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Fixing Intel Around the Syria Policy

By       Message Robert Parry     Permalink
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"There was considerable dissent from even that equivocation, including by many analysts who felt that the evidence for a Syrian government role was subject to interpretation and possibly even fabricated. Some believed the complete absence of U.S. satellite intelligence on the extensive preparations that the government would have needed to make in order to mix its binary chemical system and deliver it on target was particularly disturbing.

"These concerns were reinforced by subsequent UN reports suggesting that the rebels might have access to their own chemical weapons. The White House, meanwhile, considered the somewhat ambiguous conclusion of the NIE to be unsatisfactory, resulting in considerable pushback against the senior analysts who had authored the report."

Demands from Above

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When Obama's National Security Council demanded more corroborative evidence to establish Syrian government guilt, "Israel obligingly provided what was reported to be interceptions of telephone conversations implicating the Syrian army in the attack, but it was widely believed that the information might have been fabricated by Tel Aviv, meaning that bad intelligence was being used to confirm other suspect information, a phenomenon known to analysts as "circular reporting,'" Giraldi wrote...

"Other intelligence cited in passing by the White House on the trajectories and telemetry of rockets that may have been used in the attack was also somewhat conjectural and involved weapons that were not, in fact, in the Syrian arsenal, suggesting that they were actually fired by the rebels.

"Also, traces of Sarin were not found in most of the areas being investigated, nor on one of the two rockets identified. Whether the victims of the attack suffered symptoms of Sarin was also disputed, and no autopsies were performed to confirm the presence of the chemical.

"With all evidence considered, the intelligence community found itself with numerous skeptics in the ranks, leading to sharp exchanges with the Director of Central Intelligence John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. A number of analysts threatened to resign as a group if their strong dissent was not noted in any report released to the public, forcing both Brennan and Clapper to back down."

The Obama administration's "solution" to this analyst revolt was to circumvent the normal intelligence process and issue a white paper that would be called a "Government Assessment," declaring the Syrian government's guilt as indisputable fact and leaving out the doubts of the intelligence community.

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While this subterfuge may have satisfied the institutional concerns of the intelligence community -- which didn't want another Iraq-War-style violation of its procedural protocols on how NIEs are handled -- it still left the American people vulnerable to a government deception on a question of war or peace.

Yes, there was no scene comparable to the positioning of CIA Director George Tenet behind Secretary of State Colin Powell as he delivered his deceptive Iraq War speech to the UN Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003. Both Clapper and Brennan were absent from the administration's testimony to Congress, leaving Secretary Kerry to do most of the talking with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey bracketing Kerry as mostly silent wing men.

And, yes, one could argue that the Obama administration's hyping of its case against the Assad regime had a happy ending, the Syrian government's agreement to eliminate its entire CW arsenal. Indeed, most of the grousing about the Syrian outcome has come from neocons who wanted to ride the rush to judgment all the way to another regime-changing war.

Dogs Not Barking

But Americans should be alarmed that a decade after they were deceived into a disastrous war in Iraq based on bogus intelligence -- and the complete breakdown of Official Washington's checks and balances -- a very similar process could unfold that brought the country to the brink of another war.

Besides the disturbing fact that the Obama administration refused to release any actual evidence to support its case for war, there was the gullibility (or complicity) of leading news outlets in failing to show even a modicum of skepticism.

The New York Times and other major news organizations failed to note the dogs not barking. Why, for instance, was there no NIE? Why were the U.S. government's top intelligence officials absent from public presentations of what amounted to an intelligence issue? It shouldn't have required a Sherlock Holmes to sniff out the silenced intelligence analysts.

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When a government leader refuses to reveal any of his supposed proof for a claim and conceals the professionals who don't agree with his claim, any reasonably savvy person should draw the conclusion that the government leader doesn't really have a case.

Though some Americans may cite the work of a few Web sites, like our own Consortiumnews.com, as having challenged the misguided conventional wisdom on Syria as we also did on Iraq, they should not draw too much comfort from this. After all, our readership is tiny when compared to the many sources of misinformation being disseminated to the broad American public.

The dangerous reality is that the United States remains vulnerable to the kinds of stampedes in judgment that can end up crushing people around the world.

[Here is some of our earlier reporting on the Syrian crisis: "A Dodgy Dossier on Syrian War"; "Murky Clues From UN's Syria Report"; "Obama Still Withholds Syria Evidence"; "How US Pressure Bends UN Agencies."]   


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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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