feedback and follow-up, review processes, organizational identity, the effects of organizational changes, and more. Any leader, indeed, any employee, can glean a great deal of wisdom and perspective from this IG report.

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Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.