Only days after the White House suggested it was all but certain Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons to gas hundreds of civilians, United States intelligence officials briefed on the situation say the evidence isn’t all there.
Despite recent remarks from US President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other top administration officials, sources within the intelligence community are disputing the certainty that Assad ordered the use of chemical gas last week on innocent civilians outside of Damascus, Syria.
Four US officials — including one senior member of the intelligence community — told the Associated Press this week that there’s confusion over where the reported chemical warheads are currently being held and who exactly possesses them. Citing a lapse in both signals and human intelligence reports, the officials all told the AP on condition of anonymity that US and allied spies “have lost track of who controls some of the country’s chemical weapons supplies,” according to reporters Kimberly Dozier and Matt Apuzzo.
Multiple officials, the AP reported Thursday morning, used the phrase “not a slam dunk” to discuss the credibility of intelligence linking chemical weapon use directly to Pres. Assad. In 2002, then-Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet infamously said Washington scored a “slam dunk” with regards to confirming Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Now more than a decade down the road, US officials hesitant to rush off to war are again questioning the credibility of the White House’s own report.
According to an Office of the Director for National Intelligence report cited by the AP, the evidence against Syria “is thick with caveats” and contains gaps that are getting in the way of putting the chemical weapon use directly in the hands of Assad.
But Carney, the administration’s press secretary, said earlier this week that the White House “established with a high degree of confidence that the Syria regime has used chemical weapons already in this conflict.”