President Barack Obama answers questions at a press conference at Konstantinovsky Palace during the G20 Summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Sept. 6, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
A U.S. congressman who has read the Obama administration's classified version of intelligence on the alleged Syrian poison gas attack says the report is only 12 pages -- just three times longer than the sketchy unclassified public version -- and is supported by no additional hard evidence.
Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also said the House Intelligence Committee had to make a formal request to the administration for "the underlying intelligence reports" and he is unaware if those details have been forthcoming, suggesting that the classified report -- like the unclassified version -- is more a set of assertions than a presentation of evidence.
"And this extends to matters of war and peace, money and blood. The 'security state' is drowning in its own phlegm. My position is simple: if the administration wants me to vote for war, on this occasion or on any other, then I need to know all the facts. And I'm not the only one who feels that way."
As I wrote a week ago, after examining the four-page unclassified summary, there was not a single fact that could be checked independently. It was a "dodgy dossier" similar to the ones in 2002-2003 that led the United States into the Iraq War. The only difference was that the Bush administration actually provided more checkable information than the Obama administration did, although much of the Bush data ultimately didn't check out.
It appears that the chief lesson learned by the Obama administration was to release even less information about Syria's alleged chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 than the Bush administration did about Iraq's alleged WMD. The case against Syria has relied almost exclusively on assertions, such as the bellowing from Secretary of State John Kerry that the Syrian government sure did commit the crime, just trust us.
The Obama administration's limited-hangout strategy seems to have worked pretty well at least inside the Establishment, but it's floundering elsewhere around the United States. It appears that many Americans share the skepticism of Rep. Grayson and a few other members of Congress who have bothered to descend into the intelligence committee vaults to read the 12-page classified summary for themselves.
Rallying the Establishment
Despite the sketchy intelligence, many senators and congressmen have adopted the politically safe position of joining in denunciations of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (where's the downside of that?), and the mainstream U.S. news media has largely taken to writing down the administration's disputed claims about Syria as "flat fact."
For instance, the New York Times editorial on Saturday accepts without caveat that there was "a poison gas attack by President Bashar al-Assad's regime that killed more than 1,400 people last month," yet those supposed "facts" are all in dispute, including the total number who apparently died from chemical exposure. It was the U.S. white paper that presented the claim of "1,429" people killed without explaining the provenance of that strangely precise number.
The New York Times editorial also reprises the false narrative that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syria's Assad are to blame for the absence of peace negotiations, although the Times' own reporters from the field have written repeatedly that it has been the U.S.-backed rebels who have refused to join peace talks in Geneva. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Getting Syria-ous About Peace Talks."]
Nevertheless, the Times editorial states, "it was the height of cynicism for Mr. Putin to talk about the need for a Syrian political settlement, which he has done little to advance." One has to wonder if the Times' editors consider it their "patriotic" duty to mislead the American people, again.
Increasingly, President Barack Obama's case for a limited war against Syria is looking like a nightmarish replay of President George W. Bush's mendacious arguments for war against Iraq. There are even uses of the same techniques, such as putting incriminating words in the mouths of "enemy" officials.
On Feb. 5, 2003, before the United Nations Security Council, Secretary of State Colin Powell needled some intercepted quotes from Iraqi military officers to make some innocuous comments about inspecting weapons sites into proof they were hiding caches of chemical weapons from UN inspectors. Powell's scam was exposed when the State Department released the actual transcripts of the conversations without some of the incriminating words that Powell had added.
Then, on Aug. 30, 2013, when the Obama administration released its "Government Assessment" of Syria's alleged poison gas attack, the white paper stated, "We intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence."
However, the identity of the "senior official" was not included, nor was the direct quote cited. The report claimed concerns about protecting "sources and methods" in explaining why more details weren't provided, but everyone in the world knows the United States has the capability to intercept phone calls.
Reasons for Secrecy?