President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry say they have the evidence that President Assad of Syria is responsible for a chemical weapons attack on his own people. The Prime Minister of the UK agrees. So do the French. I think I read that the Australian government agrees to. So, it must be an ironclad, water-tight case, right?
Not so fast.
According to a report in the German Press,
President Bashar al-Assad did not personally order last month's chemical weapons attack near Damascus that has triggered calls for US military intervention, and blocked numerous requests from his military commanders to use chemical weapons against regime opponents in recent months, a German newspaper has reported, citing unidentified, high-level national security sources.
The intelligence findings were based on phone calls intercepted by a German surveillance ship operated by the BND, the German intelligence service, and deployed off the Syrian coast, Bild am Sonntag said. The intercepted communications suggested Assad, who is accused of war crimes by the west, including [British] foreign secretary William Hague, was not himself involved in last month's attack or in other instances when government forces have allegedly used chemical weapons.
Okay, so the Germans disagree. But who pays that much attention to the Germans anyway?
As we see with the American mainstream media, intelligence people in this country unanimously accept the notion that Assad is personally responsible. Well, it turns out that's not really true either. In an open letter to President Obama, 12 members of the Steering Committee for Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) are saying they don't have all that much confidence in the US government's assessment.
We regret to inform you that some of our former co-workers are telling us, categorically, that contrary to the claims of your administration, the most reliable intelligence shows that Bashar al-Assad was NOT responsible for the chemical incident that killed and injured Syrian civilians on August 21, and that British intelligence officials also know this. In writing this brief report, we choose to assume that you have not been fully informed because your advisers decided to afford you the opportunity for what is commonly known as “plausible denial.”
We have been down this road before – with President George W. Bush, to whom we addressed our first VIPS memorandum immediately after Colin Powell’s Feb. 5, 2003 U.N. speech, in which he peddled fraudulent “intelligence” to support attacking Iraq. Then, also, we chose to give President Bush the benefit of the doubt, thinking he was being misled – or, at the least, very poorly advised.
The fraudulent nature of Powell’s speech was a no-brainer. And so, that very afternoon we strongly urged your predecessor to “widen the discussion beyond … the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.” We offer you the same advice today.
Our sources confirm that a chemical incident of some sort did cause fatalities and injuries on August 21 in a suburb of Damascus. They insist, however, that the incident was not the result of an attack by the Syrian Army using military-grade chemical weapons from its arsenal. That is the most salient fact, according to CIA officers working on the Syria issue. They tell us that CIA Director John Brennan is perpetrating a pre-Iraq-War-type fraud on members of Congress, the media, the public – and perhaps even you.
As with previous posts of this nature, I am not saying that these two reports mean that the US assessment is categorically wrong. What they do suggest, however, is that it should make you wonder if the "high confidence" level of the current assessment is more driven by politics than facts. If nothing else, with different people arriving at different conclusions, you should ask if that is enough to go charging off into another war.