U.S. Assessment of Syrian Chemical Weapons Use Didn’t Reflect Intelligence Consensus

Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (AP photo)

The intelligence assessment released by the White House to support President Barack Obama’s case for attacking Syria did not necessarily reflect all of the government’s spy agencies’ views on the subject of Syrian chemical warfare.


When the administration released the document (Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013), an unnamed “senior administration official” briefed the news media saying that the paper was “fully vetted within the intelligence community,” and that “All members of the intelligence community participated in its development,” according to Inter Press Service (IPS).


But the document did not represent a complete assessment of the entire intelligence community’s view of Syrian chemical warfare. Rather it reflected “a predominantly Obama administration influence,” IPS wrote after speaking with former intelligence officials.


One former official, choosing to remain anonymous, told IPS in an email that the administration may have “cherry-picked the intelligence” to fit its position on Syria.


“The result is not a balanced assessment of the intelligence,” the official told IPS.


Former National Intelligence Officer Paul Pillar, who worked on national intelligence estimates during the George W. Bush administration, said the assessment summary released by the White House “is evidently an administration document, and the working master copy may have been in someone’s computer at the White House or National Security Council.”


Pillar told IPS that senior intelligence officials might have approved the document, but that the White House may have drafted its own paper to “avoid attention to analytic differences within the intelligence community.”


It is also important to note that the White House produced this key piece of evidence—not the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which oversees all U.S. intelligence gathering operations.


The fact that the head of ODNI, James Clapper, did not release the report or put his name on it may reflect that he was not comfortable with the assessment, according to IPS.


The question of the assessment’s completeness has raised the specter of another intelligence report issued in 2002 by the George W. Bush administration to support officials’ claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which was a primary justification for attacking the country.


That earlier assessment proved to be inaccurate as the U.S. was unable to locate any evidence of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in Iraq after the war began.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Obama’s Case for Syria Didn’t Reflect Intel Consensus (by Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service)

Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013 (White House)

Senators Authorizing Syria Attack Received 83% More Defense Money than Those Opposed (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

U.N. Inspectors Flee Syria…Obama Pulls a George W. Bush in Iraq (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


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