Filled Under: Chemical Warfare
High-Level U.S. Intelligence Officers: Syrian Government Didn’t Launch Chemical Weapons
Numerous Intelligence Officials Question Administration’s Claims
September 7, 2013
Preface: Without doubt, intelligence is being manipulated to justify war against Syria. Here, here,here, here and here.
Without doubt, the Syrian rebels had access to chemical weapons … and have apparently used them in the recent past.
Associated Press reported last week:
An intercept of Syrian military officials discussing the strike was among low-level staff, with no direct evidence tying the attack back to an Assad insider or even a senior Syrian commander, the officials said.
So while Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that links between the attack and the Assad government are “undeniable,” U.S. intelligence officials are not so certain that the suspected chemical attack was carried out on Assad’s orders, or even completely sure it was carried out by government forces, the officials said.
Another possibility that officials would hope to rule out: that stocks had fallen out of the government’s control and were deployed by rebels in a callous and calculated attempt to draw the West into the war.
Reuters notes today:
With the United States threatening to attack Syria, U.S. and allied intelligence services are still trying to work out who ordered the poison gas attack on rebel-held neighborhoods near Damascus.
No direct link to President Bashar al-Assad or his inner circle has been publicly demonstrated, and some U.S. sources say intelligence experts are not sure whether the Syrian leader knew of the attack before it was launched or was only informed about it afterward.
Indeed, numerous intelligence officers say that the rebels likely carried out the August 21st attack.
For example, the Daily Caller reports:
The Obama administration has selectively used intelligence to justify military strikes on Syria, former military officers with access to the original intelligence reports say, in a manner that goes far beyond what critics charged the Bush administration of doing in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war.
According to these officers, who served in top positions in the United States, Britain, France, Israel, and Jordan, a Syrian military communication intercepted by Israel’s famed Unit 8200 electronic intelligence outfit has been doctored so that it leads a reader to just the opposite conclusion reached by the original report.
The doctored report was picked up on Israel’s Channel 2 TV on Aug. 24, then by Focus magazine in Germany, the Times of Israel, and eventually by The Cable in Washington, DC.
According to the doctored report, the chemical attack was carried out by the 155th Brigade of the 4th Armored Division of the Syrian Army, an elite unit commanded by Maher al-Assad, the president’s brother.
However, the original communication intercepted by Unit 8200 between a major in command of the rocket troops assigned to the 155th Brigade of the 4th Armored Division, and the general staff, shows just the opposite.
The general staff officer asked the major if he was responsible for the chemical weapons attack. From the tone of the conversation, it was clear that “the Syrian general staff were out of their minds with panic that an unauthorized strike had been launched by the 155th Brigade in express defiance of their instructions,” the former officers say.
According to the transcript of the original Unit 8200 report, the major “hotly denied firing any of his missiles” and invited the general staff to come and verify that all his weapons were present.
The report contains a note at the end that the major was interrogated by Syrian intelligence for three days, then returned to command of his unit. “All of his weapons were accounted for,” the report stated.
An Egyptian intelligence report describes a meeting in Turkey between military intelligence officials from Turkey and Qatar and Syrian rebels. One of the participants states, “there will be a game changing event on August 21st” that will “bring the U.S. into a bombing campaign” against the Syrian regime.
The chemical weapons strike on Moudhamiya, an area under rebel control, took place on August 21. “Egyptian military intelligence insists it was a combined Turkish/Qatar/rebel false flag operation,” said a source familiar with the report.
[A “false flag” is a ploy for starting war which has been used by governments around the world for thousands of years.]
Agents provacateurs are as old as warfare itself. What better than a false flag attack, staged by al Qaeda and its al Nusra front allies in Syria, to drag the United States into a war?
And 12 very high-level former intelligence officials wrote the following memorandum to Obama today:
We regret to inform you that some of our former co-workers are telling us, categorically, that contrary to the claims of your administration, the most reliable intelligence shows that Bashar al-Assad was NOT responsible for the chemical incident that killed and injured Syrian civilians on August 21, and that British intelligence officials also know this. In writing this brief report, we choose to assume that you have not been fully informed because your advisers decided to afford you the opportunity for what is commonly known as “plausible denial.”
There is a growing body of evidence from numerous sources in the Middle East — mostly affiliated with the Syrian opposition and its supporters — providing a strong circumstantial case that the August 21 chemical incident was a pre-planned provocation by the Syrian opposition and its Saudi and Turkish supporters. The aim is reported to have been to create the kind of incident that would bring the United States into the war.
According to some reports, canisters containing chemical agent were brought into a suburb of Damascus, where they were then opened. Some people in the immediate vicinity died; others were injured.
We are unaware of any reliable evidence that a Syrian military rocket capable of carrying a chemical agent was fired into the area. In fact, we are aware of no reliable physical evidence to support the claim that this was a result of a strike by a Syrian military unit with expertise in chemical weapons.
In addition, we have learned that on August 13-14, 2013, Western-sponsored opposition forces in Turkey started advance preparations for a major, irregular military surge. Initial meetings between senior opposition military commanders and Qatari, Turkish and U.S. intelligence officials took place at the converted Turkish military garrison in Antakya, Hatay Province, now used as the command center and headquarters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and their foreign sponsors.
Senior opposition commanders who came from Istanbul pre-briefed the regional commanders on an imminent escalation in the fighting due to “a war-changing development,” which, in turn, would lead to a U.S.-led bombing of Syria.
At operations coordinating meetings at Antakya, attended by senior Turkish, Qatari and U.S. intelligence officials as well as senior commanders of the Syrian opposition, the Syrians were told that the bombing would start in a few days. Opposition leaders were ordered to prepare their forces quickly to exploit the U.S. bombing, march into Damascus, and remove the Bashar al-Assad government
The Qatari and Turkish intelligence officials assured the Syrian regional commanders that they would be provided with plenty of weapons for the coming offensive. And they were. A weapons distribution operation unprecedented in scope began in all opposition camps on August 21-23. The weapons were distributed from storehouses controlled by Qatari and Turkish intelligence under the tight supervision of U.S. intelligence officers.
U.S. saw yearlong rise in chemical weapons use by Syria
Officials cite a far bigger stream of intelligence than was reported. Some question the delay; others say a case had to be built.
By Ken Dilanian and David S. Cloud
5:14 PM PDT, September 6, 2013
WASHINGTON — In July 2012, senior U.S. intelligence officials drove to the Capitol to secretly brief top lawmakers on the first indications that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against its own people.
The classified reports about a small-scale attack weren’t definitive, according to U.S. officials who were privy to them. It was still a month before President Obama warned that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” and “change his calculus” about taking action in Syria.
But it was the beginning of a stream of intelligence documenting what U.S. officials say was a yearlong escalation in the use of the banned weapons by the government of President Bashar Assad, a far more extensive record of the incidents than previously known. The Obama administration did not publicly acknowledge the attacks for months, and declared in April that it believed Syria had used chemical weapons.
Obama is struggling to build support now for a punitive strike after an attack Aug. 21 that it says killed 1,429 people. With many of its members deeply skeptical, Congress is expected to begin voting next week on whether to authorize military action.
Administration officials say the evidence for previous chemical attacks wasn’t as compelling, and critics acknowledge it would have been even harder to make the case for a military response to more limited use of the banned weapons. But some current and former officials say the slow response by the White House raises questions about whether earlier, clearer warnings by Obama — and perhaps limited actions such as providing sophisticated weapons to Syrian rebels — could have deterred last month’s attack in Damascus suburbs.
“It’s one of these situations where silence equals consent,” said Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer for the Middle East who is now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank.
The Syrian government denies using chemical weapons, saying that would make little sense at a time when it has been retaking territory from the rebels.
But on Wednesday, Secretary of State John F. Kerry told lawmakers that the U.S. knew of 11 chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government before the August incident, more than double the number the administration had divulged previously. The U.S. believes 150 people or more might have been killed in those attacks, officials say.
“The president didn’t believe it was a compelling enough case to win the support of the American people and the world,” Kerry said when asked why Obama didn’t take military action in April.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who chairs the House intelligence committee, said in an interview that the Obama administration should have responded more forcefully to the earlier attacks in an effort to deter further use of chemical weapons.
“All the forensic evidence, everything you see with this attack, we had with previous attacks,” said Rogers, who receives regular intelligence briefings and works closely with the administration even as he often criticizes it.
“The only difference is, this one was on the front page of the newspaper,” Rogers said. “That is a horrific standard…. We dithered, and the result is you get the front-page attack and we get to see hundreds of dead children.”
As reports of chemical weapons attacks accumulated in 2012 and early 2013, some officials within the government felt that the White House, recalling the intelligence failures that led to the Iraq war and reluctant to get involved in Syria, was insisting on an unrealistic standard of proof.
“Some of us were convinced,” said a recently retired senior military officer involved in top-level discussions with the White House on Syria. “Others, carrying the extreme level of proof required after Iraq, did not think it met their level of confidence.” The officer, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on condition of anonymity when discussing classified intelligence.
Administration officials say the evidence on the previous attacks was not as strong, and was hampered by spotty intelligence coverage of Syria.
“Syria is a very challenging intelligence environment,” said a senior U.S. intelligence official. “Our methodology for understanding the scale is limited, particularly if the incident occurred in areas where our resources are thin.”
Chemical attacks started small and grew larger over the last year as the Assad government met with no international response, said U.S. officials briefed on the intelligence. In some cases, they said, a single shell was lobbed into a rural village, resulting in eight to 10 fatalities.
“First we started to see smaller use, for what I think was psychological impact,” Rogers said. “Then, in my mind, they moved to more tactical denial of battle space.”
A list compiled by the Syrian Human Rights League says there have been 63 suspected chemical attacks since last August, many of them killing 10 or fewer people. Investigating such attacks is difficult, experts say, because of the difficulty of obtaining tissue and soil samples and other evidence before it disappears. And some of those incidents may have involved crowd-control agents that are not banned, such as tear gas, or diluted chemical weapons.
The issue became public in spring.
U.S. officials say a March 19 sarin gas attack by the government went awry, killing Syrian troops. U.S. intelligence officials briefed Congress about it, and Rogers and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) appeared afterward on CNN. Rogers said he believed chemical weapons had been used by the Assad government, though he didn’t give specifics. Feinstein agreed, though she said the White House had urged her not to talk about it.
In April, Britain and France asserted to the United Nations that the Syrian government had conducted chemical attacks in the cities of Homs, Aleppo and Damascus.
Initially the Obama administration said it was still reviewing the evidence. Then, on April 25, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters the U.S. believed the Syrian government had used chemical weapons. The administration sent a letter to key lawmakers saying U.S. intelligence agencies “assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin.”
At that point, though, White House officials still weren’t prepared to say that Assad had crossed Obama’s threshold for action. By June, the evidence had become impossible to ignore, officials say. White House deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes announced that “our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year.”
The intelligence, he said, included “reporting regarding Syrian officials planning and executing regime chemical weapons attacks; reporting that includes descriptions of the time, location and means of attack; and descriptions of physiological symptoms that are consistent with exposure to a chemical weapons agent.”
Rhodes cited four attacks: March 19 and April 13 near Aleppo; May 14 in the town of Qasr Abu Samra; and a May 23 attack in the eastern part of Damascus. The U.S. response was a presidential authorization for covert delivery of lethal aid to the Syrian rebels. But the provision of those weapons has been slowed by logistical and security concerns, officials acknowledged.