A Dodgy Dossier on Syrian War

Exclusive: President George W. Bush misled the world on Iraq’s WMD, but Bush’s bogus case for war at least had details that could be checked, unlike what the Obama administration released Friday on Syria’s alleged chemical attacks – no direct quotes, no photographic evidence, no named sources, nothing but “trust us,” says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The Obama administration’s three-page white paper making the case that the Syrian government used chemical weapons on Aug. 21 is even skimpier than the “evidence” that George W. Bush’s team put out to “prove” that Iraq was hiding WMD in 2003.

The white paper against Syria is noteworthy in that it lacks any specifics that can be assessed independently, in contrast to, say, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s infamous presentation to the UN Security Council which included intercepted quotes from Iraqi officials and satellite photographs of suspected Iraqi WMD locations.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks on Syria at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 30, 2013. [State Department photo]

As it turned out, Powell had misquoted the Iraqi officials to make their intercepted comments appear more sinister (but at least the State Department posted the actual transcripts online so Powell could be fact-checked) and the satellite photos ended up not proving anything at all.

But there was at least a presentation that – however misleading – didn’t simply call on the American people and the world to “trust us.” That is pretty much all that the Obama administration is saying in its indictment of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for allegedly deploying deadly chemical weapons last week.

The white paper states: “The United States Government assesses with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21, 2013. We further assess that the regime used a nerve agent in the attack. These all-source assessments are based on human, signals, and geospatial intelligence as well as a significant body of open source reporting.”

But the white paper offers no verifiable details to support any of its conclusions. For instance, it states: “We have intelligence that leads us to assess that Syrian chemical weapons personnel – including personnel assessed to be associated with the SSRC [the Scientific Studies and Research Center, which oversees Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal] – were preparing chemical munitions prior to the attack.

“In the three days prior to the attack, we collected streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence that reveal regime activities that we assess were associated with preparations for a chemical weapons attack. 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.

“On August 21, a Syrian regime element prepared for a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus area, including through the utilization of gas masks. Our intelligence sources in the Damascus area did not detect any indications in the days prior to the attack that opposition affiliates were planning to use chemical weapons.”

Yet, despite these seemingly incriminating assertions, no supporting evidence is cited: no satellite or other photos of these military movements were released, no names of individuals mentioned, no communications intercepts published. Just assertions attributed to “sources” with no way to assess their reliability.

In 2003, Secretary Powell also cited “sources” to buttress his case that Iraq was hiding WMD – and only after the Iraq War was underway did the public learn that these “sources” had code names like “Curve Ball” or were connected to self-interested outfits like the Iraqi National Congress. [For details, see Neck Deep.]

Damning Claim

Perhaps, the Obama administration’s most damning claim on Friday was that “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. On the afternoon of August 21, we have intelligence that Syrian chemical weapons personnel were directed to cease operations.”

However, again, the identity of the “senior official” is not included, nor is the direct quote cited. Given the history of the U.S. government doctoring quotes to make a case – besides Powell in 2003, the Reagan administration also did it in accusing the Soviet Union of intentionally shooting down KAL Flight 007 in 1983 – you might have thought the Obama administration would take pains to include the actual words and put them in their proper context. But no.

In the KAL 007 case, as presented to the UN Security Council, the Reagan administration cut and pasted intercepts from a Soviet pilot and his ground control to transform what was really a tragic mistake into a case of premeditated murder.

Only years later did one of the participants in the propaganda stunt, Alvin A. Snyder, who had been director of the U.S. Information Agency’s television and film division, describe how the scam was pulled off, by releasing some incriminating snippets packaged in a way to suggest the slaughter was intentional.

In his 1995 book, Warriors of Disinformation, Snyder reported that the Reagan administration wanted to use the incident as a propaganda club against the Soviets and did so by manipulating the tape recording of the Soviet pilot who actually believed he was chasing a spy plane, not a civilian airliner that had wandered off course.

“The tape was supposed to run 50 minutes,” Snyder wrote. “But the tape segment we [at USIA] had ran only eight minutes and 32 seconds. … ‘Do I detect the fine hand of [Richard Nixon's secretary] Rosemary Woods here?’ I asked sarcastically.’”

But Snyder had a job to do: producing the video that his superiors wanted. “The perception we wanted to convey was that the Soviet Union had cold-bloodedly carried out a barbaric act,” Snyder noted. “The objective, quite simply, was to heap as much abuse on the Soviet Union as possible.”

In a boastful but frank assessment of the successful disinformation campaign, Snyder noted that “the American media swallowed the U.S. government line without reservation. Said the venerable Ted Koppel on the ABC News ‘Nightline’ program: ‘This has been one of those occasions when there is very little difference between what is churned out by the U.S. government propaganda organs and by the commercial broadcasting networks.’”

Propaganda Gold

George W. Bush’s administration struck similar propaganda gold with Powell’s speech to the UN Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003. The few skeptical voices in the mainstream U.S. news media were silenced after Powell laid it on thick.

One of Powell’s techniques was to play excerpts of intercepted Iraqi telephone conversations in which the precise topic was unclear, but Powell applied the worst possible interpretation. In one such conversation, an Iraqi official said, “we evacuated everything. We don’t have anything left.”

Powell added, “Note what he says: ‘We evacuated everything.’ We didn’t destroy it. We didn’t line it up for inspection. We didn’t turn it into the inspectors. We evacuated it to make sure it was not around when the inspectors showed up.” But Powell was speculating that the “everything” referred to WMDs.

In another excerpt, Powell embellished an original State Department translation to cast more suspicion on the Iraqis. To prove that Iraqis were removing illegal weapons before a U.N. inspection team arrived, Powell read from one supposed transcript of an Iraqi official giving orders: “We sent you a message yesterday to clean out all of the areas, the scrap areas, the abandoned areas. Make sure there is nothing there.”

What the original State Department transcript said, however, was: “We sent you a message to inspect the scrap areas and the abandoned areas.” There was no order to “clean out all of the areas” and there was no instruction to “make sure there is nothing there.” Powell’s gamesmanship with the intercept was later reported by Gilbert Cranberg, a former editor of the Des Moines Register’s editorial pages, when he compared Powell’s testimony to the original State Department translation.

Powell used the needled transcript to draw a powerful conclusion. “This is all part of a system of hiding things and moving things out of the way and making sure they have left nothing behind,” he said. “They were trying to clean up the area to leave no evidence behind of the presence of weapons of mass destruction. And they can claim that nothing was there. And the inspectors can look all they want, and they will find nothing.”

However, as deceptive as Powell and the Bush administration were regarding Iraq, they at least provided details that could be checked out independently. A careful journalist or an attentive citizen could do what Gilbert Cranberg did, overlay the official story on top of the raw data to see if they matched.

With the Obama administration’s white paper on Syria, not even that is possible. The claims are so lacking in detail that they amount to an insistence that the American people and the world’s public simply trust the U.S. government not to mislead them  — again.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

Below is the three-page white paper released by the White House.

U.S. Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013

The United States Government assesses with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21, 2013. We further assess that the regime used a nerve agent in the attack. These all-source assessments are based on human, signals, and geospatial intelligence as well as a significant body of open source reporting.

Our classified assessments have been shared with the U.S. Congress and key international partners. To protect sources and methods, we cannot publicly release all available intelligence – but what follows is an unclassified summary of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s analysis of what took place.

Syrian Government Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21

A large body of independent sources indicates that a chemical weapons attack took place in the Damascus suburbs on August 21. In addition to U.S. intelligence information, there are accounts from international and Syrian medical personnel; videos; witness accounts; thousands of social media reports from at least 12 different locations in the Damascus area; journalist accounts; and reports from highly credible nongovernmental organizations.

A preliminary U.S. government assessment determined that 1,429 people were killed in the chemical weapons attack, including at least 426 children, though this assessment will certainly evolve as we obtain more information. We assess with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out the chemical weapons attack against opposition elements in the Damascus suburbs on August 21.

We assess that the scenario in which the opposition executed the attack on August 21 is highly unlikely. The body of information used to make this assessment includes intelligence pertaining to the regime’s preparations for this attack and its means of delivery, multiple streams of intelligence about the attack itself and its effect, our post-attack observations, and the differences between the capabilities of the regime and the opposition. Our high confidence assessment is the strongest position that the U.S. Intelligence Community can take short of confirmation. We will continue to seek additional information to close gaps in our understanding of what took place.

Background:

The Syrian regime maintains a stockpile of numerous chemical agents, including mustard, sarin, and VX and has thousands of munitions that can be used to deliver chemical warfare agents. Syrian President Bashar al-Asad is the ultimate decision maker for the chemical weapons program and members of the program are carefully vetted to ensure security and loyalty.

The Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) – which is subordinate to the Syrian Ministry of Defense – manages Syria’s chemical weapons program. We assess with high confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year, including in the Damascus suburbs.

This assessment is based on multiple streams of information including reporting of Syrian officials planning and executing chemical weapons attacks and laboratory analysis of  physiological samples obtained from a number of individuals, which revealed exposure to sarin.

We assess that the opposition has not used chemical weapons. The Syrian regime has the types of munitions that we assess were used to carry out the attack on August 21, and has the ability to strike simultaneously in multiple locations. We have seen no indication that the opposition has carried out a large-scale, coordinated rocket and artillery attack like the one that occurred on August 21.

We assess that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons over the last year primarily to gain the upper hand or break a stalemate in areas where it has struggled to seize and hold strategically valuable territory. In this regard, we continue to judge that the Syrian regime views chemical weapons as one of many tools in its arsenal, including air power and ballistic missiles, which they indiscriminately use against the opposition.

The Syrian regime has initiated an effort to rid the Damascus suburbs of opposition forces using the area as a base to stage attacks against regime targets in the capital. The regime has failed to clear dozens of Damascus neighborhoods of opposition elements, including neighborhoods targeted on August 21, despite employing nearly all of its conventional weapons systems. We assess that the regime’s frustration with its inability to secure large portions of Damascus may have contributed to its decision to use chemical weapons on August 21.

Preparation:

We have intelligence that leads us to assess that Syrian chemical weapons personnel – including personnel assessed to be associated with the SSRC – were preparing chemical munitions prior to the attack. In the three days prior to the attack, we collected streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence that reveal regime activities that we assess were associated with preparations for a chemical weapons attack.

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. On August 21, a Syrian regime element prepared for a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus area, including through the utilization of gas masks. Our intelligence sources in the Damascus area did not detect any indications in the days prior to the attack that opposition affiliates were planning to use chemical weapons.

The Attack:

Multiple streams of intelligence indicate that the regime executed a rocket and artillery attack against the Damascus suburbs in the early hours of August 21. Satellite detections corroborate that attacks from a regime-controlled area struck neighborhoods where the chemical attacks reportedly occurred – including Kafr Batna, Jawbar, ‘Ayn Tarma, Darayya, and Mu’addamiyah. This includes the detection of rocket launches from regime controlled territory early in the morning, approximately 90 minutes before the first report of a chemical attack appeared in social media. The lack of flight activity or missile launches also leads us to conclude that the regime used rockets in the attack.

Local social media reports of a chemical attack in the Damascus suburbs began at 2:30 a.m. local time on August 21. Within the next four hours there were thousands of social media reports on this attack from at least 12 different locations in the Damascus area. Multiple accounts described chemical-filled rockets impacting opposition-controlled areas.

Three hospitals in the Damascus area received approximately 3,600 patients displaying symptoms consistent with nerve agent exposure in less than three hours on the morning of August 21, according to a highly credible international humanitarian organization. The reported symptoms, and the epidemiological pattern of events – characterized by the massive influx of patients in a short period of time, the origin of the patients, and the contamination of medical and first aid workers – were consistent with mass exposure to a nerve agent. We also received reports from international and Syrian medical personnel on the ground.

We have identified one hundred videos attributed to the attack, many of which show large numbers of bodies exhibiting physical signs consistent with, but not unique to, nerve agent exposure. The reported symptoms of victims included unconsciousness, foaming from the nose and mouth, constricted pupils, rapid heartbeat, and difficulty breathing. Several of the videos show what appear to be numerous fatalities with no visible injuries, which is consistent with death from chemical weapons, and inconsistent with death from small-arms, high-explosive munitions or blister agents. At least 12 locations are portrayed in the publicly available videos, and a sampling of those videos confirmed that some were shot at the general times and locations described in the footage.

We assess the Syrian opposition does not have the capability to fabricate all of the videos, physical symptoms verified by medical personnel and NGOs, and other information associated with this chemical attack.

We have a body of information, including past Syrian practice, that leads us to conclude that regime officials were witting of and directed the attack on August 21. 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. On the afternoon of August 21, we have intelligence that Syrian chemical weapons personnel were directed to cease operations. At the same time, the regime intensified the artillery barrage targeting many of the neighborhoods where chemical attacks occurred. In the 24 hour period after the attack, we detected indications of artillery and rocket fire at a rate approximately four times higher than the ten preceding days.

We continued to see indications of sustained shelling in the neighborhoods up until the morning of August 26.To conclude, there is a substantial body of information that implicates the Syrian government’s responsibility in the chemical weapons attack that took place on August 21.

As indicated, there is additional intelligence that remains classified because of sources and methods concerns that is being provided to Congress and international partners.

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14 comments on “A Dodgy Dossier on Syrian War

  1. Our intelligence apparatus knows what, where, how and why of our daily lives but somehow won’t be able to stop someone with deadly chemical weapons if they were to “slip” into the hands of terrorists and those terrorists would “slip” into the US.

    These scenarios being thrown out there to gin up fears in the American people are really getting tiresome and transparent.

    • jonathan on said:

      And Israel perpetrated a clear war crimes offence when it dropped white phospherus bombs on Gaza in 2009 – without any condemnation from US!!

  2. Americans should remember they dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan even though there were clear signs it was capitulating. The US used napalm and Agent Orange all over Vietnam. Sharon was responsible for the killing of over 1,500 Palestinians, women children and old men, in the unprotected refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon (US was supposed to protect them) and in time became Prime Minister! Spanish and Portuguese were not kind to South American indigenous people, nor were Boers to Africa, nor Americans and Australians to their indigenous people.
    There certainly is a dark area in the human mind. I don’t think war is the answer but perhaps more dialog and other means before killing.
    Palestinains in Gaza have been on an Israeli enforced diet for some time now and not much of a peep. The word is that the children are malnourished so are we going to evapourate Netanyahu too? I don’t think so, not with our double standards.

    • Erica Stuart on said:

      Reply to John: Fully agree John and so stated on my lettetr to the White House. I hope most of you do the same, write to Obama directly, he does listen. What is making him hesitate is that Lobby, is pretty nasty. Obama wants to stop the cargage, we all do it is unacceptable, and now that we have the internet we so declare on all disgracefull activities they did in nour name. I just wrote and asked the White House what the Prsident plans to do if Sirya hits Israel, as they said they would, if we hit them, because they hold Israel responsible for our action, sound funny, but thy are reading it wright Israel calls the shots. So, if they do that are we going to jump in and help Israel, drawing in Russia and ect But that is what Bibi wants badly. The Saudi are the second step up the ladder to the Zionist supposed promise that THEIR God gave it all to them “gave it only to the Jews” thy tell you and the Zionist, folowing Hitler Manifest Destiny, decided no need to wait for God….

  3. TrishJ on said:

    How is it possible that the Obama Administration thinks people will believe the unsubstantiated assessments (which sound much more like assumptions) in this white paper? Are they so out of touch that they do not realize U.S. government “intelligence” no longer has any credibility – not with the people of this country and certainly not with the people of other countries? Or is their hubris so great they think they can just say it and that makes it so?

    John Kerry is right when he says “It matters if nothing is done.” But he is assigning that judgment to the wrong thing. Where it really matters if nothing is done, is in the case of the Congress and the people they represent if they allow an out of control Executive Branch to attack yet another country.

    • TheAZCowBoy on said:

      Kerry is a wimp. Just wait and see how he (((slams))) the Palestinians into a peace (piece?) agreement that leaves the Palestinians, without land, water, hope or a future. The Stazi governemt of the US, under the ‘Nuremburg Protocols’ would be headed to the ICC and a cold wet cell. Indeed, there is nothing to ‘God Bless AmeriKKKa,’ about these dayze.

  4. TheAZCowBoy on said:

    Let us pray that todays most unlikely ‘friends of peace’ (Russia and China with their two vetos) will reach out and (((smack))) the UNITED SNAKES (US/Israel/NATO)with such force as to get these ‘war addicted’ hoodlums to wake up and smell the flowers. I mean, life isn’t just about murder, theft, mayhem and coveting one neighbors oil/gas, water and lands.

    Putin has a missile frigate and anti-submarine ship(s) headed towords their base in Syria. Truly, I hope the supersonic ‘Sunburn’ anti-ship missile that they port that can take out a Nimitz class super carrier with its 3 kiloton warhead and the S-300 that can take out airplanes and cruise missiles some 190 miles away. Yassar folks,AmeriKKKa is a threat to world peace as per EU, Latina America, and Asian polls, and its Jewish hemorrhoid just compounds the problem.

  5. Regina Schulte on said:

    What on earth can President Obama be thinking??? Is he channelling GWB?

  6. Rehmat on said:

    At the RT’s Cross Talk, Pepe claimed that Obama may decide to go alone against Syria, just to save his face which he had tarnished by stupid “red-line” threats against Syria and Iran. Pepe said Syria never posed a threat to the United States or Israel. Pepi claimed Obama is being pushed by Israel and Bandar Bush (Saudi intelligence chief, prince Bandar bin Sultan) to take Damascus out of Hizbullah-Iran equation. Once it’s achieved, Israel will attack Lebanon followed by a US invasion of Iran.

    On Friday, CNN reported that none of the three surviving former US presidents is supporting Obama’s Israeli war in Syria. Both George Bush and Bill Clinton said it’s upto Obama to decide and they don’t want to get involved. Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, said that without the approval of the United Nations and the Arab League, an attack on Syria would be unconstitutional and against international law.

    Lebanese daily al-akhbar has reported that Tehran has rejected American deal that cancels the economic sanctions and acknowledges the Iranian rights in return for abandoning its support to Syria. Sultan of Oman Qaboos bin Said indirectly transmitted the headlines of the deal to the Iranian leadership during his recent meeting with Ayatullah Khamenei, who asserted that any Western strike against Syria would be faced by an uncontrollable storm of military responses.

    http://rehmat1.com/2013/08/31/israels-war-on-iran-begins-in-syria/

  7. jim oberg on said:

    Alvin Snyder’s bogus revelations notwithstanding, the US presented authentic air-to-ground tapes to the UN and the world about the kal007 massacre.
    I’ve followed the controversies from the start and conclude the catastrophe went down pretty much as the ‘conventional wisdom’ described it, with none of the coverup or conspiracy theories holding any water. see http://www.jamesoberg.com/kal-007.html

    • Hillary on said:

      Good news that so many here are NOT being convinced to support more slaughter of Muslims With Iraq it was so easy as “we” knew exactly where the WMDs were located but never found.
      .
      A fresh team has replaced the usual suspects but the mantra remains the same ” the Muslim evil dictator did it ” and the proof presented by John McCain “they did it before so why shouldnt they do it again” ?
      .
      Does any one remember the incredible incubator story that enraged Americans to support the murderous Desert Storm against Iraq ? The monumental HOAX in which the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the United States, went on TV pretending to be a nurse, and related a horror story in which Iraqi troops looted the incubators from a Kuwaiti hospital, leaving the premature babies on the cold floor to die ?
      Where was the MSM to investigate who paid the P.R. firm Hill & Knowlton to concoct that complete fraud
      Has US Intelligence become an oxymoron ?

  8. bill peppin on said:

    Once again, we hear, “Trust us!” Nothing during the Iraq debacle that was stated by Powell and the numerous neocons proved to be supported by the facts. Further, these comments were DISproved subsequently from a variety of sources. Now we are given assurances that the biggest intel organization in the world has “definite proof” that the Assad government used chemical weapons on its citizens — and right away matters come up that force an objective person to wonder about the discrepancy between these alleged facts and what is coming out from other sources independently. At this point and flatly, I do not trust the government, obviously in the mode of advocating for something they want to do (for whatever reason, haven’t a clew,) to inform us truthfully. Yes, I’m saying that the government simply cannot be trusted to provide citizens with accurate, well-vetted information on matters even as important as this.

  9. Stanley Heller on said:

    A fine piece of analysis. I haven’t seen anything in the corporate media like it. I make some of the same points and a few others at

    http://www.thestruggle.org/assessment%20syria%20no%20evidence.htm

  10. Brian Robinson on said:

    Here’s something that CAN be checked. The Obama Administration asserts very early in the assessment that 1,429 were killed in the attacks. But check this. Later in the assessment it says, “Three hospitals in the Damascus area received approximately 3,600 patients displaying symptoms consistent with nerve agent exposure in less than three hours on the morning of August 21, according to a highly credible international humanitarian organization.” Er, which one, Barack? Why not name that credible organization? Well, it’s almost certainly Doctors Without Borders, who reported on those 3,600 hospital patients on August 24th (see http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/press/release.cfm?id=7029&cat=press-release) But hold on! DWB says 355 died, not 1,429. Why quote DWB on hospital visits, but someone else on the deaths? Curious. But who could that be? Not the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights, the guy in London, UK whose every pronouncement is taken as gospel by the lamestream media—SOHR says 500+ died, nowhere near one thousand. I think the 1,400 figure comes from the Syrian National Council (or whatever Kerry’s letting them call themselves this week), but can’t say for certain. In any case, it’s one instance in which the Executive Branch is twisting the truth into a very unsavoury pretzel, and evidence they can’t be trusted.