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How Intelligence Was Twisted to Support an Attack on Syria


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"Times New Roman";color:black”>Nevertheless,
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"Times New Roman";color:black”>But a careful examination of those claims reveals a series of convolutedly worded characterizations of the intelligence that don't really mean what they appear to say at first glance.  

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"Times New Roman";color:black”>Spinning the Secret Intelligence

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"Times New Roman";color:black”>That pattern was particularly clear in the case of the intelligence gathered by covert means. The summary claims, "We intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence."

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"Times New Roman";color:black”>That seems to indicate that U.S. intelligence intercepted such communiations. But former British Ambassador Craig Murray has pointed out on his blog "Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:
"Times New Roman";color:black”>All intelligence picked by the Troodos listening post is shared between the U.S. and British intelligence, Murray wrote, but no commmunictions such as the ones described in the U.S. intelligence summary were shared with the British Joint Intelligence Organisation.  Murray said a personal contact in U.S. intelligence had told him the reason was that the purported intercept came from the Israelis. The Israeli origin of the intelligence was reported in the U.S. press as well, because an Israeli source apparently leaked it to a German magazine.

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"Times New Roman";color:black”>The clumsy attempt to pass off intelligence claimed dubiously by the Israelis as a U.S. intercept raises a major question about the integrity of the entire document. The Israelis have an interest in promoting a U.S. attack on Syria, and the authenticity of the alleged intercept cannot be assumed. Murray believes that it is fraudulent.

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"Times New Roman";color:black”>But even if the intercept is authentic, the description of it in the intelligence summary appears to be misleading. Another description of the same intercept leaked to The Cable font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
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"Times New Roman";color:black”>But the main problem with the description is that it doesn't answer the most obvious and important question about the conversation: Did the purported chemical weapons officer at the other end of the line say that the regime had used chemical weapons or not? If the officer said that such weapons had been used, that would obviously have been the primary point of the report of the intercept. But the summary assessment does not say that, so the reader can reasonably infer that the officer did not make any such admission. The significance of the intercept is, therefore, that an admission of chemicals weapons use was not made. "Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:
"Times New Roman";color:black”>The carefully chosen wording of the summary – the ministry official was "concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence" – suggests that the official wanted to make sure that UN inspectors would not find evidence of a nerve gas attack. But it could also mean precisely the opposite – that the official wanted the inspectors to be able ascertain that there was no use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces in eastern Ghouta. The latter possibility is bolstered by the fact that the regime
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"Times New Roman";color:black”>The intelligence summary makes no effort to explain why the regime promptly granted access to the investigators. Another anomaly: the fact that the UN investigators were already present in Damascus, having been initially requested by the Assad regime to look into a gas attack the regime had charged was carried out by the rebels on March 19. The two-page assessment by the British Joint Intelligence Organisation "Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:
"Times New Roman";color:black”>Another obvious case of a misleading description of intelligence in the summary involves information from US geospatial and signals intelligence purporting to show that the Assad regime was preparing for a chemical attack in the three days prior to August 21. The intelligence summary describes the intelligence as follows: "Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21 near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin."  

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"Times New Roman";color:black”>That seems like damning evidence at first glance. However, despite the use of the term "operating," the US intelligence had no information about the actual activities of the individual or individuals being tracked through geospatial and signals intelligence. When administration officials leaked the information to CBS news last week, they conceded that the presence of the individual being tracked in the area in question had been viewed at the time as "nothing out of the ordinary. font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
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"Times New Roman";color:black”>Yet, after the August 21 event, the same information was suddenly transformed into "evidence" that supports the official line. The summary refers to "streams of human signals and geospatial intelligence that revealed regime activities that we assessed were associated with preparations for a chemical attack." Thus the same information that provided no indication of "preparations" was now presented as though it included knowledge of some "activities" somehow related to getting ready for chemical warfare.  

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"Times New Roman";color:black”>A third piece of intelligence cited in the summary – unsourced but presumably from an intelligence agent – might seem to denote the intent to carry out a chemical weapons attack. However, the wording is slippery. "On August 21," the document says, "a Syrian regime element prepared for a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus area, including through the utilization of gas masks." That intelligence, if accurate, doesn’t establish an intent by the government to carry out an attack; it could conversely suggest the government’s anticipation of a chemical attack by the rebels. The intelligence's language is ambiguous; it contains no certainty that the chemical weapons attack for which the regime was preparing was one it intended to initiate itself. "Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:
"Times New Roman";color:black”>Behind the Uncertainty on "Nerve Gas"
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means the intelligence analysts "do not know" if nerve gas was used.  

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"Times New Roman";color:black”>That strange choice averts acknowledgement of a fundamental problem for the intelligence community: Most of the alleged victims being shown in the videos posted online do not show symptoms associated with exposure to nerve agent. Corpses without any sign of wounds, on the other hand, would be "consistent" with a nerve agent attack.  

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"Times New Roman";color:black”>A number of specialists, including Kaszeta and Johnson, also noticed that personnel were shown handling the victims without any special protective clothing but not exhibiting any symptoms themselves. Paula Vanninen, director of the Finnish Institute for Verification of Chemical Weapons, and Gwynn Winfield, the editor of CBRNe World, a magazine specializing in chemical weapons, made the same point in
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color:#961B06″>Statements
the following day by both the spokesman for the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, Khaled Saleh, and the spokesman for its Washington, DC, arm, the Syrian Support Group, said that doctors and "first responders" had reported that they were suffering symptoms of neurotoxic poisoning. Saleh claimed that at least six doctors had died.  "Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:
"Times New Roman";color:black”>Experts noticed yet another anomaly: The number of those treated who survived far outnumbered the dead, contrary to what would be expected in a nerve gas attack. Dr. Ghazwan Bwidany
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"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:#961B06″>Medecins Sans Frontieres reported
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"Times New Roman";color:black”>These multiple anomalies prompted some specialists to come up with the theory that the government had somehow diluted the nerve gas to make it less detectable and thus made it less lethal. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commander of the chemical biological and nuclear terrorism unit in the UK Ministry of Defense, told USA Today August 23 that the absence of symptoms associated with nerve gas attack might be explainable by a "low dose" chemical weapons attack.  

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"Times New Roman";color:black;background:white”>But
Kaszeta cast doubt mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";
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"Times New Roman";color:black;background:white”>Case Not Closed
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"Times New Roman";color:black;background:white”>If it wasn't a nerve gas attack, then, what other chemical weapon could have produced the symptoms exhibited in the videos? In an analysis on the Strongpoint Security website, Kaszeta considered each known type of chemical weapon in turn and concluded that the symptoms exhibited in the videos were not consistent with those associated with any of them. And as Kaszeta told mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";
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"Times New Roman";color:black”>Instead of addressing the issue, the intelligence community opted to accept information about the numbers and the cause of death provided by sources that were presumably subject to the influence of opposition forces in the area. The intelligence summary cites a "preliminary U.S. government assessment" that 1,429 people were killed by chemical weapons, including "at least 426 children." It provides no indication of how the analysts arrived at such a precise estimate, which is highly unusual for an intelligence assessment. The normal practice in arriving at such an estimate is to give a range of figures reflecting different data sources as well as assumptions.
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"Times New Roman";color:black”>The intelligence community's main center for analyzing all issues relating to weapons of mass destruction is the CIA's Office of Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control (WINPAC) Center. It is the same center that tilted the 2002 Iraq estimate toward conclusions that were not supported by technical facts. As
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"Times New Roman";color:black”>That dynamic seems to have re-emerged in the case of Syrian chemical weapons, especially with the appearance of hundreds of videos containing highly emotive scenes of children suffering and, in many cases, already having died. The contradiction between the emotionally charged visual evidence and the technical analysis by chemical weapons specialists, however, poses an unresolved issue. The uncertainty about what actually happened on August 21 can be resolved only on the basis of actual blood samples from victims who have been gathered by the UN inspectors and are now being analyzed in European laboratories. "Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:
"Times New Roman";color:black”>Both Médecins Sans Frontières and Human Rights Watch issued statements citing statistics and descriptions of symptoms provided by local medical personnel and, in the case of Human Rights Watch, local activists and other contacts. However Human Rights Watch acting Middle East Director
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"Times New Roman";color:black”>Médecins Sans Frontières made it clear in its original August 24 statement that it could not confirm 150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:#961B06″>an August 28 statement
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"Times New Roman";color:black”>But the advocates of an attack on Syria within the Obama administration have not demonstrated a willingness to rely on the definitive evidence from the UN investigators. Instead, they have evinced a strong hostility toward the UN investigation ever since the Syrian government agreed to allow it unimpeded access to the locations where chemical attacks were alleged. National Security Adviser Susan Rice
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color:#961B06″>Kerry claimed
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color:#961B06″>Kerry declared
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"Times New Roman";color:black”>However, those samples did not go through the UN investigators, but were smuggled out of Syria by opposition activists. The spokesman for the Free Syrian Army's Supreme National Council, Khaled Saleh,
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"Times New Roman";color:black”>The Obama administration had obtained physiological samples related to previous alleged nerve gas attacks, which had tested positive for sarin, but administration
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"Times New Roman";color:black”>Despite the knowledge that samples lacking a clear chain of custody could have been tampered with, however, the administration began to disregard that key factor in June. It adopted a policy of accepting such samples as evidence of government guilt, on the argument,
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"Times New Roman";color:black”>Regardless of what evidence emerges in coming weeks, we would do well to note the inconsistencies and misleading language contained in the assessment, bearing in mind the consequences of utilizing ambiguous intelligence to justify an act of war.
 

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