The Department of Defense and the News Media Fall for a Fake ISIS Document

Colonel Steve Warren, official spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve (our attack on Daesh), just released a declassified document obtained by the US, which details an egregious plan by the terrorist group: in anticipation of fleeing Fallujah, the document directs its fighters to dress as members of the Iraq security forces (ISF) and the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an Iraqi state-sponsored umbrella group of militias; and then commit various atrocities such as torturing, looting, killing, and demolishing mosques with explosives – all the while filming the activity then leaking video to the news media, framing the ISF and PMF.

And given the age we live in, naturally Col. Warren released the document on Twitter:

While the content of Col. Warren’s leaked document is troubling, what is ultimately more troubling is that the document he presented as fact is undoubtedly fake.

Jihadist expert Aymenn Al-Tamimi immediately dismissed Warren’s released document as a forgery. Via Twitter, Al-Tamimi pointed out that the document’s letterhead referred to Ninawa Province, when Fallujah is in Anbar Province; the document has an off-hand reference to “Fallujah and Baiji,” when the latter is in yet another part of Iraq; the document is signed by a “Security and Military Director,” two duties not included under the auspices of one person; and the document refers to the PMF by the name it goes by, whereas Daesh always refers to it with a derisive name (in the same vein as referring to Islamic State as “Daesh”).


Al-Tamimi also admonished the New York Times for uncritically reporting Col. Warren’s claims in its coverage.

I forwarded Al-Tamimi’s assessment to Omar Al-Jawoshy, co-author of the New York Times article in question, who responded, “Thanks man, will take this in consideration. Really appreciated.”

Sometime later, the Times article was updated with the following:

The authenticity of the leaflets could not be independently confirmed, and experts on the Islamic State were debating their validity after the coalition publicized them on Tuesday.

This all begs the question, Is the Department of Defense falling for an obviously fake document, presumably forged by someone with their own agenda? Or is this document some sort of propaganda strategically disseminated by the US?

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense believed it would not be the latter.

“I don’t know where Colonel Warren got the document from,” the spokesperson said. “I worked closely with Colonel Warren for over a year and I would assume he would not be putting out from the podium anything if he knew it were false.”

Regardless, for now we should take with skepticism the claim that Daesh plans to commit atrocities while framing the ISF and PMF. This would hardly be the first instance of an accusation of Daesh atrocities not holding up: already a UN official fell for a forged document claiming Daesh ordered that all girls in Mosul be subjected to FGM; and some news outlets (and Sarah Palin) uncritically reported that Daesh issued a fatwa to euthanize Mosul children who have Down Syndrome, based solely on an unsubstantiated Facebook page posting.

It is unfortunate that unproven accusations of Daesh atrocities circulate, given the amount of verifiable ones.