U.S. Govern­ment As­sess­ment of the Syr­ian Govern­ment’s Use of Chem­i­cal Weapons on Au­gust 21, 2013

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS -

The United States Govern­ment as­sesses with high con­fi­dence that the Syr­ian govern­ment car­ried out a chem­i­cal weapons at­tack in the Da­m­as­cus sub­urbs on Au­gust 21, 2013. We fur­ther as­sess that the regime used a nerve agent in the at­tack. These all-source assess­ments are based on hu­man, sig­nals, and geospa­tial in­tel­li­gence as well as a sig­nif­i­cant body of open source re­port­ing. Our clas­si­fied assess­ments have been shared with the U.S. Congress and key in­ter­na­tional part­ners. To pro­tect sources and meth­ods, we can­not pub­licly re­lease all avail­able in­tel­li­gence – but what fol­lows is an un­clas­si­fied sum­mary of the U.S. In­tel­li­gence Com­mu­nity’s anal­y­sis of what took place.

Syr­ian Govern­ment Use

of Chem­i­cal Weapons on Au­gust 21

A large body of in­de­pen­dent sources in­di­cates that a chem­i­cal weapons at­tack took place in the Da­m­as­cus sub­urbs on Au­gust 21. In ad­di­tion to U.S. in­tel­li­gence in­for­ma­tion, there are ac­counts from in­ter­na­tional and Syr­ian med­i­cal per­son­nel; videos; wit­ness ac­counts; thou­sands of so­cial me­dia re­ports from at least 12 dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions in the Da­m­as­cus area; jour­nal­ist ac­counts; and re­ports from highly cred­i­ble non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions.

A pre­lim­i­nary U.S. govern­ment as­sess­ment de­ter­mined that 1,429 peo­ple were killed in the chem­i­cal weapons at­tack, in­clud­ing at least 426 chil­dren, though this as­sess­ment will cer­tainly evolve as we ob­tain more in­for­ma­tion.

We as­sess with high con­fi­dence that the Syr­ian govern­ment car­ried out the chem­i­cal weapons at­tack against op­po­si­tion el­e­ments in the Da­m­as­cus sub­urbs on Au­gust 21. We as­sess that the sce­nario in which the op­po­si­tion ex­e­cuted the at­tack on Au­gust 21 is highly un­likely. The body of in­for­ma­tion used to make this as­sess­ment in­cludes in­tel­li­gence per­tain­ing to the regime’s prepa­ra­tions for this at­tack and its means of de­liv­ery, mul­ti­ple streams of in­tel­li­gence about the at­tack it­self and its ef­fect, our post-at­tack ob­ser­va­tions, and the dif­fer­ences be­tween the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the regime and the op­po­si­tion. Our high con­fi­dence as­sess­ment is the strong­est po­si­tion that the U.S. In­tel­li­gence Com­mu­nity can take short of con­fir­ma­tion. We will con­tinue to seek ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion to close gaps in our un­der­stand­ing of what took place.


The Syr­ian regime main­tains a stock­pile of nu­mer­ous chem­i­cal agents, in­clud­ing mus­tard, sarin, and VX and has thou­sands of mu­ni­tions that can be used to de­liver chem­i­cal war­fare agents.

Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Asad is the ul­ti­mate de­ci­sion maker for the chem­i­cal weapons pro­gram and mem­bers of the pro­gram are carefully vet­ted to en­sure se­cu­rity and loy­alty. The Syr­ian Sci­en­tific Stud­ies and Re­search Cen­ter (SSRC) – which is sub­or­di­nate to the Syr­ian Min­istry of De­fense – man­ages Syria’s chem­i­cal weapons pro­gram.

We as­sess with high con­fi­dence that the Syr­ian regime has used chem­i­cal weapons on a small scale against the op­po­si­tion mul­ti­ple times in the last year, in­clud­ing in the Da­m­as­cus sub­urbs. This as­sess­ment is based on mul­ti­ple streams of in­for­ma­tion in­clud­ing re­port­ing of Syr­ian of­fi­cials plan­ning and ex­e­cut­ing chem­i­cal weapons at­tacks and lab­o­ra­tory anal­y­sis of phys­i­o­log­i­cal sam­ples ob­tained from a num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als, which re­vealed ex­po­sure to sarin. We as­sess that the op­po­si­tion has not used chem­i­cal weapons.

The Syr­ian regime has the types of mu­ni­tions that we as­sess were used to carry out the at­tack on Au­gust 21, and has the abil­ity to strike si­mul­ta­ne­ously in mul­ti­ple lo­ca­tions. We have seen no in­di­ca­tion that the op­po­si­tion has car­ried out a largescale, co­or­di­nated rocket and ar­tillery at­tack like the one that oc­curred on Au­gust 21.

We as­sess that the Syr­ian regime has used chem­i­cal weapons over the last year pri­mar­ily to gain the up­per hand or break a stale­mate in ar­eas where it has strug­gled to seize and hold strate­gi­cally valu­able ter­ri­tory. In this re­gard, we con­tinue to judge that the Syr­ian regime views chem­i­cal weapons as one of many tools in its arse­nal, in­clud­ing air power and bal­lis­tic mis­siles, which they in­dis­crim­i­nately use against the op­po­si­tion.

The Syr­ian regime has ini­ti­ated an ef­fort to rid the Da­m­as­cus sub­urbs of op­po­si­tion forces us­ing the area as a base to stage at­tacks against regime tar­gets in the cap­i­tal. The regime has failed to clear dozens of Da­m­as­cus neigh­bor­hoods of op­po­si­tion el­e­ments, in­clud­ing neigh­bor­hoods tar­geted on Au­gust 21, de­spite em­ploy­ing nearly all of its con­ven­tional weapons sys­tems. We as­sess that the regime’s frus­tra­tion with its in­abil­ity to se­cure large por­tions of Da­m­as­cus may have con­trib­uted to its de­ci­sion to use chem­i­cal weapons on Au­gust 21.


We have in­tel­li­gence that leads us to as­sess that Syr­ian chem­i­cal weapons per­son­nel – in­clud­ing per­son­nel as­sessed to be as­so­ci­ated with the SSRC – were pre­par­ing chem­i­cal mu­ni­tions prior to the at­tack. In the three days prior to the at­tack, we col­lected streams of hu­man, sig­nals and geospa­tial in­tel­li­gence that re­veal regime ac­tiv­i­ties that we as­sess were as­so­ci­ated with prepa­ra­tions for a chem­i­cal weapons at­tack.

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. On Au­gust 21, a Syr­ian regime el­e­ment pre­pared for a chem­i­cal weapons at­tack in the Da­m­as­cus area, in­clud­ing through the uti­liza­tion of gas masks. Our in­tel­li­gence sources in the Da­m­as­cus area did not de­tect any in­di­ca­tions in the days prior to the at­tack that op­po­si­tion af­fil­i­ates were plan­ning to use chem­i­cal weapons.

The At­tack:

Mul­ti­ple streams of in­tel­li­gence in­di­cate that the regime ex­e­cuted a rocket and ar­tillery at­tack against the Da­m­as­cus sub­urbs in the early hours of Au­gust 21. Satel­lite de­tec­tions cor­rob­o­rate that at­tacks from a regime-con­trolled area struck neigh­bor­hoods where the chem­i­cal at­tacks re­port­edly oc­curred – in­clud­ing Kafr Batna, Jaw­bar, ‘Ayn Tarma, Darayya, and Mu’ad­damiyah. This in­cludes the de­tec­tion of rocket launches from regime con­trolled ter­ri­tory early in the morn­ing, ap­prox­i­mately 90 min­utes be­fore the first re­port of a chem­i­cal at­tack ap­peared in so­cial me­dia. The lack of flight ac­tiv­ity or mis­sile launches also leads us to con­clude that the regime used rock­ets in the at­tack.

Lo­cal so­cial me­dia re­ports of a chem­i­cal at­tack in the Da­m­as­cus sub­urbs be­gan at 2:30 a.m. lo­cal time on Au­gust 21. Within the next four hours there were thou­sands of so­cial me­dia re­ports on this at­tack from at least 12 dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions in the Da­m­as­cus area. Mul­ti­ple ac­counts de­scribed chem­i­cal-filled rock­ets im­pact­ing op­po­si­tion-con­trolled ar­eas.

Three hos­pi­tals in the Da­m­as­cus area re­ceived ap­prox­i­mately 3,600 pa­tients dis­play­ing symptoms con­sis­tent with nerve agent ex­po­sure in less than three hours on the morn­ing of Au­gust 21, ac­cord­ing to a highly cred­i­ble in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian or­ga­ni­za­tion. The re­ported symptoms, and the epi­demi­o­log­i­cal pat­tern of events – char­ac­ter­ized by the mas­sive in­flux of pa­tients in a short pe­riod of time, the ori­gin of the pa­tients, and the con­tam­i­na­tion of med­i­cal and first aid work­ers – were con­sis­tent with mass ex­po­sure to a nerve agent. We also re­ceived re­ports from in­ter­na­tional and Syr­ian med­i­cal per­son­nel on the ground.

We have iden­ti­fied one hun­dred videos at­trib­uted to the at­tack, many of which show large num­bers of bod­ies ex­hibit­ing phys­i­cal signs con­sis­tent with, but not unique to, nerve agent ex­po­sure. The re­ported symptoms of vic­tims in­cluded un­con­scious­ness, foam­ing from the nose and mouth, con­stricted pupils, rapid heart­beat, and dif­fi­culty breath­ing. Sev­eral of the videos show what ap­pear to be nu­mer­ous fa­tal­i­ties with no vis­i­ble in­juries, which is con­sis­tent with death from chem­i­cal weapons, and in­con­sis­tent with death from small-arms, high-ex­plo­sive mu­ni­tions or blis­ter agents. At least 12 lo­ca­tions are por­trayed in the pub­licly avail­able videos, and a sam­pling of those videos con­firmed that some were shot at the gen­eral times and lo­ca­tions de­scribed in the footage.

We as­sess the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion does not have the ca­pa­bil­ity to fab­ri­cate all of the videos, phys­i­cal symptoms ver­i­fied by med­i­cal per­son­nel and NGOs, and other in­for­ma­tion as­so­ci­ated with this chem­i­cal at­tack.

We have a body of in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing past Syr­ian prac­tice, that leads us to con­clude that regime of­fi­cials were wit­ting of and di­rected the at­tack on Au­gust 21. 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. On the af­ter­noon of Au­gust 21, we have in­tel­li­gence that Syr­ian chem­i­cal weapons per­son­nel were di­rected to cease op­er­a­tions. At the same time, the regime in­ten­si­fied the ar­tillery bar­rage tar­get­ing many of the neigh­bor­hoods where chem­i­cal at­tacks oc­curred. In the 24 hour pe­riod af­ter the at­tack, we de­tected in­di­ca­tions of ar­tillery and rocket fire at a rate ap­prox­i­mately four times higher than the ten pre­ced­ing days. We con­tin­ued to see in­di­ca­tions of sus­tained shelling in the neigh­bor­hoods up un­til the morn­ing of Au­gust 26.

To con­clude, there is a sub­stan­tial body of in­for­ma­tion that im­pli­cates the Syr­ian govern­ment’s re­spon­si­bil­ity in the chem­i­cal weapons at­tack that took place on Au­gust 21.As in­di­cated, there is ad­di­tional in­tel­li­gence that re­mains clas­si­fied be­cause of sources and meth­ods con­cerns that is be­ing pro­vided to Congress and in­ter­na­tional part­ners.

The UN chem­i­cal weapons in­ves­ti­ga­tion team in Da­m­as­cus, Syria.

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