Congress Denied Syrian Facts, Too

Exclusive: While seeking authority for a limited war with Syria, the Obama administration withheld from the American people the U.S. intelligence on the alleged chemical weapons attack of Aug. 21, amid assurances that Congress got all the secret details. But that doesn’t appear to be true, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A U.S. congressman who has read the Obama administration’s classified version of intelligence on the alleged Syrian poison gas attack says the report is only 12 pages – just three times longer than the sketchy unclassified public version – and is supported by no additional hard evidence.

Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also said the House Intelligence Committee had to make a formal request to the administration for “the underlying intelligence reports” and he is unaware if those details have been forthcoming, suggesting that the classified report – like the unclassified version – is more a set of assertions than a presentation of evidence.

President Barack Obama answers questions at a press conference at Konstantinovsky Palace during the G20 Summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Sept. 6, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

“We have reached the point where the classified information system prevents even trusted members of Congress, who have security clearances, from learning essential facts, and then inhibits them from discussing and debating what they do know,” Grayson wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times on Saturday.

“And this extends to matters of war and peace, money and blood. The ‘security state’ is drowning in its own phlegm. My position is simple: if the administration wants me to vote for war, on this occasion or on any other, then I need to know all the facts. And I’m not the only one who feels that way.”

As I wrote a week ago, after examining the four-page unclassified summary, there was not a single fact that could be checked independently. It was a “dodgy dossier” similar to the ones in 2002-2003 that led the United States into the Iraq War. The only difference was that the Bush administration actually provided more checkable information than the Obama administration did, although much of the Bush data ultimately didn’t check out.

It appears that the chief lesson learned by the Obama administration was to release even less information about Syria’s alleged chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 than the Bush administration did about Iraq’s alleged WMD. The case against Syria has relied almost exclusively on assertions, such as the bellowing from Secretary of State John Kerry that the Syrian government sure did commit the crime, just trust us.

The Obama administration’s limited-hangout strategy seems to have worked pretty well at least inside the Establishment, but it’s floundering elsewhere around the United States. It appears that many Americans share the skepticism of Rep. Grayson and a few other members of Congress who have bothered to descend into the intelligence committee vaults to read the 12-page classified summary for themselves.

Rallying the Establishment

Despite the sketchy intelligence, many senators and congressmen have adopted the politically safe position of joining in denunciations of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (where’s the downside of that), and the mainstream U.S. news media has largely taken to writing down the administration’s disputed claims about Syria as “flat fact.”

For instance, the New York Times editorial on Saturday accepts without caveat that there was “a poison gas attack by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime that killed more than 1,400 people last month,” yet those supposed “facts” are all in dispute, including the total number who apparently died from chemical exposure. It was the U.S. white paper that presented the claim of “1,429” people killed without explaining the provenance of that strangely precise number.

The New York Times editorial also reprises the false narrative that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syria’s Assad are to blame for the absence of peace negotiations, although the Times’ own reporters from the field have written repeatedly that it has been the U.S.-backed rebels who have refused to join peace talks in Geneva. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Getting Syria-ous About Peace Talks.”]

Nevertheless, the Times editorial states, “it was the height of cynicism for Mr. Putin to talk about the need for a Syrian political settlement, which he has done little to advance.” One has to wonder if the Times’ editors consider it their “patriotic” duty to mislead the American people, again.

Increasingly, President Barack Obama’s case for a limited war against Syria is looking like a nightmarish replay of President George W. Bush’s mendacious arguments for war against Iraq. There are even uses of the same techniques, such as putting incriminating words in the mouths of “enemy” officials.

On Feb. 5, 2003, before the United Nations Security Council, Secretary of State Colin Powell needled some intercepted quotes from Iraqi military officers to make some innocuous comments about inspecting weapons sites into proof they were hiding caches of chemical weapons from UN inspectors. Powell’s scam was exposed when the State Department released the actual transcripts of the conversations without some of the incriminating words that Powell had added.

Then, on Aug. 30, 2013, when the Obama administration released its “Government Assessment” of Syria’s alleged poison gas attack, the white paper stated, “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.”

However, the identity of the “senior official” was not included, nor was the direct quote cited. The report claimed concerns about protecting “sources and methods” in explaining why more details weren’t provided, but everyone in the world knows the United States has the capability to intercept phone calls.

Reasons for Secrecy?

So, why didn’t the Obama administration go at least as far as the Bush administration did in putting out transcripts of these phone intercepts? A reasonable suspicion must be that the actual words of the conversation – and possibly other conversations – would have indicated that the Syrian high command was caught off guard by the Aug. 21 events, that the Syrian government was scrambling to figure out what had happened and why, that the intercepts were less incriminating than the paraphrase of them.

That fuller story might well have undercut the U.S. case for taking military action. So, the administration’s white paper left out conversations reflecting the Syrian government’s confusion. The white paper didn’t even bother to put in the actual quote from the one “senior official” who supposedly “confirmed” the chemical weapons use.

Indeed, although the white paper states that its conclusions were derived from “human, signals, and geospatial intelligence as well as a significant body of open source reporting,” none of that intelligence was spelled out in the unclassified version. It is now unclear how much more detail was provided in the 12-page classified version that Rep. Grayson read.

In his op-ed, Grayson wrote, “The first [unclassified version] enumerates only the evidence in favor of an attack. I’m not allowed to tell you what’s in the classified summary, but you can draw your own conclusion. On Thursday I asked the House Intelligence Committee staff whether there was any other documentation available, classified or unclassified. Their answer was ‘no.’”

So, what is one to make of this pathetic replay of events from a decade ago in which the White House and intelligence community make sweeping claims without presenting real evidence and the major U.S. news outlets simply adopt the government’s uncorroborated claims as true?

One might have thought that the Obama administration – understanding the public skepticism after the disastrous Iraq War – would have gone to extra lengths to lay out all the facts to the American people, rather than try to slip by with another “dodgy dossier” and excuses about the need to keep all the evidence secret.

President Obama seems to believe that “transparency” means having some members of Congress interrupt their busy schedules of endless fundraising to troop down to the intelligence committee vaults and read some pre-packaged intelligence without the benefit of any note-taking or the ability to check out what they’ve seen, let alone the right to discuss it publicly.

In my 35-plus years covering Congress, I can tell you that perhaps the body’s greatest weakness – amid many, many weaknesses – is its ability to investigate national security claims emanating from the Executive Branch.

Beyond all the limitations of what members of Congress are allowed to see and under what circumstances, there is the reality that anyone who takes on the intelligence community too aggressively can expect to be pilloried as “unpatriotic” or accused of being an “apologist” for some unsavory dictator.

Soon, the troublesome member can expect hostile opinion pieces showing up in his local newspapers and money pouring into the campaign coffers of some electoral challenger. So, there is no political upside in performing this sort of difficult oversight and there is plenty of downside.

And once an administration has staked its credibility on some dubious assertion, all the public can expect is more of a sales job, a task that President Obama himself is expected to undertake in a speech to the nation on Tuesday. That is why the Obama administration would have been wise to have developed a much fuller intelligence assessment of what happened on Aug. 21 and then presented the evidence as fully as possible.

In the days of the Internet and Twitter – and after the bitter experience of the Iraq War – it is a dubious proposition that the White House can rely on national politicians and Establishment news outlets to whip the public up for another military adventure without presenting a comprehensive set of facts.

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.

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21 comments on “Congress Denied Syrian Facts, Too

  1. Thingumbob on said:

    Shh. From now on we only go to war on a need to know basis.

  2. rosemerry on said:

    With the situation the USA is already in, and the lack of enthusiasm from the pûblic and nearly every ally, it seems ludicrous, even if AIPAC says “jump”, to attack yet another Muslim land when Syria, Iran and other “enemies” have vowed to respond, even against Israel which is clamoring for war. Can the Muslim peoples of the globe, and many other clearsighted people, not see that “a war against islam” is a reasonable belief for those under attack or fearing one to hold??

  3. Hoai Quoc on said:

    “In my 35-plus years covering Congress, I can tell you that perhaps the body’s greatest weakness – amid many, many weaknesses – is its ability to investigate national security claims emanating from the Executive Branch.”

    Do you mean ” … its inability to investigate national security claims emanating from the Executive Branch.”?

    • RS Drake on said:

      I think its greatest weakness is intellectual laziness about issues that count.

      “Stupidity is invincible”
      “You can’t fix stupid”

      • Joe Wallace on said:

        Along the same lines, you may have heard that “The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.”

    • They actually need to be there on the job and attend the meetings/ briefings! And the issue of ‘Trusted Congress people’? Who would that be in this obstructive climate?

  4. How someone could expect Obama administration to tell the truth to the Congress: “Our allies did it”?

    CSMonitor reported on September 6 that UN investigators believe that the US-supported rebels used the chemical weapons in Syria.

    Last month, British MP George Galloway had claimed that Israel gave chemical weapons to the rebels.

    http://rehmat1.com/2013/08/27/galloway-israel-gave-chemical-weapons-to-syrian-rebels/

    • arab on arab violence period. Follows a bloody history: iran vs. iraq 10 yr. war, saddam hussein gassing his own people -the Kurds, Jordan killing thousands of palestinians in 1970, the list is endless.

      • What’s your point exactly? Some kind of ethnic predisposition to violence? I suggest you ask your father or grandfather about a little thing called WWII. Which was preceded by WWI. Which was preceded by an “endless list” of other wars. And you might want to look up “resource curse” while you’re at it.

  5. F. G. Sanford on said:

    Members of Congress are carefully vetted for security clearance prior to being granted full access to classified material. This is to insure that they have never had any affiliation with the Vocal Order Targeting Elected Representative Service, a group closely monitored by the government’s Special High Intensity Task Leadership Investigative Surveillance Team. Despite ongoing efforts, they occasionally fail to prevent the Vocal Order from gaining access to factually relevant material. Then, it becomes incumbent on the Special High Intensity Team members to activate the Public Redaction Intelligence Countermeasures Kickback Section, who work in tandem with the Defense Intelligence Coordinated Knowledge Headquarters Essential Auxiliary Development Section on behalf of national security. Not just anybody can gain admission to that elite organization. Occasionally, despite their best efforts, there are lapses. On these extremely rare occasions, it is necessary to employ the Federal Undercover Coalition Keystone National Urgent Task Service. The identities of the members of the coalition are closely guarded state secrets. John Kerry and John McCain have never acknowledged affiliation. But a recent event is known to have triggered a “high confidence” alert resulting in activation of Broad Assessment Tasking, Special High Intensity Team mobilization. A member of the National Urgent Task Service believed to be engaged in Ballistic Organic Toxin Ordnance Countermeasure Key Security went missing for several days. Aids claimed he was merely in conference. Mr. Kerry’s staff denied that he had received any recent Botox booster shots. Despite that claim, facial recognition software installed throughout the National Capitol Region failed to identify Mr. Kerry, despite numerous public appearances. Thousands of databases were cross-checked, but experts could not confirm the identity of Mr. Kerry or the agent, believed to be code named “Bedpan”. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Special High Intensity Team agent stated, “We’re concerned, because if there’s been a leak, Bedpan would be the first to know. He’s an asset we can insert without a cover, so we prefer to keep him in cold storage”. Upon learning that Mr. Kerry insisted, “Anyone opposing the policy will be held accountable for the next atrocity, Lindsay Graham was overheard asking John McCain, “Which atrocity, ours or theirs?” Suspicion was further aroused when John Boehner asked, “Who’s that guy wearing Mr. Kerry’s wig?” James Clapper maintained a deadpan stare which some pundits attributed to “bald man’s envy”. Sources refused to confirm that “Bedpan” was the agent who verified Mr. Kerry’s classified testimony, noting that the two had “never been seen together publicly, despite an unmistakeable resemblance.” The source declined to comment when Mr. McCain’s apparent body double, the Pillsbury Dough Boy, was mentioned. “PDB is not our asset,” they said. When asked about rumors linking chemical weapons intel to Bedpan, Mr. Clapper declined comment as anything relating to the Bedpan file would be the responsibility of the Special High Intensity Team Headquarters Operations Liaison Executive branch. They also refused to comment.

  6. Nathan D. Teegarden on said:

    “In my 35-plus years covering Congress, I can tell you that perhaps the body’s greatest weakness – amid many, many weaknesses – is its ability to investigate national security claims emanating from the Executive Branch.”

    The solution for Congresspeople is simple: don’t believe any national security claims emanating from the Executive Branch. Assume they are lying until proven otherwise.

  7. Hillary on said:

    A another excellent piece that should but won’t get a CNN or FOX interview.
    .
    The “gas” slam dunk evidence seems similar to the evidence that persuaded Ronald Reagan to bomb Libya in 1986.

    A “Trojan” device planted deep inside enemy territory acts as a relay station for misleading transmissions made by the disinformation unit in the Mossad, called LAP, and intended to be received by the various listening Mossad or US stations and used as evidence.
    Prerecorded digital transmissions capable of only being picked up by the “Trojan” are rebroadcast on the frequency used for official business within enemy territory and eventually the transmission are picked up by American ears in Britain or elsewhere and become Irrefutable Evidence

  8. Erica Stuart on said:

    Well, Parry, let keep trying. The article will never make CNN but I assume most people here remember that tracherous, secret accord our government made with Israel at the time Carter arranged peace with Egypt and etc. Another part of that accord was between the USA and Israel only. The most critical part is that we agree to give Israel the exclusive right over action in area of interest to Israel, meaning no action will be taken in the Midle East and.??.. without Israel checking on such agreement and approving it. It is the nost scandalous ceding of sovereignty to a foreign nation.I tried to get it from State but the paper that came up came from Israel very censured so they also have exclusive control and right for it., and what else???
    Now look at Obama decision from that perspective because that has been going on all along. It was to be of short and limited duration but Israel had Congress extend it and upgrade it regularly. The last try for total control was Sen. Graham little treason document approved. Also, Obama change came about when Assad,not an idiot, with one remark let the world know who is running this show when he said if the USA attack “I will hold Israel responsible for it” so he bombs Israel, well????? And since Israel control all Intalligence well no wonder it is secret where it came from.
    Lets talk it over a bit.

  9. WMcMillan on said:

    Mr. Parry, thanks for the article. The first thing I thought when I heard the Syrian Government had used chemical weapons was, “This is total BS!” History tells us that our government will lie to the Congress, the American people and their own mothers to start a war. Then, after the war doesn’t go according to the script, then ex-congressmen and senators, after they have secured their pensions, will lament how they were misled. Again, I call BS on that as well. It is long past time to get rid of the notion of American exceptionalism,manifest destiny and our profligate consumption of oil and other natural resources and learn to live within our means.
    I voted for Obama the first time because I wanted change; what I got was the same old stuff. We need to do what’s right for our country, not for our empire.

  10. Dan Huck on said:

    We know facts, Mr. President, and these are not facts! The French and the rest of the EU also know facts, and, a switch for the French, now they want to wait to see the facts!
    Thanks for hammering on this, Mr. Parry.

    Ahramonline, the Egyptian newspaper, reported in an article today “Common-sense test” holds Assad responsible: US”. SOS Kerry says ‘evidence speaks for itself’ – (is that a tautology?), and White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough says we “lack irrefutable, beyond-a-reasonable-doubt evidence” but we believe we have to go ahead because it is “it is just common sense”. Well, that does it, I guess. I’m sure the Pope and others who are praying for the lives of those who will be collateral damage will now understand, and acquiesce to enlightened bombardment. The following is a letter I wrote Ahramonline in response to the article.

    The common sense test says something very different, Mr. McDonough. Common sense says the US and it’s allies should be suspected of a ‘false-flag operation’.
    Common sense says ‘cui bono’, who benefits?

    Tell us seriously how the Assad regime would benefit from perpetrating such a horrendous unnecessary murder of it’s own citizens.

    On the other hand, the US, Israel, and our other allies in the area want an excuse to emasculate Syria’s offensive and defensive capabilities.

    Do we deny we desire regime change in Syria?
    Do we deny we are aiding the rebels?
    Do we deny the Syrian chemical weapon capability is the most sophisticated in the Mideast, and is an ‘existential threat’ to the Israelis which dwarfs any nuclear threat posed by the Iranians?

    What you call common sense is what is used in every ‘false flag’ operation to pin the blame – it is the apparently obvious.

    But we and the Israelis are past-masters at tricks of deviousness and subterfuge in order to facilitate aggressive behavior which will benefit ourselves. The Israelis’ secret service, the Mossad, uses these terms to define the nature of their function. We want Assad’s chemical weapons out of the way desperately. The Israelis and ourselves will do anything underhanded and hidden to accomplish this end. The world knows our budget for just this type of operation is probably 1000 times greater than Syria’s total defense budget.

    Further incriminating us is the evidence produced by UN Chemical Weapons Inspector Carla La Ponte, the respected Swiss judge, and experienced UN administrator regarding Syrian Rebels apparent use of chemical weapons which was barely reported in US media. Add to that Mr. McDonough’s suggestion there is no need to wait for the Report of the UN Inspectors, and the ignoring of the French decision of the rightness of waiting for the UN Report. These behaviors on our part, seeming to rush into an attack, and seeming to denigrate the value of real evidence, are despicable behaviors, unworthy of our President, our Congress, and our Nation.

    Additionally incriminating is the arrogance accompanying our willingness to act unilaterally. This, for our ally Israel, is really the crux of the matter. If we will act unilaterally on the nebulousness of this Syrian ‘War Crime’, while our own crimes in Iraq, Palestine, etc., are ignored, than Israel will have the confidence it craves that we will do the same with Iran. That we will cook up something together and start that war.

    The president has given up no rights of decision, SOS Kerry states. We say “We are not taking any (aggressive, illegal, cruel, brutal, dis-proportional) options off the table. We say this mouthing Mr. Netanyahu of Israel’s words.

    Machiavelli recognized and stated that leaders who speak this way are hated by the people. Tyrants have credibility; they will stoop to any evil. Credibility based on integrity is what America has aspired to in the past.

  11. Gengass Con on said:

    CNN can come up with a snazzy computer-generated 3D “battle plan” of expected US ship movements, cruise missile launches, aircraft bombing runs, etc. in a few hours – and have a few “anchors” walking around the room-sized 3D terrain talking about how this “limited punitive strike” will unfold.

    Contrast this to how the Media are talking about the so-called Assad chemical weapons attack. Nowhere do we see the 20 recovered rockets from the attacks – are they small rockets like the rebels use? Nowhere do we see the launch sites of these rockets, which Kerry assures us satellites observed – where and when the launches occurred. Are they within 20km of their targets ? Were they small 122mm rockets which the rebels can carry around in 4-men teams, infiltrate “state controlled territory” and mobile-launch back at “rebel controlled territory” at 2am to make it look like Assad’s forces attacked ? How many rockets were launched ? How much sarin was required for the 1429 (American figure) – or 400 (European figure) – deaths which happened that morning ?

    If CNN came up with a detailed 3D-graphics exposé of the “known facts” of this attack, there would be too many questions from even the lazy “journalists” in the Mainstream Media.

    If the questions narrowed down to “well, where would the rebels get 1000 kg of sarin?”, then attention would immediately focus on the rebel suppliers like Bandar bin Sultan – gee, how hard is it for Intelligence services to make sarin, given that a small Japanese cult did it in the 1990′s – and tiny Libya did it with no problems. Aum Shinrikyo cult used a $10 million tiny chemical lab – does Saudi Arabia have $10 million to spend to topple Assad with a false-flag military operation ? As Rep. Grayson said, “you can draw your own conclusion”.