Do Syrian Rebels Have Sarin?

Exclusive: A U.S.-Russian agreement calls for the Syrian government to disclose and dispose of its chemical weapons, but that doesn’t resolve the mystery of who was behind the Aug. 21 attack outside Damascus – or the question of whether Syrian rebels have their own stores of CW, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

As the Syrian government agrees to relinquish its chemical weapons, questions remain about whether some elements of the fractious Syrian rebel forces have obtained their own CW. There have been scattered news reports to that effect although rebel leaders deny the accounts.

Yet, one of the many questions left unanswered by the sketchy U.S. “Government Assessment” on the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus is whether U.S. intelligence analysts are among those who believe the rebels possess some stockpiles of chemical weapons.

President Barack Obama talks with Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, following a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Sept. 12, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The four-page white paper, issued on Aug. 30, danced around the question of whether the rebels possess CW by focusing only on whether the rebels were responsible for the attack. “We assess that the scenario in which the opposition executed the attack on August 21 is highly unlikely,” the white paper said. “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 dog-not-barking in that phrasing is the U.S. government’s silence on whether some rebels have these weapons. After all, why would the U.S. intelligence agencies employ this narrow phrasing discounting the likelihood of a rebel attack on this one occasion if they could simply assert that the rebel forces could not have been responsible because they have no chemical weapons, period?

The likely explanation is that U.S. intelligence agencies have indications that at least some rebel groups possess CW and may have used it in the past. That is a view that was expressed last May by Carla Del Ponte, a senior United Nations official responsible for Syrian investigations.

Del Ponte told a Swiss-Italian TV station, “Our investigators have been in neighboring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals and, according to their report … which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated.”

Del Ponte added, “This was used on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities.”

Though other UN officials distanced themselves from Del Ponte’s comments, he was not alone in raising the possibility of Syrian rebels with chemical weapons. Former Defense Department official F. Michael Maloof wrote on Sept. 11 for the right-wing World Net Daily’s web site that WND had obtained a classified U.S. document in which “the U.S. military confirms that sarin was confiscated earlier this year from members of the Jabhat al-Nusra Front, the most influential of the rebel Islamists fighting in Syria.”

Though Maloof has a checkered reputation for accuracy – having been part of President George W. Bush’s propaganda campaign for invading Iraq – he cites specific information from what he describes as a document classified “Secret/Noforn” produced by the U.S. intelligence community’s National Ground Intelligence Center, or NGIC.

According to Maloof, “The document says sarin from al-Qaida in Iraq made its way into Turkey and that while some was seized, more could have been used in an attack last March on civilians and Syrian military soldiers in Aleppo. … It revealed that AQI had produced a ‘bench-scale’ form of sarin in Iraq and then transferred it to Turkey.”

Quoting from the NGIC’s report, Maloof wrote that it “depicts our assessment of the status of effort at its peak – primarily research and procurement activities – when disrupted in late May 2013 with the arrest of several key individuals in Iraq and Turkey. … Future reporting of indicators not previously observed would suggest that the effort continues to advance despite the arrests.”

Maloof further reported that a 100-page report sent by the Russian government to the UN claims that rebel sarin gas was “manufactured in a Sunni-controlled region of Iraq and then transported to Turkey for use by the Syrian opposition, whose ranks have swelled with members of al-Qaida and affiliated groups.”

Last week, prosecutors in southern Turkey obtained an indictment alleging that two Syrian rebel groups were seeking to buy precursor chemicals for the production of sarin gas, Turkish media reported. The indictment named six defendants, including Syrian national Hytham Qassap, and accused them of seeking the chemicals for Islamist rebels in Al Nusra Front and the Ahrar al-Sham Brigades.

The Turkish prosecutors said they found no actual sarin during the May arrests that led to the indictment, but the case provided further evidence that some Syrian rebel groups have tried to arm themselves with chemical weapons. The Syrian government has blamed rebels for several apparent chemical attacks, including the one on Aug. 21, but the United States and its allies have fingered the Syrian army instead.

In the case of the Aug. 21 attack, which led to threatened U.S. military retaliation against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the Obama administration has asserted with “high confidence” that the Syrian government was responsible, but the U.S. “Government Assessment” presented no verifiable evidence pointing to Assad’s guilt.

Meanwhile, an Italian journalist and a Belgian teacher who were just freed after months of captivity at the hands of Syrian rebels reported that they overheard the rebels claiming responsibility for the Aug. 21 chemical attack. Domenico Quirico, the journalist, and Pierre Piccinin, the teacher, reported that they overheard their captors discussing the Aug. 21 attack on Ghouta, a Damascus suburb, and saying that Assad’s forces were not behind it.

“It wasn’t the government of Bashar al-Assad that used sarin gas or any other gas in Ghouta,” Piccinin said on Belgian RTL radio. “We are sure about this because we overheard a conversation between rebels. It pains me to say it because I’ve been a fierce supporter of the Free Syrian Army in its rightful fight for democracy since 2012.”

Other on-scene reports have raised doubts about the certainty of the U.S. “Government Assessment” blaming the Syrian government. For instance, an article by MintPress News – based on interviews with people in Damascus and Ghouta – presented evidence that “the U.S. and its allies may be targeting the wrong culprit. …

“[F]rom numerous interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families, … many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the … gas attack.”

The article also cited comments by rebel-connected Ghouta residents indicating that the release of the poison gas may have resulted from a conventional artillery strike by government forces accidentally hitting a rebel storage site for chemical weapons or from careless rebel handling of the dangerous material.

One intelligence source following the Syrian conflict told me that some U.S. analysts believe that the Syrian rebels do possess chemical weapons, possibly obtained with the help of Saudi intelligence which has been providing much of the military equipment and money for the rebels, including some of the most radical Islamist elements.

Given these various accounts – and the Syrian government’s acceptance of Russian demands that it surrender its chemical weapons – the United States may want to make a similar demand of the rebels. At least, the Obama administration might clarify what its own intelligence files contain about rebel possession of chemical weapons.

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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18 comments on “Do Syrian Rebels Have Sarin?

  1. Lisa Johnson on said:

    Your last paragraph brings up a point that I have been concerned about — if the various reports of the Syrian rebels having CW are accurate what will be done to monitor and control their usage of the same? If they have used them and they know that Assad has given up control of the government’s supply what would stop them from doing so now?

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  2. Even if the claims about the rebels’ possession of Sarin are correct, best for ConsortiumNew’s cred to avoid citing said claims by someone writing for WND (World Net Daily).

    It’s such an extraordinarily inaccurately website that it’s best to avoid. It’s certainly birther central.

  3. Buzzbird on said:

    Re: World Net Daily – Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.

    • B-Bird-

      Right, but why cite an extremist website? Find the sourcing elsewhere or skip it. I doesn’t really matter if WND is correct 2 percent of the time.

      They lie, lie, lie, and lie, and basically often publish hate essays. FoxNews is the New Yorker compared to WND.

      • gregorylkruse on said:

        Cleverly put, but Parry wasn’t quoting WND, he was quoting Maloof, and he also provided a disclaimer. I don’t have the time or inclination to sort out the 2% truth from Fox or WND, but I do appreciate that Parry does that for me. That’s why I give him the big bucks.

        • gregorykruse–

          Quoting Maloof writing on the WND website is also quoting WND.

          Then, okay but how do you know this “truth” on WND is true while the other statements, say the violent rants by Ted Nugent or the Islamophobic rants posted there by others, aren’t true?

          That’s why I say: Find a different source.

  4. incontinent reader on said:

    Well, when we tell our proxy (e.g., Saudi Arabia, etc.) to give the rebels the stuff, or when we know they have access to lots of it in Libya, or in Iraq from where it is a short drive to Syria, and when the rebels threaten to kill UN inspectors, then you have plausible deniability since there is no chain of custody and the State secrets laws otherwise protect you.

    What we need are more whistleblowers and Wikileaks disclosures to tell us what the CIA and its Administration bosses have done to supply the rebels with chemical WMD, and/or know about it all. That would doubtless bring a call from the President and some Senators for another whistleblower prosecution, but when the big boys are lying, and lots of people are dying because of it, it’s necessary, no?

  5. Morton Kurzweil on said:

    Ask a stupid question, get a stupid article.
    How about: “Is god on our side?”
    “Is fighting Evil the only way to do good?

    Any assumption will do. Our politicians make a very good living as group thinkers – many do very well as grope thinkers.
    Free speech and the protection of journalists from revealing their sources helps keep their bigotry hidden under the guise of protecting the source.

  6. captain obvious on said:

    There has been a civil war going in Syria for nearly two years. In that time, the rebels have certainly captured some arms depots. Any weapons the government had, the rebels almost certainly have some of now. If the Syrian government had chemical weapons at the start of the civil war, the rebels now have chemical weapons.

  7. Syrian government is foolish not to realize that it’s being trapped. Once it let international agency control its “chemical deterrent” – it will become an easy target of Israel and America. That’s what happened to Iraq and Libya in the past.

    According to Russian media, the rebel received chemical weapons from Saudi Arabia. That means, the chemical weapons were supplied by either Israel or Turkey.

    After Syrian deterrent is gone, Israel and Egypt will be the only two countries in the region with stockpiles of chemical weapons.

    Abraham Foxman, top Israeli propagandist and head of Anti-Defamation League (ADL), in an Op-Ed, published by CNN on September 12, 2013, urged Obama administration to strike Iran in case the US wants to regain its credibility and leadership in the world.

    “It has become conventional wisdom that the roller coaster of American decision-making on the Syria issue has dealt a significant, if not mortal blow, to American credibility and leadership in the world,” says Foxman.

    http://rehmat1.com/2013/09/14/foxman-us-must-attack-iran-to-regain-world-leadership/

  8. one sided sarin gas is illegal, REBEL SHOULD USE SARIN GAS, IF WORLD AUTHORISE HIZBULLAH TO USE SARIN GAS, IF WORLD AUTHORISE IRANIAN REGIME TO USE SARIN GAS, IF WORLD AUTHORISE ASAD FORCES TO USE SARIN GAS AGAINST SYRIAN OPPOSITION WHICH IS 92% OF POPULATION OF SYRIA, THAT IS WHY SYRIAN REBEL 92% OF SYRIAN POPULATION CAN USE SARIN GAS IF THEY ARE NOT USING THEY ARE FOOLISH. FREINDS ARE THOSE REBEL WHICH HELP IN PROBLEM, NOW WEST AND USA NOT HELPING YOU WHO IS HELPING YOU NOW WHERE IS YOUR FREINDS…………………………………………………………………………………………

  9. Duz USrael haz Sarin? Then, the CIArian “rebels” have Sarin (And USED IT!).

  10. rpdiplock on said:

    There is no honour amongst thieves. And, the US UK France and Israel are thieves.So, why would any rational human being believe anything these nations say?

  11. TheAZCowBoy, Tomebstone, AZ. on said:

    Interesting how the lying liars of the Bush/Cheney mafia left an imprint as cavernous as the Grand canyon that O’Bummer continues to trip and fall into it.

    Closing GITMO, stopping the torture and mayhem at Bagram, stopping the torture in the Great Satan world-wide black sites (One of them was Assad’s Syria – would you believe it?!) prosecuting the Jose Rodriques’ (CIA head of torture all this caca later discounted as ‘pipe dreams’ by investigators).

    Yup, he was gonna clean up the entire mess. In the end, he preferred ‘not’ looking back’ thus allowing the Colonel James Steele’s (Dead squads organizer in Iraqi prisons and jails for Don Rumsfeld our infamous war criminal Sec/War.

    Yassar, the sh*t actually hasn’t hit the fan and actually it’s the Great Satan that has hit the bottom of the sewer when it comes to ‘spreading’ democracy (and terror on three continents) as the ‘sheeple’ at home sing ‘AmeriKKa the beautiful,’ and truly believe the US Navy commercials on TV that lie to us with their ‘Force for good,’ BS as they ‘lock & load’ their Tomahawk cruise missiles to ‘kill more civilians – this time in Syria in order to ‘stop the killing’ and/or make the Middle East safer for Jewish terrorism and (of course) US Imperialism. Jajajaja.

    Ohhhhh Reverend Wright, you were ‘soooo right!’ God damn AmeriKKKa!

  12. Robert Parry, please review your article on Rafic Hariri, who was Prime Minister of Lebanon, also reread a general review of what happened after his assassination ie Wikipedia,
    http://consortiumnews.com/2011/09/01/hariri-murder-sleuths-ignored-al-qaeda/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassination_of_Rafic_Hariri

    Instead of being long-winded, scrawl through,
    http://phillyimc.org/en/q-putin-really-planning-bomb-saudi-arabia#comment-75087
    and the article I commented on above comment 75087

    Al Qaeda make an incredible amount of effort to disguise their involvement. I wish I responded to Parry’s article right away. I except very good planted evidence that the Syrian government did at and eventual proof it was really al Qaeda.

    Progressives make an effort (including Parry) to understate al Qaeda’s crimes to avoid more war with them such as the ignoring how Kurds are being slaughtered in Syria by al Qaeda for daring to try to be neutral.

    Sort of to change the subject, since claiming al Qaeda is responsible is at the moment a source for peace not war, let’s honor the peace martyrs who were killing in the pursuit of peace like the peace movement used to do. I think the peace movement lost much of its brains when it downplayed not significantly mourned the death of Doctors Without Borders volunteers kidnapped for ransom and killed in Afghanistan and pacifist Tom Fox who went to Iraq to declare peace but ended up held for ransom and killed.
    http://www.ncccusa.org/news/051206peacemakers.html
    http://readersupportednews.org/pm-section/22-22/19405-time-for-the-western-peace-movement-to-acknowledge-a-hurt-it-hid-from-accepting-maybe-this-is-the-year-the-road-to-peace-will-be-established
    http://my.firedoglake.com/richardkanepa/2013/09/14/time-for-the-western-peace-movement-to-acknowledge-a-hurt-it-hid-from-accepting-maybe-this-is-the-year-the-road-to-peace-will-be-established/

    Not morning makes the peace movement oblivious to the fact that setting a date sometime in the future is a worthless gesture, and the peace movement should boo not cheer such proposals, even with a real concrete ceasefire date set for the near future unless the boundary lines are set immediately and other terms like how to surrender and any payments are set later there will be last minute, fighting to quickly gain extra space for each side.

    By the way the worst way to withdraw from a war is the way the USSR did, when the economy seems to be at the verge of collapse, then to give in to the lest objectionable of the enemy the USSR left Afghanistan 35 years ago, inspiring extremists perhaps for many years to come. The US was taken out of Vietnam by the US peace movement, and Vietnam soon tried to be friends with the US. Charles de Gaulle ended French rule of Algeria years before France had to get out the moderates took over overthrown by the extremists just like later in Afghanistan but De Gaulle had nothing to do with it so France and Algeria are now friends. Please President Obama suddenly try to stay in Afghanistan if suddenly half of America is out of work or else surrender to the worst of our enemies over their the Haqqani Network. Mahatma Gandhi constantly warned against the nonviolence of the weak.

    I for one am glad Obama didn’t try to get our when the economy was at the verge of collapse the first two months he was in office.

  13. I think the past assignation of Rafic Hariri, who was Prime Minister of Lebanon, shows that al Qaeda could be behind the gas attack in Syria, and carefully set it up to look like the government did it instead. I explained why but it was for some reason held for moderation

  14. Robin Gaura on said:

    Is MintPress considered a reliable source? Because they reported that Bandar Bush, the head of Saudi intelligence provided the chemicals to rebel groups. They reported that the rebels weren´t given instructions on how to handle it, and some was released in an accident. It makes more sense than Assad killing his own people right before inspectors are due. So many false flags! Obama has everyone talking about Syria, red herring folks, something big is on the burner.