Suspected chemical attack in Syria
August 29th, 2013
10:09 PM ET

Sources: Intercepts show top Syrians preparing for chemical attack, discussing afterward

By Barbara Starr and Elise Labott
CNN

CNN has learned new details about what is contained in the U.S. intelligence assessment that alleges the Syrian regime was behind a deadly chemical weapons attack outside Damascus, Syria, last week.

According to senior U.S. officials, the assessment contains evidence showing senior regime officials making preparations for a massive chemical attack in the area where the incident occurred - the evidence is part of a "body of intelligence beforehand" that links the regime to the attack, as one of the officials described it.

It also includes evidence of senior regime officials discussing the attack afterward, acknowledging a realization the event was already getting massive attention and discussing that it would be wise to lay low for a while and refrain from launching such massive chemical attacks in the near future, the officials said.

In addition, the intelligence shows there was increased intensive shelling in the area after the attack, the officials said.

Earlier, CNN reported that according to a U.S. official, the United States had intercepts of conversations among top Syrian military officials discussing the chemical weapons attack after it took place. Those intercepts form a key basis for the conclusion that the Syrian regime was behind the attack.

But another crucial piece of evidence about what type of chemicals may have been used remains to be determined. Tissue samples and other medical and forensic evidence taken from victims has not yet been fully analyzed, the official said. One source familiar with the latest intelligence said getting that information would provide the strongest case for the use of chemical weapons.

CNN had also previously reported Israeli military intelligence provided the U.S. with intercepts between Syrian military commanders discussing the movement of chemical weapons to the area of the attack before it happened, according to a diplomatic source.

NBC News reported Thursday that one of the key pieces of evidence for the U.S. is an intercepted communication that says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's brother - a commander of the Syrian Republican Guard - personally ordered the attack. But a U.S. official cautioned CNN that information is uncorroborated.

The administration has said it would make a declassified version of its intelligence assessment public. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday the declassified version is not yet complete but should be released by the end of the week.

The intelligence includes an assessment of what level of involvement al-Assad had in last week's chemical attack, but that information remains classified and might not be released to the American public, a senior U.S. official said. The White House is struggling with how much information to release publicly because it could compromise the sources of intelligence about who ordered the attack, the official said.

President Barack Obama said in an interview Wednesday the U.S. government has "concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried" out the attack - a sentiment echoed by U.S. officials across Washington. But one question remaining is whether the attack was ordered by al-Assad himself. On that question, the senior U.S. official said, the administration has a "very clear answer" - but declined to say what that answer is - citing the classified nature of the intelligence.

One U.S. official told CNN the intelligence assessment shows the attack was ordered at the "highest levels" of the regime. That official declined to specifically say whether al-Assad himself ordered the attack but did not rule it out.

"We are not saying Assad himself had his finger on the button. But he is responsible for the stockpile and any attack like this would have to have been approved at the highest levels," that official said. He rejected the notion the evidence of regime involvement was circumstantial. "We have a very solid case to indicate the regime was behind this."

He said the evidence shows it was not a "rogue element" of the Syrian regime that carried out the attack, or the Syrian rebels. Another U.S. official echoed the idea that the intelligence assessment shows it was not a rogue element of the regime.

None of these officials spoke on the record due to the sensitive nature of the information.

Publicly, U.S. officials say it is irrelevant whether al-Assad actually ordered the attack or not, arguing that al-Assad is responsible for the actions of his regime. "The commander-in-chief of any military is ultimately responsible for decisions made under their leadership, even if ... he's not the one that pushes the button or said, 'Go,' on this," State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday.

On Thursday, the British government released a summary of its intelligence assessment that concluded "it is highly likely that the (Syrian) regime was responsible" for the attack. British intelligence "had high confidence in all of its assessments except in relation to the regime's precise motivation for carrying out an attack of this scale at this time - though intelligence may increase our confidence in the future," the document said.

Separately, currently, the U.S. intelligence community is focusing heavily on any real-time movements by the Syrian leadership, its forces, or elements of the regime in reaction to the possibility of military action by the United States, one of the senior officials said. "We do not want to go blind and deaf," about the location of key elements of the regime. "We want to see what 'looks different', what 'might be different' and how we stay ahead of the game," the official said.

This becomes crucial to ensuring that all targeting remains up to date and the U.S. has the latest information about the location of chemical weapons sites. The U.S. intelligence community is also trying to assess in detail any possible reactions by al-Assad in advance of a possible U.S. strike, and afterwards if one is ordered, including the possibility he will launch more attacks.

"We are not ruling anything out," the official said. There have been reports of some weapons including aircraft being dispersed to avoid a possible U.S. missile strike. The U.S. also believes al-Assad will continue to move other assets around, but will remain in control of the chemical stockpile, the official said.

The U.S. also is closely watching Lebanese Hezbollah as well as the Iranians for any signs they could launch proxy attacks against Syria's neighbors, including Israel and Iraq, in retaliation for a potential U.S. strike.

soundoff (70 Responses)
  1. Jimmy

    Lets take over the world

    September 1, 2013 at 8:47 am | Reply
    • George patton

      Thank you, Jimmy. Such is to be expected from a true Tea Partying dimwit like you!!!

      September 1, 2013 at 12:33 pm | Reply
  2. Donna

    "According to senior U.S. officials, the assessment contains evidence showing senior regime officials making preparations for a massive chemical attack in the area where the incident occurred – the evidence is part of a "body of intelligence beforehand" that links the regime to the attack, as one of the officials described it."

    The prez needs to make this evidence public.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:38 am | Reply
    • George patton

      He can't do that Donna, since this evidence is bogus and he doesn't want the rest of us to know it!!!

      September 1, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Reply
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    August 31, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Reply
    • Philbo55

      You command of the English language is astonishing, to say the least. Too bad your "facts" are so pathetic.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:31 pm | Reply
      • Philbo55

        I apologize for the typographical error. The first word was supposed to be "Your".

        September 1, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
  4. CNN-POST.

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    August 31, 2013 at 2:12 pm | Reply
  5. Ruktyui Ljghh

    Did someone just say Iran indicates they are now a fly over state...

    August 31, 2013 at 11:32 am | Reply
  6. Rfghuk Kdgjhk

    I think goats are delicious...

    August 31, 2013 at 5:45 am | Reply
  7. Rfghuk Kdgjhk

    Ever notice how 35% of all dollar bills now smell like striper ass...

    August 31, 2013 at 5:43 am | Reply
  8. Rfghuk Kdgjhk

    the 'going off like a volcano' comment in the house of commoners after the final vote in parliment comes to mind

    August 31, 2013 at 5:07 am | Reply
  9. jean delarue

    Check this out:

    "It's the old Trojan dick trick [. . .] A Trojan was a special communication device that could be planted by naval commandos deep inside enemy territory. The device would act as a relay station for misleading transmissions made by the disinformation unit in the Mossad, called LAP, and intended to be received by American and British listening stations. Originating from an IDF navy ship out at sea, the prerecorded digital transmissions could be picked up only by the Trojan. The device would then rebroadcast the transmission on another frequency, one used for official business in the enemy country, at which point the transmission would finally be picked up by American ears in Britain."

    August 31, 2013 at 3:46 am | Reply
  10. RC

    Are these the same analysts that advised President Bush on Iraqis WMD's

    August 30, 2013 at 4:22 pm | Reply
    • WW

      Well then, there should be little problem convincing the UN Security Council of the facts by presenting the evidence should there?

      August 30, 2013 at 8:23 pm | Reply
      • Philbo55

        To what purpose? Russia, or China, will veto any serious response.

        September 1, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
    • StanCalif

      No, remember that GWB acted on the story told by an Iraqi taxi driver to a CIA agent!!! How much more credible "intelligence" do you want? After all, taxi drivers know everything! Is anyone talking to Syrian taxi drivers?

      September 1, 2013 at 4:45 pm | Reply
    • Dave

      That was my thinking... after Iraq, our gvt says 'no really, we have all kinds of data that al Assad used chemical weapons... it's all classified though... you just have to trust us'

      Trust the government's 'classified' rationalization for war? No thanks, did that once already and regretted it.

      You are going to have to sell the American people on retaliting to this attack. And 'trust us' isn't going to get you there Obama.

      Also, GOP, why are you so angry at Obama? To me it looks a helluva lot like 2 more Bush terms. He kept Bush's bailouts going, he kept Bush's wars going... and even managed to find a few new ones. So seriously, Obama is more and more like Bush every day, why is the GOP so angry at him? He looks ready to change parties if you ask me.

      September 7, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Reply
  11. mdcambridge

    And our government believes in torture. ("Enhanced interrogations.)

    Both happen to violate the Geneva convention, but my concern is: what is REALLY behind the present US self-righteous stand?

    August 30, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Reply
  12. George patton

    Good enough Obama, let's get ready for the war. Our intervention in Middle East is essential, or at least, until they run out of oil.

    August 30, 2013 at 10:24 am | Reply
    • Gerald O'Hare

      Good posting, indeed we should protect our interest in Middle East George. Thank you.

      August 30, 2013 at 10:30 am | Reply
    • Gerald O'Hare

      Thank you, Phunnie boy. I was wondering just when you were going to get around to using my name on these posts. The reason I know that you're Phunnie boy is by the stupidity of your posts. I suspect you know better than that and just do this for your personal amusement. Am I right?

      August 30, 2013 at 11:24 am | Reply
      • Gerald O'Hare

        Phunnie boy, if you "foreign agent", hoping registered, post the same anti-American garbage under ten different IDs, why can't I use IDs and defend my country, you punk?

        August 30, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
  13. bnn

    The world is going to be damged very soon. People have no humanity. Inncoencts are killed. Look at the dying children, I sware on, you mind will be thrilled. If it is not thrilled, then we are dog or anuimal or giiant. When God has not defined any line of control. why we are fighitng and destrying our genration. It must stop ,Yes it must stop. An dit should stop not by retalion but by love and compassion. Why so much price we ar epaying for whose benifit. The worl dis ginf to be lost automatically as we have deastroyed eco system. Forest are fired,Weahter are moing towards hotere and hote daya by day. Climate is already changed. Heavy rains are happening arounf the world. Terrorist are growing each day beacue they are born from abadoned soul and they are devils and their job is to destroy the world. DO not encourgae them nor love them... They are not good. Due them this problem is arsign every where. Pleas keep faith on god, I am confrim the he will save us

    August 30, 2013 at 7:51 am | Reply
    • Steve

      That's pretty much true – especially when there are muslim conflicts 'War Drums' are pounding in the Middle East.

      August 30, 2013 at 8:33 am | Reply
      • Gerald O'Hare

        Good posting, steve. Thank you.

        August 30, 2013 at 10:16 am |
  14. freddie nerk

    How do we know these are voices of Syrian Army and not terrorists? And IF Israel knew the chemical weapons were being moved and readied for us...why didnt they say something before? This stinks of a scam. Enough already. Obama needs to chill and back down before he makes a bigger goof.

    August 30, 2013 at 4:40 am | Reply
    • Gerald O'Hare

      Good posting, freddie. Thank you.

      August 30, 2013 at 4:48 am | Reply
    • Thinker23

      did you READ the article, freddie? This is waht it says: "... Israeli military intelligence provided the U.S. with intercepts between Syrian military commanders discussing the movement of chemical weapons to the area of the attack before it happened..."

      Again, Israeli military intelligence provided the U.S. with intercepts between Syrian military commanders discussing the movement of chemical weapons to the area of the attack before it happened.

      August 30, 2013 at 6:15 am | Reply
      • StanCalif

        If Obama trusts Israeli intelligence, he is making a huge mistake! Israel has been trying for years to trick the US into attacking Iran. What better way to achieve this goal! Trick the US into attacking Syria so that Iran will react, then we will be "obligated" to respond with an attack on Iran! Israel would love to make this happen!
        Stand down! We, the US, are being "handled"!

        August 30, 2013 at 9:58 am |
      • Dave

        Buddy, I don't trust _MY_ government.

        You expect me to trust Israel's?

        September 7, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • Menandmeonly

      Because whoever they have listening to the intercepted voice transmissions would be skilled in detecting dialects of Arabic. Arabic varies considerably from Morocco to Iraq, and down to the Gulf countries. A foreign fighter is not going to sound like a Syrian general any more than a hillbilly sounds like an Irishman.

      August 30, 2013 at 8:03 am | Reply
      • Thinker23

        Despite all claims to the contrary, the majority of Syrian rebels are Syrians.

        August 30, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • StanCalif

      Israel has one goal in mind! Get the US to bomb Iran! This is Israel's golden moment, if they can trick us into attacking Syria (with fabricated "intelligence") then Iran comes into play! If we bomb Syria, we will be obligated to bomb Iran! Israel would love it!

      August 31, 2013 at 8:15 am | Reply
  15. rory

    Where you got the interception,Snowden is in Russia

    August 30, 2013 at 3:20 am | Reply
  16. logic

    "The commander-in-chief of any military is ultimately responsible for decisions made under their leadership, even if ... he's not the one that pushes the button or said, 'Go,' on this," State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday.
    Does that mean Obama is responsible for what Robert Bales did and all the others that committed crimes?

    August 30, 2013 at 3:15 am | Reply
    • Thinker23

      "Does that mean Obama is responsible for what Robert Bales did and all the others that committed crimes?"

      Absolutely! As long as Obama ALLOWED Robert Bales and all the others that committed crimes to do what they've done.

      August 30, 2013 at 6:17 am | Reply
  17. john smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    August 30, 2013 at 3:06 am | Reply
    • freddie nerk

      At least we are consistent!

      August 30, 2013 at 4:42 am | Reply
    • Jake

      John, when you "try" to make a point and put erroneous "facts" in your speech, it makes everything else you spew questionable at best.

      "In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people"

      In 1978 a civilian Korean Airlines flight was shot down as it strayed over Russian territory killing 109 people.

      Put your mind in gear before you put your mouth in motion.

      August 30, 2013 at 9:10 am | Reply
      • Thinker23

        Jake... The Russians shot down a Korean airliner... Not an Iranian one. Therefore, "John Smith" is technically correct here.

        August 30, 2013 at 9:48 am |
      • JZG

        269 people died on KAL 007, not 109. The Boeing 747 passed over Kamchatka and Sakhalin before it was met by a Sukhoi Su-15 'Flagon' interceptor. Soviet control interpreted KAL 007's climb to a higher flight level (which had just been granted by Tokyo ATC) as an evasive maneuver, and the Su-15 shot the plane down.

        August 30, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
  18. WonderWho

    " "We have a very solid case to indicate the regime was behind this."

    He said the evidence shows it was not a "rogue element" of the Syrian regime that carried out the attack, or the Syrian rebels. Another U.S. official echoed the idea that the intelligence assessment shows it was not a rogue element of the regime.

    None of these officials spoke on the record due to the sensitive nature of the information."

    The anonymous officials claimed they have solid evidence but they declined to reveal their names, the actual recordings and other evidence remains undisclosed, no actual evidence has been presented to Congress or to the UN. Hmmm – this scenario sounds exactly like the lead up to the war hysteria created by Bush and his media pals who all point to undisclosed "evidence" attested to by anonymous sources.

    Is it any wonder why the British Parliament rejected intervention?

    Is anybody in Congress going to fall for this nonsense or will non-intervention and common sense prevail?

    August 29, 2013 at 11:45 pm | Reply
    • Pam

      So you require the President to provide you and the rest of the world with the personal details of the informants, so you can contact them and interrogate them as to the facts of the matter, before any action is taken? Do you think that your requirement might:
      a) place those informants in danger
      b) had it been in place during WW2, have prevented the Allies from ever being able to prosecute war and save the world from the Nazis?

      August 30, 2013 at 1:25 am | Reply
      • U.S.M.C. 1371

        Well pam since we the people can no longer trust those in D.C. yes if your going to bomb people then yes he does need to prove it to we the people.

        August 30, 2013 at 1:59 am |
      • Thinker23

        U.S.M.C. 1371... If you can no longer trust those in D.C. you have EVERY RIGHT to elect others whom you trust or, alternatively, to move to a country ruled by trustworthy leaders.

        August 30, 2013 at 6:20 am |
      • Gerald O'Hare

        Good posting, thinker23. Thank you.

        August 30, 2013 at 10:17 am |
    • StanCalif

      Unfortunately, our Congress will swallow anything Israel says! This is Israel's "golden opportunity" to get us (the USA) to first attack Syria, then go on to attack Iran! Israel has been trying for years to get this to happen. Fortunately, Obama doesn't trust Israel (Bebe), and he certainly shouldn't. Israel has their own agenda! On the other hand, our Congress simply loves Israel.

      August 30, 2013 at 10:19 am | Reply
  19. maias

    "the United States had intercepts of conversations among top Syrian military officials discussing the chemical weapons attack after it took place. Those intercepts form a key basis for the conclusion that the Syrian regime was behind the attack."

    Does this mean that conversations among top US administration and military officials discussing the 9/11attacks after they took place form a key basis for the conclusion that the Bush regime was behind the attack? Of course not. Any such attack on country's soil will be discussed at the highest level.

    August 29, 2013 at 11:36 pm | Reply
    • kedy

      You are smart.

      August 30, 2013 at 1:56 am | Reply
    • Thinker23

      maias... Intercepting conversations means LISTENING to these conversations and COMPREHENDING (understanding) what is being said. In both cases, the conversations between state and military officials happened using one of the laguages we humans can understand.

      August 30, 2013 at 6:24 am | Reply
      • Gerald O'Hare

        Good posting, Thinker23. Thank you.

        August 30, 2013 at 10:18 am |
  20. Edward Pan

    i can't agree with u more. Thousands and thousands of relative news posted on every newspaper everyday.all kinds of views.And most importantly,we all know that,each country will think over his own interest before taking action.

    August 29, 2013 at 11:32 pm | Reply
  21. Portland tony

    If the US had all these intercepts of Assad's people planning for this chemical attack, why didn't we tell Assad up front "you don't do that or we'll do this"?

    August 29, 2013 at 11:22 pm | Reply
    • BIG SHIZ

      Because the israeli's gave us the intel after it happened. Read much?

      August 30, 2013 at 1:59 am | Reply
      • freddie nerk

        Really? So you mean the Israelis let it happen and allowed 1300 people to be gassed? Wow, and I thought they cared about such atrocities...but only if they happened to Jews 70 years ago.

        August 30, 2013 at 4:45 am |
      • Thinker23

        Freddy nerk... Israelis are NOT RESPONSIBLE for the actions of Syrian leaders, Syrian rebels or any other Arab and non-Arab military activists in the area. They [Israelis] are, however, responsible for defending their own country from any attackers.

        August 30, 2013 at 9:52 am |
  22. oldblindjohn

    Are you in favor of intervention ? What type?

    August 29, 2013 at 11:20 pm | Reply
    • Cowboy

      Containment. To make them stop using chemicals you have to take it away. That requires boots on the ground. Just contain the area and stay out. There no answer for this mess. Ive read they have been mixing this stuff in crowd control with low levels and they mixed it wrong. Don't know how true this is. Don't know what the truth is anymore.

      August 30, 2013 at 5:29 am | Reply
  23. saoirse72

    I guess someone has been reading my comments on CNN. Most of the facts cannot be completely substantiated because of the amount of chatter out there. Until that proof is laid out in detail, and even then, it is not likely that the west will intervene unless public opinion allows it. Just like after Somolia, the World is creating another Rwanda. The longer the world waits to bring peace keepers in, that death toll of 100,000 will keep increasing.

    August 29, 2013 at 10:58 pm | Reply
    • U.S.M.C. 1371

      So that makes it our problem how?

      August 30, 2013 at 4:18 am | Reply
      • Thinker23

        The fact that use of chemical weapons is a violation of international law and can not be tolerated.

        August 30, 2013 at 9:54 am |

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