WASHINGTON – As the Obama administration apparently prepares to launch “limited” attacks on critical Syrian military targets in response to the mass poison gas attack in the outskirts of Damascus two weeks ago, there are disturbing questions over the quality of the intelligence – similar to questions over the intel that prompted the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Some prominent U.S. lawmakers and U.S. intelligence analysts say that dealing with the latest intelligence is deja vu of the intelligence used to justify the invasion a decade back.
The current intelligence, they point out, is not a “slam dunk” since it does not point directly to Syrian forces or to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as having ordered the attack.
The “slam dunk” refers to a comment former Central Intelligence Director George Tenet reportedly had told President George W. Bush in December 2002 in terms of the quality of the evidence the CIA had of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
Then in February 2003, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell before a worldwide televised meeting of the United Nations, with Tenet sitting behind him, outlined a case based predominantly on signals intelligence, or sigint, that the Iraqis had an operational capability to launch chemical and biological weapons.
It turned out to be wrong.
Later investigations revealed that the information was a massive deception on the part of the Iraqi regime to make Iran believe that it had such a capability in an effort to avoid a resumption of the Iran-Iraq War.
Mindful of the 2003 episode, the British parliament today voted against any military action by Great Britain, even though British Prime Minister David Cameron has been in the fore with President Barack Obama in calling for military action, along with the French.
The French parliament similarly is to meet shortly to review the intelligence and decide whether to participate in military action.
In the most recent case of the Syrian government’s alleged use of poison gas, sources say that U.S. and Israeli intelligence analysts once again are relying solely on sigint through the interception of communications, claiming to have overheard exchanges between a Syrian artillery unit and Syrian officials.
As WND previously reported, Israeli intelligence allegedly had picked up communications that the Syrian military unit controlled by Maher al-Assad, the brother of the Syrian president, had fired artillery rounds with chemical warheads, resulting in a reported 1,500 deaths.
The alleged Israeli intelligence said that the Syrian military component which allegedly fired the chemical weapons was the 155th Brigade of the 4th Armored Division of the Syrian Army, a division under the command of the Syrian president’s brother.
However, the intelligence doesn’t reveal that the unit actually fired the poison gas-laden artillery. In addition, these sources add that the information doesn’t rule out the possibility that foreign fighters may have fired the artillery.
Sources tell WND that Israel would have its own reasons for passing along such claims to Americans: The Israelis want the U.S. to hit the storage facilities where the chemical weapons precursors are stored.
The Israelis claim that contrary to American belief, bombing of these storage facilities would not create the poison gas cloud that could travel over populated areas, and add to numbers already killed by the attack.
To date, the U.S. reportedly has no intention of bombing the storage facilities as such but instead will focus on delivery systems, such as missiles, command and control, artillery that similarly could deliver poison gas, among other conventional targets.
Sources say that if Syria were to attack Israel in response to a U.S. military action against Syrian targets, then Israel would respond and hit the poison gas precursor storage facilities.
The United Nations and captured documents recently turned over for U.N. investigation show that poison gas made by followers of the late Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, was shipped to Turkey, where foreign fighters allegedly then used artillery to fire the poison gas.
In addition, there have been numerous videos made public revealing that the foreign fighters who belong to the Syrian opposition had the ingredients and were loading artillery to be fired.
Yet, the State Department has dismissed any notion that the Syrian opposition has this capability and, based on its belief that only the Syrian government has that capability, has decided that the Syrian government is culpable even though the intelligence offers no smoking gun.
Even in a recent interview on “NewsHour” on PBS, Obama said that “we have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out and if that’s so, then there need to be international consequences.”
This comment alone raises a question that if the U.S. government had raised such a conclusion then why would he add “and if that’s so”? This indicates that even Obama may have second thoughts.
In addition, current intelligence assessments on the Syrian situation, as in the case of Iraq, were just that – assessments and not necessarily based on concrete intelligence.
For that reason, a report by the Office of the Director for National Intelligence said to have outlined the latest evidence acknowledged that the U.S. intelligence community didn’t know where the Syrian government was hiding its chemical weapons.
In addition, it didn’t have information that al-Assad had ordered the attack or that some of the chemical weapons had gotten into the hands of the Syrian opposition.