By Barbara Starr, Jill Dougherty and Elise Labott
The United States has recently stepped up intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations over Syria, CNN has learned.
"This is for situational awareness," a senior U.S. official told CNN. "There are media reports but we also want to verify exactly what is happening."
The official said the United States believes all the media reports coming out of Syria, but for intelligence uses they want to gather even more information to understand precisely what is happening there.
The official would not address whether U.S. intelligence-gathering operations include eavesdropping on or jamming of Syrian government and military communications. Such actions were used in Libya.Under fire from some quarters for not doing more immediately to help stop the bloodshed in Syria, the State Department on Friday said it will release publicly reconnaissance photos of Syrian cities showing broad images of what appeared to be smoke rising from areas where the fighting is most intense.
The first image was posted on the Facebook page of the U.S. Embassy in Damascus. That embassy was closed last week when U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford and his remaining staff were called back to Washington.
The images shows "some declassified U.S. national imagery of destruction of Homs, very gruesome pictures showing lines of tanks, showing fire, showing the kind of things that you really only see when you have a major military attacking in a civilian area," explained State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
But the United States is continuing to look for non-violent solutions, Nuland said.
The release of the images followed Russia's charged that opposition groups are mounting an increasingly well-armed resistance against government forces, with weapons supplied by other countries.
"We are trying to demonstrate the kind of weaponry the regime is using," a senior State Department official said. "This is military hardware of a very sophisticated nature being used against civilians."
The official said the intended audience is "those who might doubt those who are doing the violence because, clearly, these are government weapons," alluding to Russia and China, which have echoed the Syrian regime's argument that much of the violence is being carried out by anti-regime rebels.
Nuland said there photos will be released in coming days on the embassy's site and on a new site created by the State Department.
Pictures to be released on that site later Friday include ones showing the cities of Zabadani, Halboun and Rancous, she said.
"Our intent here is to, obviously, expose the ruthlessness and the brutality of this regime and its overwhelming predominance of military advantage and the horrible kinds of weaponry that it's deploying against its people," she said.