Questions Raised About Assad's Direct Link to Chemical Weapons

Thursday, 12 Sep 2013 12:35 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Lack of solid intelligence that Syrian President Bashar Assad directly ordered chemical weapons attacks on civilians has led to a debate in Washington about whether he has full control of his Army, say some U.S. officials.

"If there was a rogue general that did it on his own accord, that would be a bigger problem for Assad, because that would imply that he does not have control of his own weapons," a senior congressional source familiar with U.S. intelligence on Syria told The Washington Times Wednesday.

Foreign policy insiders say the lack of specific intelligence about who ordered the attacks last month is why the administration is blaming the Assad regime, rather than the dictator himself. But U.S. military leaders insist the Syrian military does fall under Assad's command, even if he did not directly order the attack.

"Responsibility for the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons on Aug. 21 rests on his shoulders whether he ordered the attack or not," one official told the Times. "Nobody doubts that Syrian military leaders report to Assad."

Other analysts say doubts about who controls Syria's chemical arsenal are real.

"The optimistic scenario is that we're going to now have a U.N. system put in place to monitor and control Syria's chemical weapons," said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who now heads the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "If there are questions about who is in control of the weapons, it makes that whole mission harder."

Riedel said there may be "Syrian military units and generals who believe keeping chemical weapons is their trump card and key to their survival."

Some senior Obama administration officials are also admitting the lack of intelligence directly tying Assad to the attack.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told CNN Sunday that the Obama administration is relying on a "common-sense test" to link Assad to the attacks, and does not have "irrefutable, beyond-a-reasonable-doubt evidence" because "intelligence does not work that way."

But Secretary of State John Kerry insisted Monday that the movement and use of chemical weapons in Syria are controlled "in a very tight manner" by three people — "Bashar al-Assad and Maher al-Assad, his brother, and a general."

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