The suspected nuclear facility in Syria that was attacked by Israel in early September might in fact be several years old – which would call attention to a failure of U.S. intelligence efforts in the region.
Photographic evidence obtained by Newsweek and dated to 2003 shows that the facility at the site near the Euphrates River existed at that time, and a European intelligence source said the nuclear program might have begun several years earlier under the regime of late president Hafez Assad, who died in 2000.
“If true, it could be a significant intelligence failure by American and other Western spy agencies,” Newsweek observes.
The source told Newsweek that clandestine factions within the Syrian government may have kept the existence of the facility secret from Assad’s successor, his son Bashar al-Assad.
The facility in the 2003 satellite photo appears identical to one shown in photos taken just weeks before the Sept. 6 Israeli strike, except that the recent photo also depicts what appears to be a pumping station along the Euphrates – which could be used to pump water to cool a reactor.
A satellite image taken several weeks after the attack showed that the Syrians have leveled the site with bulldozers, presumably to hide any traces of the facility.
The White House has thrown a veil of secrecy around the facility, possible North Korean involvement in its construction, and the Israeli attack. It has briefed only a handful of very senior members of Congress, leaving the vast majority of foreign relations and intelligence committee members in the dark.
Two influential Republican members of the U.S. House – Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, senior GOP member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the senior Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee – were included in the briefings, but they have castigated the Bush administration for failing to brief the rest of Congress.
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