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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Did Assad Really Use WMD in Syria?

Politicians and pundits are claiming that the intelligence community (IC) has confirmed that Bashar al-Assad has used WMD in Syria and that the U.S. must now act. But did the IC really confirm the use of WMD in Syria? And if so, did the IC really confirm that Assad used them?

After weeks of people speculating that someone used WMD in Syria (including some people suggesting that Iraqi WMD might have been used in Syria), several foreign governments began alleging this as well.

The White House recently sent identical letters to Senators Carl Levin and John McCain, saying that, “Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin.”

Some politicians and media seem to have taken this to mean that this is proof that the Assad regime, or elements of it, has used WMD in Syria. However, the letter specifically states that the White House is seeking more evidence. One of the issues the White House letter cites is chain-of-custody issues with the supposed evidence of WMD use in Syria.

Also, the IC assessment only has “varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons.” This is a critically important statement.

The IC has three levels of confidence: low, moderate, and high (see page 52 of the “U.S. National Intelligence: An Overview 2013” guide). Based on available open source accounts, I would guess that the “varying degrees of confidence” in the IC are mostly low and moderate with regards to WMD use in Syria. (I could be wrong because there could be other evidence not available to the public.)

If I am correct and the IC is issuing mostly low and moderate confidence assessments with regards to Syria and WMD, then the IC is not coming close to saying for certain that the Assad regime used WMD in Syria. At best, the IC is saying that there is some evidence to suggest that it might have used WMD.

But let’s assume for a moment that the evidence for WMD (sarin) use in Syria is solid—that it’s been documented to be legitimate. Even then, how do we know that it was Assad or his regime that used the chemical weapon and not any of the various terrorist groups fighting him?

The IC probably is thinking of this as well.

Fox News reported in 2004 that a sarin-filled 155mm artillery shell detonated near U.S. forces. Terrorists had turned the artillery shell into an improvised explosive device (IED).

The Fox report noted that this IED detonation didn’t result in a full-fledged chemical attack because the chemicals inside the shell never mixed properly (and thus didn’t create the sarin gas). This resulted in only some minor exposure problems for two people after the explosion.

Now compare the details of that IED detonation with an alleged chemical attack in Syria that occurred on or about March 19, 2013.

CBS News reported the following:
Chemical weapons expert and chief operating officer of SecureBio, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, told CBSNews.com that based on video he had seen of victims in Aleppo hospitals, the symptoms were “not really those that are identified with nerve agents or mustard gas, which are the ones most likely to be used” inside Syria. 
Bretton-Gordon noted that none of the people in the hospitals treating the attack victims were wearing protective clothing. If a chemical agent had been dispersed, he said, anybody coming into contact with the victims would also be affected; “doctors treating them would be overcome.”
If the CBS report is accurate, then it would appear that the March 19 attack was not an effective chemical attack. However, the CBS report notes that people who were treated did report ill effects—possibly not unlike the people who suffered some minor exposure effects following the 2004 IED detonation. If this is true, then it could mean that the March 19 Syria incident was an ineffective chemical attack.

And if that is the case, who would be more likely to conduct a failed chemical weapon attack? Assad and his regime? Or the terrorists fighting him?

Assad and his regime would, in theory, be expected to have quality chemical weapons and know how to use them. (Unless, of course, it was a rogue element within the Assad regime, Assad’s chemical weapons have degraded, etc.)

Alternatively, the terrorists fighting Assad might only be able to get their hands on a degraded WMD-filled artillery shell and use it as an IED like they did against U.S. forces in Iraq. (Especially when the U.S. has admitted to losing track of all WMD in Syria, and when the U.S. has apparently trained the terrorists fighting Assad on how to help “secure” Syrian WMD.)

The IC has probably thought of these things as well.

Some might point to the White House letter and note that it specifically says that the IC assessment states (with varying degrees of confidence) that the Assad regime used small amounts of chemical weapons.

True. However, that could be wrong (as the varying degrees of confidence indicate). It is possible that whatever chemical weapons may have been used may have “originated with the Assad regime” but then fell into the hands of the terrorists fighting Assad.

So even if the IC has been able to establish with high confidence that sarin and/or other WMD was used in Syria, it wouldn’t necessarily “prove” that Assad or his regime were behind the attacks. But like I’ve mentioned before, the IC might have additional information.

Regardless of what the truth is with Syria and WMD, if U.S. leaders choose to escalate their war involvement in Syria consequences will follow.

One consequence could be that the U.S. finds out that Assad didn’t use WMD (or that some other part of the IC assessment was wrong). If that happens, our leaders will blame the IC. Although the IC does not dictate policy or actions, and although the IC has stated that it doesn’t know for certain if anyone used WMD in Syria, it will not matter. Our leaders will use the IC as a scapegoat.

A second possible consequence could be horrific U.S. casualties. If the U.S. chooses to escalate its war involvement in Syria by sending in American ground forces and Assad really does have a lethal arsenal of WMD, why wouldn’t he use it against U.S. troops? What would he have to lose at that point?

Another possible consequence might be that the Caucasus region of Russia will explode. Also, don’t be surprised if terrorism strikes the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

If the U.S. overthrows Assad and hands over the government to yet another bunch of Islamic terrorists, then those currently fighting in Syria will look for another battleground. There are plenty of places in the world for them to go but Russia and the Caucasus region (where Sochi is) would be a tempting choice. The Circassians are already leaving Syria and returning to the Caucasus Region. And Syrian and Chechen terrorists have also already teamed up.

Another possible consequence might be that a flood of Syrians will enter the U.S. It seems to happen every time the U.S. fights any nation. One of the latest media reports I’ve seen says that there are more than 80,000 Iraqis who have been granted entry into the U.S. following our latest war in Iraq. (Why are they here? I thought the U.S. was “fighting for the freedom of the Iraqi people”? So why aren’t they living in Iraq?)

One side note. If the use of WMD in Syria is such a serious issue for our civilian leaders, why isn’t anyone talking about the possible use of WMD in Afghanistan against school girls where the U.S. already has forces and where, in theory, the U.S. could easily “take action” as so many U.S. civilian leaders are demanding in Syria?

The bottom line is this. The IC isn’t saying with certainty that anyone used WMD in Syria. And even if WMD were used, the IC doesn’t know for sure who used them. But if the U.S. chooses to overthrow another government in favor of Islamic terrorists which will install yet another Islamic theocratic nation (even as the U.S. ignores or downplays potential WMD in Afghanistan), expect even greater chaos to ensue around the world. And expect the IC to be blamed for it all.

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