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MEMORANDUM FOR: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov
FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
SUBJECT: Sarin Attack at Ghouta on Aug. 21, 2013
In a Memorandum of Oct. 1, 2013, we asked each of you to make public the intelligence upon which you based your differing conclusions on who was responsible for the sarin chemical attack at Ghouta, outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013. On Dec. 10, 2015, Eren Erdem, a member of parliament in Turkey, citing official documents, blamed Turkey for facilitating the delivery of sarin to rebels in Syria.
Mr. Kerry, you had blamed the Syrian government. Mr. Lavrov, you had described the sarin as "homemade" and suggested anti-government rebels were responsible. Each of you claimed to have persuasive evidence to support your conclusion.
Pointing to strong doubt among chemical weapons experts regarding the evidence adduced to blame the government of Syria for the sarin attack, you also referred to the "open letter sent to President Obama by former operatives of the CIA and the Pentagon," in which we expressed similar doubt.
Mr. Kerry, on Aug. 30, 2013, you blamed the Syrian government, publicly and repeatedly, for the sarin attack. But you failed to produce the kind of "Intelligence Assessment" customarily used to back up such claims.
We believe that this odd lack of a formal "Intelligence Assessment" is explained by the fact that our former colleagues did not believe the evidence justified your charges and that, accordingly, they resisted pressure to "fix the intelligence around the policy," as was done to "justify" the attack on Iraq.
Intelligence analysts were telling us privately (and we told the President in our Memorandum of Sept. 6, 2013) that, contrary to what you claimed, "the most reliable intelligence shows that Bashar al-Assad was not responsible for the chemical incident that killed and injured Syrian civilians on August 21."
This principled dissent from these analysts apparently led the White House to create a new art form, a "Government Assessment," to convey claims that the government in Damascus was behind the sarin attack. It was equally odd that the newly minted genre of report offered not one item of verifiable evidence.
(We note that you used this new art form "Government (not Intelligence) Assessment" a second time -- again apparently to circumvent intelligence analysts' objections. On July 22, 2014, just five days after the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, after the media asked you to come up with evidence supporting the charges you leveled against "pro-Russian separatists" on the July 20 Sunday talk shows, you came up with the second, of only two, "Government Assessment." Like the one on the chemical attack in Syria, the assessment provided meager fare when it comes to verifiable evidence.)
Claims and Counterclaims
Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 24, 2013, President Obama asserted: "It's an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the [Syrian] regime carried out this attack [at Ghouta]."
Mr. Lavrov, that same day you publicly complained that U.S. officials kept claiming "'the Syrian regime,' as they call it, is guilty of the use of chemical weapons, without providing comprehensive proof." Two days later you told the U.N. General Assembly you had given Mr. Kerry "the latest compilation of evidence, which was an analysis of publicly available information." You also told the Washington Post, "This evidence is not something revolutionary. It's available on the Internet."
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