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Hullabaloo


Saturday, August 31, 2013

 
Can someone explain to me why this isn't a bigger deal?

by digby

I realize that the intelligence memo was a Friday newsdump on a holiday week-end but I'm still surprised I haven't seen any discussion of this.

American intelligence agencies had indications three days beforehand that the Syrian regime was poised to launch a lethal chemical attack that killed more than a thousand people and has set the stage for a possible U.S. military strike on Syria.

The disclosure -- part of a larger U.S. intelligence briefing on Syria's chemical attacks -- raises all sorts of uncomfortable questions for the American government. First and foremost: What, if anything, did it do to notify the Syrian opposition of the pending attack?

In a call with reporters Friday afternoon, senior administration officials did not address whether this information was shared with rebel groups in advance of the attack. A White House spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the information had been shared.

But at least some members of the Syrian opposition are already lashing out at the U.S. government for not acting ahead of time to prevent the worst chemical attack in a quarter-century. "If you knew, why did you take no action?" asked Dlshad Othman, a Syrian activist and secure-communications expert who has recently relocated to the United States. He added that none of his contacts had any sort of prior warning about the nerve gas assault -- although such an attack was always a constant fear.

Razan Zaitouneh, an opposition activist in the town of Douma, one of the towns hit in the Aug. 21 attack, said she had no early indication of a major chemical attack. "Even the moment [the attack hit], we thought it was as usual, limited and not strong," she told The Cable in an instant message. That only changed when "we started to hear about the number of injuries."

"It's unbelievable that they did nothing to warn people or try to stop the regime before the crime," Zaitouneh added.
Here's the passage in the Intelligence Memo that to which article refers:
We have intelligence that leads us to assess that Syrian chemical weapons personnel – including personnel assessed to be associated with the SSRC – were preparing chemical munitions prior to the attack. In the three days prior to the attack, we collected streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence that reveal regime activities that we assess were associated with preparations for a chemical weapons attack.

Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of ‘Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21 near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin. On August 21, a Syrian regime element prepared for a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus area, including through the utilization of gas masks. 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.
Call me crazy but that seems like a big deal. Why didn't they reveal this publicly? I get that they were probably protecting sources and methods but this is a chemical weapons attack, something we allegedly believe is so far beyond the pale that it requires military action despite the fact that military action is widely acknowledged to be useless in stopping the carnage. And anyway, the cat's out of the bag now --- if that was their concern why in the world did they put this in this memo?

If this is all about the international norms against the use of chemical weapons being upheld, then I honestly cannot understand why we wouldn't have announced that we knew this was coming --- if only to warn the people of Syria. Who knows, maybe Assad (or whoever else did this) would have called it off! Instead it looks as though we sat on the information, knowing it was coming. (And, make no mistake, there are people who will surmise that was done purposely in order to create a casus belli. And that would be despicably immoral.)

The US government may not be able to do much in this situation because it is perversely limited by its military dominance. But there is one thing it has: the entire world now knows it has the capability of listening in on pretty much any conversation anywhere. That's a power they could have used to intimidate the Assad regime into thinking twice about doing this horrible thing. But it's entirely possible that they are so instinctively over-protective of their secrets that they couldn't move quickly enough.

On the other hand, this memo could just be full of lies. It wouldn't be the first time US Intelligence put out bogus information to bolster a case for military action, would it?


Update: Greg Mitchell did note this yesterday.

Update II: People on twitter presume that the administration probably only put together this evidence after the fact. That may be true. But considering the vast resources that go into our NSA/CIA operations, one has to wonder why they couldn't put it together in real time. After all, they knew what they were specifically looking for.

But hey, maybe all the money and capabilities they've developed haven't improved their ability to connect the dots even when they have a small number of people to spy upon and they have very specific suspicions. Good to know.

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