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Quitting Over Syria

The release of the White House “Government Assessment” on August 30, providing the purported evidence to support a bombing attack on Syria, defused a conflict with the intelligence community that had threatened to become public through the mass resignation of a significant number of analysts. The intelligence community’s consensus view on the status of the Syrian chemical-weapons program was derived from a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) completed late last year and hurriedly updated this past summer to reflect the suspected use of chemical weapons against rebels and civilians.

The report maintained that there were some indications that the regime was using chemicals, while conceding that there was no conclusive proof. 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.

In a scenario unfortunately reminiscent of the lead up to Iraq, the National Security Council tasked the various intelligence agencies to beat the bushes and come up with more corroborative information. 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.” 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. Web issue image [1]

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. This led to the White House issuing its own assessment, completely divorcing the process from any direct connection to the intelligence community. The spectacle of CIA Director George Tenet sitting behind Secretary of State Colin Powell in the United Nations, providing him with credibility as Powell told a series of half-truths, would not be repeated.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive
director of the Council for the National Interest.

36 Comments (Open | Close)

36 Comments To "Quitting Over Syria"

#1 Comment By Puller58 On November 13, 2013 @ 6:37 am

One disturbing piece of news I’ve read concerns Ted Cruz initially supporting striking Syria till what appears to have been kneejerk anti-Obama Tea Party opposition leading him to switch sides and oppose it. He is as feckless as Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, so intel isn’t a guarantee against stupid foreign policy decisions.

#2 Comment By balconesfault On November 13, 2013 @ 8:32 am

If that is how it went down, a salute to those agents who were true patriots.

They, and we, were fortunate of course that a Dick Cheney wasn’t part of the administration, willing and ready to push forward no matter what, and to savage the reputations and career prospects of anyone who had stepped out of the shadows to publicly dissent.

#3 Comment By Johann On November 13, 2013 @ 9:12 am

Thank you Mr. Giraldi for sharing your insight. Your articles are always fascinating and thought provoking.

#4 Comment By vato_loco_frisco On November 13, 2013 @ 9:24 am

Tel Aviv fabricating intel? So what else is new? Great piece, BTW.

#5 Comment By James Marshall On November 13, 2013 @ 9:35 am

Thank you TAC. It is necessary for articles such as this to get the word out that the crazy or corrupt people in US government have their opposition. The situation is not as hopeless as the international aggressors want us to believe. I was wondering where all of the professional analysts were during the insanity of demanding a military strike on Syrian families, civilian men, women and children. If we could see it so clearly from our view, just imagine what they know.

Hopefully the truth will spread and the world will understand that a minority of criminal elite is attacking their peace, and not the American citizenry at large.

#6 Comment By Jim Bovard On November 13, 2013 @ 9:38 am

Thanks for shining some light on that period when the Obama policy seemed utterly muddled if not schizophrenic. I hope there can be further disclosures of ‘what the White House knew & when did it know it’ regarding the near-disaster of launching another unjustified war.

#7 Comment By Michael N Moore On November 13, 2013 @ 9:52 am

I highly recommend a book by former CIA analyst Stephen C. Pelletiere called:”Israel in the Second Iraq War – The Influence of Likud”

Pelletiere argues that Israel’s Likud party has resurrected an antique imperial ideology, which has been transmitted to the US via the NeoCons.

It appears that Likud’s ideology of Western expansionism is subordinating any fact-based decision making in US ruling circles.

There is a chicken and egg aspect to this in that it could also be that Likud has adapted to an imperial ideological strain within the US. It is important to remember that Prime Minister Netanyahu is the most American of all of Israel’s leaders.

#8 Comment By Rachel On November 13, 2013 @ 10:23 am

A number of analysts threatened to resign as a group if their strong dissent was not noted in any report released to the public.

That’s courage. We’ll never know who they are, but good for them.

#9 Comment By Todd On November 13, 2013 @ 10:28 am

Actually, I would say Ted Cruz is the feckless one, relative to Rand Paul. He led the fight against Chuck Hegel because Hegel was seen as an obstacle to war against Iran. What is more plausible as far as Tea Party political leaders such as Cruz and Michele Bachmann being against war on Syria was that they saw it as a distraction from their larger goal; war on Iran.

#10 Comment By Todd On November 13, 2013 @ 10:30 am

My comment above in regard to Cruz was in response to the comment by Puller58, to be clear.

#11 Comment By Fran Macadam On November 13, 2013 @ 10:56 am

Gee, Clapper lies again. News bulletin: dog bites man.

Which version of the Syrian lies were the “least untruthful?”

Even McCain said these guys ought to resign. Well, at least he was for that, before he was against it.

Washington – a tragicomedy of errors and dysfunctional incompetencies.

The sound of one hand clapping.

#12 Comment By WorkingClass On November 13, 2013 @ 11:10 am

It’s nice to know that ALL the spooks are not toadies. It’s not so nice to know that Barack Bush tried to lie us into world war three.

In the same vein, here is Pepe Escobar explaining why France blew up the Iran negotiations.


#13 Comment By bt On November 13, 2013 @ 11:36 am

If you really look closely at Obama, you see that he was really not so interested in bombing Syria, and he was looking for reasons to not do so pretty much throughout. It looks a little feckless if you don’t look too carefully.

There were the usual domestic war-boosters, most typically represented by McCain and Graham, and along with the Tel Aviv caucus there was a lot of pressure to attack. And then as noted people like Cruz, who wanted him to attack, because it seemed that Obama didn’t want to attack, who switched to not attack after Obama looked like he would attack – principled conservatism.

The oddest thing about Syria is that Saudi Arabia actually appears to have been the largest mover in the shadows pushing for this war, as a part of their campaign against the Shia Arabs (sidebar: the Saudis have been trying to get us to attack Iran for years for them). The Israelis, and the Turks and the French were pushing hard, all American allies.

So there were multiple powerful forces domestic and foreign who wanted this to happen. The fact that it didn’t is a testament to Obama, who plainly log-rolled them all.

It looks much different that how a he-man leader like Bush II would have done it – makes me cringe to even think about it.

#14 Comment By T. Sledge On November 13, 2013 @ 12:13 pm

God help us if we come to a point where we don’t have a critical mass of people of integrity in the intelligence gathering agencies. And God please let us be “friendless” as a nation, if the only alternative are “friends” like Netanyahu, who is the most amoral, self-serving twit that ever got his butt kissed by our obliging sycophantic Congress.

#15 Comment By balconesfault On November 13, 2013 @ 1:27 pm

bt sees it the way I did. Granted, Obama perhaps blundered a bit when a year plus ago he talked of “enormous consequences” if Syria crossed the red line and used their chemical stockpiles.

But overall he did a pretty good job of holding off at arms length those who wanted to translate “enormous consequences” into “immediate bombing campaign” (including, imo, John Kerry), until the calculus could be changed so that either the US acted under a UN umbrella, or Russia could take some responsibility for the actions of their client.

It was perhaps an unexpected bonus to Obama that the knee-jerk anti-Obamaism of the GOP caucus translated into a 180 degree course change by the war party, buying him time to allow for a peaceful process to ensue.

The GOP position, meanwhile, seemed particularly shameful and farcical – and not just those who echoed the Cruz spin move. Rather, it was the peculiar rhetoric from the right:

“Obama drew a red line that committed us to bomb, so not bombing will destroy our credibility, but bombing would be an international disaster for America and go against the will of the American people, so Obama is a tyrant for pressing ahead on bombing, except that he’s also weakening the Presidency by allowing Congress to be involved in the decision-making, and he’s probably going to go ahead and ignore Congress and bomb anyway, except that if he doesn’t he’s a weakling who would invite dangerous people around the world to attack America…”

#16 Comment By Myron Hudson On November 13, 2013 @ 3:48 pm

Thanks for this. I recall reports of analysts leaving during the runup to Iraq, too, as the ad hoc intelligence committee of neocons resifted through discarded intelligence.

Philip, what do you think was the difference this time? The number of dissenting analysts, their rank and visibility, change of climate in the community, or…?

#17 Comment By Andrew On November 13, 2013 @ 4:32 pm

Those people are true patriots and professionals.

#18 Comment By c matt On November 13, 2013 @ 4:33 pm

I don’t know that I would give that much credit to the O – he did what seemed most politically expedient. Fortunately, in this case it meant not attacking. The real credit goes to those spooks who resisted and the public that spoke/wrote/agitated against attacking. If he had more public support for the attack (hence the false flag chemical attack), I doubt he would have held off.

#19 Comment By Hooly On November 13, 2013 @ 6:34 pm

” … public through the mass resignation of a significant number of analysts.”

What? This smacks of union activity at the intelligence agencies.

#20 Comment By Reinhold On November 13, 2013 @ 7:44 pm

I realize that we’re all impressed here by the courageous heroism of these dissident intelligence analysts, but their argument that ‘the regime does not have the technological capacity to carry out the gas attack’ may or may not be true re: the regime (MOST of the intel disagrees with the dissidents), but if it’s true for the regime, it’s DEFINITELY true for the rebels. Those gassed were Kurds, I believe; well, I do know that the Syrian Kurds are fighting the Syrian Arabs in this war, so it’s not clear why Assad would gas Kurds, who are not the primary group trying to overthrow him; but maybe it was some regime-aligned militia, or maybe al-Nusra or something. It’s not clear, but this argument on technological capacity is definitely wrong.

#21 Comment By Philip Giraldi On November 13, 2013 @ 7:51 pm

Myron – A handful of individuals in various government organizations resigned over Iraq. The difference this time was apparently that a group would resign simultaneously and go public with their criticism of the quality of the intelligence that was being used to justify a new war. Nothing like that has ever happened before.

#22 Comment By Richard Parker On November 14, 2013 @ 3:40 am

I teach with many recently discharged veterans in my classes. FWIW, when President Obama blinked and accepted Putin’s deal on Syria, my students claimed that there was widespread discontent in the US forces who would have tasked with attacking Syria to the point of enlisted personnel pledging to refuse to load armaments.

I don’t know whether that specific assertion is true but I do know for a fact that I have received a consistent message of low morale and a wide spread sense of betrayal in the military from this type of student for several years.

#23 Comment By georgio On November 14, 2013 @ 8:03 am

If UK did not vote against Syria invasion and Russia not buddies with Al Assad–USA would have bombed Syria to pulp.Chemo weapons used was by the Rebels–Obama got cold feet.

#24 Comment By Brad On November 14, 2013 @ 10:41 am

Thanks, Mr. Giraldi for publishing this.

Knowledge of this needs to spread far and wide.

Does anyone know if other media outlets are covering this and/or investigating it???

#25 Comment By Brad On November 14, 2013 @ 11:06 am

Moon of Alabama is commenting on this story. Again, news of this needs to spread far and wide – it is HUGE.

Americans need to understand the extent to which mainstream media outlets (whether “right” or “left”)propagandize on behalf of our war-mongering elites.

Conflicts Forum, in their “weekly comment” from last week, also hinted at CIA resignations.

My hope is that someone out there provides some further details. Like with the Snowden issue, government deceit should be blown wide open.

#26 Comment By James Canning On November 14, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

Great piece.

#27 Comment By Fran Macadam On November 14, 2013 @ 4:19 pm

The donorists wanted war, and the President who serves their interests was going to give it to them. Those 31 odd fundraisers since April that raised perhaps $40 million, with dinner tickets a cool $32,500 apiece, costing taxpayers six million each trip, were the business cost of making US policy. In fact it was asserted that he had the authority to make pre-emptive war, with or without congressional approval, according to his own state of mind. Think of it as the governmental version of “Take Their Ground” gun laws.

But the British and American publics revolted from the prospect of another war justified with seemingly ginned-up evidence.

The deceit surrounding it is not atypical, though. Credibility on any other number of subjects has reached the nadir – to wit, surveillance and the failed health insurance initiative

#28 Comment By Robert Barsocchini On November 14, 2013 @ 5:43 pm

Veeeeeery interesting.

Looks like we skeptics were not alone in this country in thinking that Obomber was trying to pull another Bush.

And of course, our skepticism was based on damning evidence, compiled here: [3]

#29 Comment By Michael N Moore On November 14, 2013 @ 9:07 pm

Richard Parker makes an important point about the military being sick of militarism. I think we are the first country in the World, which the military has become subordinated to military contractors and their overseas clients.

#30 Comment By Gulsum Ramazanoglu On November 15, 2013 @ 6:10 am

“… Whether the victims of the attack suffered symptoms of Sarin was also disputed… ”

The medical experts in bothCNN Intl. and Turkish national channels had no doubt about it that the symptoms were all indicating Sarine poisoning. May those symptoms be from something else and may they have been focused on a specific chemical?

Looks unlikely, but..

#31 Comment By Mightypeon On November 15, 2013 @ 7:57 am

@ Michel N Moore

Not really, the Dutch and British Indian companys were forerunners in that regard.

#32 Comment By Michael N Moore On November 16, 2013 @ 8:14 am

Mightypeon said: “Not really, the Dutch and British Indian companys were forerunners in that regard”

The British East India Company had their own army. I am not certain how this related to the UK army. What I am suggesting is unique about the current situation in the US is that the military are not serving the general commercial interests of the country, but the special interests of military contractors and their client states; to the detriment of our general economic interests.

Britain had wars to build empire. We appear to be building empires to have wars.

#33 Comment By Richard On November 17, 2013 @ 12:54 pm

Thank you for publishing this very important piece of historical information. May the history books reflect your contributions.

#34 Comment By NB On November 17, 2013 @ 9:10 pm

So now The American Conservative is claiming that “whether the victims of the attack suffered symptoms of Sarin was also disputed.” disputed by whom, exactly? According to the UN, “A United Nations team probing the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria has found “clear and convincing evidence” that Sarin gas was used in an incident that occurred on 21 August in the Ghouta area.”

Was the UN’s conclusion based on fabricated Israeli intelligence too? And what source is claiming Israel fabricated intelligence on this matter?

#35 Comment By NB On December 2, 2013 @ 5:58 pm

“Evidence collected by U.N. investigators probing Syrian war crimes implicates President Bashar al-Assad, United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay said on Monday.”

Giraldi’s piece provides fascinating insight into how one can spread a conspiracy theory:
1. Start with authoritative-sounding claims of questionable veracity: “it was widely believed that the information might have been fabricated by Tel Aviv.”
Bonus points if your audience is likely to believe such dubious claims.
2. Throw in some big words to confuse readers while simultaneously making yourself sound authoritative: “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.”
3. Point out facts that sound suspicious out of context while omitting facts that do not support your narrative: “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.”

Thus, the reader is led to the conclusion that the notion that Assad ordered a chemical weapons attack on his own people is all a fabrication of the Mossad.

Just to clarify, it appears to be true that the UN did not perform autopsies on the sarin victims. Presumably they decided that was unnecessary as the UN took blood samples from survivors, 85% of whom tested positive for sarin:
““The United Nations Mission has now confirmed, unequivocally and objectively, that chemical weapons have been used in Syria,” declared Mr. Ban, underscoring that 85 per cent of blood samples from the sites in Ghouta tested positive for Sarin, and the majority of the rocket fragments were also found to be carrying the deadly nerve agent.” (Recall that Giraldi claimed that sarin was only found on one of the two rockets identified.)

#36 Comment By NB On December 2, 2013 @ 6:02 pm

oops, I forgot to include the link for the quote from Ban Ki-Moon: