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 leaked to a private Internet-based newsletter that boasts of close ties to the Israeli intelligence community, and led to news reports that the United States now had firm evidence showing that the Syrian government had ordered the chemical weapons attack on August 21 against a rebel-controlled suburb of Damascus.
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.
The New York Times reported this morning that the White House is now backing off its claims to have a “smoking gun that directly links President Bashar al-Assad to the attack.”
The new argument is more deductive: since the Assad regime has chemical weapons and chemical weapons were used in Mouadhamiya, therefore the Syrian regime must have been the ones to use them.
But even that line of reasoning falls down when confronted with evidence known to the U.S. intelligence community, and presumably, to Congress.
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.
The White House has gone to great lengths to shut down any independent investigation of the facts.
A UN inspection team was on the ground in Damascus on August 21 when the Moudhamiya attack occurred, where they were awaiting authorization from the Syrian government to visit sites of earlier alleged chemical weapons attacks.
Once word of Moudhamiya broke and the inspectors announced they planned to refocus their investigation on the fresh attack rather than the earlier ones, the White House was telling the UN to back off from gathering the facts.
According to Monday’s Wall Street Journal, a senior administration official called UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon before the inspectors ever left Damascus, “telling him the inspection mission was pointless and no longer safe.”
The inspectors attempted to visit Mouadhamiya on Monday to examine victims, but were turned back by sniper fire in the no man’s land between government and rebel positions on the outskirts of Damascus. After replacing their bullet-ridden armored car, they inspectors drove into Mouadhamiya for a hurried inspection of victims presented to them by rebel forces.
But even that inspection turned out to be inconclusive, which may be why the Obama White House didn’t want it to proceed.
The UN Special Envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, was circumspect in speaking to reporters yesterday on what the inspectors had actually found on the ground.
“With what has happened on the 21st of August last week, it does seem that some kind of substance was used that killed a lot of people: hundreds, definitely more than a hundred, some people say 300, some people say 600, maybe 1,000, maybe more than 1,000 people,” Brahimi said.
But he would not say that the substance was the deadly nerve agent Sarin, or describe how it was delivered.
Earlier inspections by the United Nations were also inconclusive. In May, a member of the United Nations commission investigating chemical weapons in Syria said there was “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof” that sarin gas had been used in Syria against civilians.
“What appeared from our investigation was that it was used by the opponents, by the rebels,” said Carla DelPonte, a former Swiss Attorney General and prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
“I was a little bit stupefied by the first indications we got … they were about the use of nerve gas by the opposition,” she added.
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?
The brutality of the Syrian regime’s assault on its own people is indefensible. But given the inevitable backlash from Iran and the possibility of spillover into Israel, we should gather the facts before unleashing the dogs of war.