Intelligence On Syrian Chemical Weapons Not Necessarily Complete


The Associated Press is reporting that sources in the intelligence community are saying that the evidence supporting the allegations of chemical weapons use against Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria isn’t quite as solid as some of the rhetoric would lead us to believe:

The intelligence linking Syrian President Bashar Assad or his inner circle to an alleged chemical weapons attack is no “slam dunk,” with questions remaining about who actually controls some of Syria’s chemical weapons stores and doubts about whether Assad himself ordered the strike, U.S. intelligence officials say.

President Barack Obama declared unequivocally Wednesday that the Syrian government was responsible, while laying the groundwork for an expected U.S. military strike.

“We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out,” Obama said in an interview with “NewsHour” on PBS. “And if that’s so, then there need to be international consequences.”

However, multiple U.S. officials used the phrase “not a slam dunk” to describe the intelligence picture — a reference to then-CIA Director George Tenet’s insistence in 2002 that U.S. intelligence showing Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was a “slam dunk” — intelligence that turned out to be wrong.

A report by the Office of the Director for National Intelligence outlining that evidence against Syria includes a few key caveats — including acknowledging that the U.S. intelligence community no longer has the certainty it did six months ago of where the regime’s chemical weapons are stored, nor does it have proof Assad ordered chemical weapons use, according to two intelligence officials and two more U.S. officials.


The official conceded there are caveats in the report and there is no proof saying Assad personally ordered the attack. There was no mention in the report of the possibility that a rogue element inside Assad’s government or military could have been responsible, the senior official said.

It’s also worth noting that we cannot state with certainty at this moment whether the substance(s) used in the August 21st attack that is currently at issue were actually banned chemical weapons, or whether they were some form of riot-control munitions which are not banned under International treaty. Indeed, the U.N. weapons inspectors have not even completed their examination of the site in question or the survivors and are not expected to leave the country until Saturday, and their report likely won’t be ready until sometime a week from now at the earliest.

Given that we’ve already gone to war once based on faulty intelligence, doesn’t it seem wise that we wait until we have all the evidence before making a decision that could turn out to be mistaken?

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. anjin-san says:

    Let’s start blowing things up anyway.

    “There’s plenty good money to be made, supplying the Army with the tools of the trade…”

  2. Franklin says:

    Given that we’ve already gone to war once based on faulty intelligence, doesn’t it seem wise that we wait until we have all the evidence before making a decision that could turn out to be mistaken?

    Yes. Excellent conclusion.

  3. walt moffett says:

    We now have the official Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013 on Reads as a longer version of what the UK released with the only thing of note is satellite imaging of Syrian forces launching rockets into rebel areas

    Seems more useful as a fig leaf just as the yet to be released legal opinion which will no doubt read Its not illegal when the President does it.