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American intel caught napping on Syrian chemical weapons

By KIMBERLY DOZIER
September 5, 2013

Black columns of smoke rising from heavy shelling in the Jobar neighborhood in East of Damascus, Syria. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

Black columns of smoke rising from heavy shelling in the Jobar neighborhood in East of Damascus, Syria. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

U.S. intelligence agencies did not detect the Syrian regime readying a massive chemical weapons attack in the days ahead of the strike, only piecing together what had happened after the fact, U.S. officials say.

One of the key pieces of intelligence that Secretary of State John Kerry later used to link the attack to the Syrian government — intercepts of communications telling Syrian military units to prepare for the strikes — was in the hands of U.S. intelligence agencies but had not yet been “processed,” according to senior U.S. officials.

That explains why the White House did not warn either the regime or the rebels who might be targeted as it had done when detecting previous preparations for chemical strikes.

“We know that for three days before the attack the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons personnel were on the ground in the area making preparations,” Kerry said as he presented the evidence in a State Department speech last week. “We know that the Syrian regime elements were told to prepare for the attack by putting on gas masks and taking precautions associated with chemical weapons.”

But the Obama administration only uncovered the evidence after Syrians started posting reports of the strike from the scene of the attack, leading U.S. spies and analysts to focus on satellite and other evidence showing a Syrian chemical weapons unit was preparing chemical munitions before the strike, according to two current U.S. officials and two former senior intelligence officials.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the intelligence publicly.

The spokesman for the director of national intelligence confirmed that U.S. intelligence did not detect the massive chemical weapons attack beforehand.

“Let’s be clear, the United States did not watch, in real time, as this horrible attack took place,” Shawn Turner said in a statement to The Associated Press on Wednesday. “The intelligence community was able to gather and analyze information after the fact and determine that elements of the Assad regime had in fact taken steps to prepare prior to using chemical weapons,” Turner said.

Turner offered no reason for the delay in processing the intelligence, but current and former intelligence officials said analysts were stretched too thin with the multiple streams of intelligence coming out of multiple conflict zones, from Syria to Libya to Yemen.

In December, U.S. intelligence detected Syria’s military was readying chemical weapons for use, and President Barack Obama warned the Syrian government publicly that such use was “totally unacceptable” and that the country’s leaders would be held accountable.

The White House is now asking Congress to approve a punitive strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which the administration blames for an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus.

The administration says 1,429 died in the attack. Casualty estimates by other groups are far lower.

Kerry and other officials are laying out the intelligence in open and closed sessions with lawmakers, explaining why the U.S. intelligence community last week issued a “high confidence” report implicating the Syrian regime — a conclusion echoed by British and French intelligence in similar reports made public since the attack.

Senior administration officials explained last week that the U.S. intelligence community had reconstructed a picture of the attack, from satellite and signals intercepts that indicated to them that troops from Syria’s military unit that handles chemical weapons, the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, were readying such weapons. That conclusion was backed up, however, by a carefully written sentence that indicated the intelligence was somewhat circumstantial: “Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating … near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin.”

The report says U.S. intelligence intercepted communications after the attack by a “senior official intimately familiar with the offensive” who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the Syrian government, and was concerned that the U.N. inspectors might find evidence of the attack. The report also says the U.S. has intelligence that Syrian chemical weapons personnel were directed to “cease operations” on the afternoon of Aug. 21, several hours after the attack.

The U.S. officials briefed on the intelligence say such intercepts were in hand but waiting to be processed among hours of intercepted military communications.

The CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency have dozens officers on the ground in countries neighboring Syria, relying on a network of rebels and local agents to provide human intelligence on the goings on of both the regime and its opponents. The Pentagon also has satellites focused on the area, capturing images of the regime and rebel maneuvers, while various types of airborne platforms collect electronic transmissions such as military radio traffic or cellphone calls.

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Follow Kimberly Dozier on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kimberlydozier
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Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

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5 Responses to American intel caught napping on Syrian chemical weapons

  1. Keith

    September 5, 2013 at 9:21 am

    The spokesman for the director of national intelligence confirmed that U.S. intelligence did not detect the massive chemical weapons attack beforehand.

    Perhaps that’s because they were FAR too busy spying on we Americans (not to mention Mexicans, Brazilians and UN Ambassadors) to notice.

  2. David

    September 5, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    “But the Obama administration only uncovered the evidence after Syrians started posting reports of the strike from the scene of the attack, leading U.S. spies and analysts to focus on satellite and other evidence showing a Syrian chemical weapons unit was preparing chemical munitions before the strike, according to two current U.S. officials and two former senior intelligence officials.”

    This should be considered a pack of lies unless and until they actually produce the evidence for review by American citizens outside the US government.

  3. Carl Nemo **==

    September 5, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    The most disgusting aspect about our foreign policies is the hypocrisy of it all.

    Today our leadership is feigning outrage over the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but 25 years ago our leadership was arming Saddam Hussein with chemical weps to be used against Iran in the Iraqi~Iranian conflict which claimed at least one million lives.

    Most if not all the chemical weapons extant in the Middle East today are leftovers from our many years of supplying the region with such. So too a few other Western powers were involved. We gave regional despots the means and so too fomented these conflicts with our meddling and constant destabilization of regimes. It’s a bigtime moneymaking scheme/scam to play these regions with so many internecine tribal to national level conflicts.

    In addition to approving Saddam’s use of the weapons on Iranian combatants our CIA also helped in the targeting of such during their eight year conflict from 1980-88. Notice too it occurred during the Reagan/Bush era in office. / : |

    No wonder Iran hates our collective guts. Saddam was our buddy until he was set up in the early 90’s by H.W. Bush concerning the Iraq~Kuwaiti debacle. Saddam told April Glaspie our then ambassador to his nation of his plans to invade Kuwait which Iraq considered to be nothing but a runaway province from the greater Iraq. Kuwait was also “slant drilling” into Iraq’s oil fields and had been doing so for some years. Glaspie, after conferring with our leadership at the time told Saddam it was none of our concern, so in effect “greenlighting” him to attack Kuwait. Once he did so then “Mr. Thousand Points of Light” H.W. Bush, ‘First Bishop of the New World Order’, decried foul and marshaled a coalition to attack Iraq. The rest is history. A little over a decade later his son, G.W. Bush went after Iraq a second time with WMD’s being an excuse for which there were none found or existed prior to the attack. The Bush family have a long track record for being ‘war profiteers’.

    Hopefully savvy citizens would connect the dots concerning our leadership playing us for suckers while costing this nation dearly in lives and treasure, so too innocent non-combatants who’s lives have been sacrificed on the altar of Mars all for a few dollars, euros and shekels more.

    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/08/25/secret_cia_files_prove_america_helped_saddam_as_he_gassed_iran

    This current Syrian debacle makes myself and no doubt others heartsick knowing we’re being played by our now terminally corrupt leadership. They care not what “We the People” think or for our well being. In the final analysis it’s all about the acquisition of evermore money on behalf of the MIC and their Congressional facilitators. In truth, 1400 ‘gassed civilians means nothing to them, no differently than the citizens they are supposed to represent in an honorable fashion.

    Carl Nemo **==

  4. Keith

    September 7, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    In truth, 1400 ‘gassed civilians means nothing to them, no differently than the citizens they are supposed to represent in an honorable fashion.

    Ineed.

    Nor, does it seem that Obama and Company have a care about the 53 homicides that were committed in his hometown (Chicago) in August, with 41 deaths and 224 wounded as a result of shootings there.

    Add those numbers to the total of over 16,000 murders committed annually in the USA…with some 11,000 of those committed with a firearm.

    Then there’s the 40,000+ who are killed annually on our nation’s highways, the 5000 more who die from falls in the home, with some 450 of those who die simply from FALLING OUT OF BED!

    So, where’s the Trillion-dollar a year NSA snooping empire, a “War on Gun Violence” and “bombing to protect civilians” aimed at trying to reduce any of THOSE grisly numbers?

    Clearly, hypocrisy is too nice a term for these shysters.

    What Obama and Company are doing (aided and abetted by their robber baron supporters in the US Congress)…intervening in tribal wars in faraway lands while such (largely preventable) carnage continues at home is nothing short of CRIMINAL.

  5. Wayne K Dolik

    September 7, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    More Bullvine Scat published on CHB. Do you think we are stupid?