News Release

How Intelligence Was Twisted to Support an Attack on Syria

GARETH PORTER, porter.gareth50 at gmail.com, @GarethPorter
Porter is an investigative journalist and historian specializing in U.S. national security policy. He just wrote the piece “How Intelligence Was Twisted to Support an Attack on Syria” for TruthOut, which states: “Secretary of State John Kerry assured the public that the Obama administration’s summary of the intelligence on which it is basing the case for military action to punish the Assad regime for an alleged use of chemical weapons was put together with an acute awareness of the fiasco of the 2002 Iraq WMD intelligence estimate.

“Nevertheless, the unclassified summary of the intelligence assessment made public August 30, 2013, utilizes misleading language evocative of the infamous Iraq estimate’s deceptive phrasing. The summary cites signals, geospatial and human source intelligence that purportedly show that the Syrian government prepared, carried out and ‘confirmed’ a chemical weapons attack on August 21. And it claims visual evidence ‘consistent with’ a nerve gas attack.

“But a careful examination of those claims reveals a series of convolutedly worded characterizations of the intelligence that don’t really mean what they appear to say at first glance. …

“Another obvious case of a misleading description of intelligence in the summary involves information from U.S. geospatial and signals intelligence purporting to show that the Assad regime was preparing for a chemical attack in the three days prior to August 21. The intelligence summary describes the intelligence as follows: ‘Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21 near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin.’

“That seems like damning evidence at first glance. However, despite the use of the term ‘operating,’ the U.S. intelligence had no information about the actual activities of the individual or individuals being tracked through geospatial and signals intelligence. When administration officials leaked the information to CBS News last week, they conceded that the presence of the individual being tracked in the area in question had been viewed at the time as ‘nothing out of the ordinary.’

“Yet, after the August 21 event, the same information was suddenly transformed into ‘evidence’ that supports the official line. The summary refers to ‘streams of human signals and geospatial intelligence that revealed regime activities that we assessed were associated with preparations for a chemical attack.’ Thus the same information that provided no indication of ‘preparations’ was now presented as though it included knowledge of some ‘activities’ somehow related to getting ready for chemical warfare.”