Obama Administration Accused of Cherry-Picking Intelligence on Syrian Chemical Weapons

Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Syrian victims of chemical weapons attack (photo: AP, Shaam News Network)

The Obama administration has been accused of selectively choosing intelligence to build its case that Syria’s government was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus in August.


“We know the Assad regime was responsible,” President Barack Obama declared in a national address in September. “In the days leading up to August 21, we know that Assad's chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gas masks to their troops. Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighborhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces.”


But Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh claims Obama “did not tell the whole story” when he pointed the finger at the regime of Bashar al-Assad.


“In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study (pdf) concluded—without assessing responsibility—had been used in the rocket attack,” Hersh wrote.


Hersh says the government’s own intelligence reports showed one rebel group, the al-Nusra Front, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda, had the knowledge and capability to make sarin.


“When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad,” Hersh wrote.


The journalist also cited a variety of recent interviews with both current and former military and intelligence officers whom, he claims, expressed both concern and anger over what they saw as intentional manipulation of intelligence.


The White House has disputed Hersh’s assertions.


“The intelligence clearly indicated that the Assad regime and only the Assad regime could have been responsible for the 21 August chemical weapons attack. There’s no evidence to support Mr. Hersh’s claims to the contrary and the suggestion that there was an effort to suppress intelligence is simply false,” Director of National Intelligence spokesman Shawn Turner told CNN in a statement.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More;

Whose Sarin? (by Seymour M. Hersh, London Review of Books)

Did Syrian Rebel Group Have Sarin? (by Jake Tapper, CNN)

Sy Hersh Writing about Politicized Intelligence Again, Syria Edition (emptywheel)

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