White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday, “Yesterday I made clear that the intelligence community is working on an assessment and that once we had that assessment, we would provide information to the public about it.”
State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Wednesday that it would be “this week.”
More than statements from U.N. inspectors and Syrian victims or doctors are required. Physical evidence will be key, as well as intelligence — varied documents, including intercepted verbal messages would help.
“One can only hope the Obama administration understands . . . its first unclassified report is not a minor event,” Anthony Cordesman said. He is an intelligence and national security specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Many remember the George W. Bush administration’s cherry-picking intelligence used to support the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. When the Obama administration’s unclassified Syria assessment comes out, “every error, every overstatement or fact in that first report that does not prove out over time, will impact on U.S. credibility indefinitely,” Cordesman wrote.
He warned: “The limits and flaws in what that initial report says will fuel every anti-American conspiracy theory in the region. So will any failure to constantly follow up the report by further validating it undermine its credibility where it proves to be correct.”
Harf has said sources and methods will be protected in the unclassified version. Noting that some published reports had indicated that there were intercepted conversations related to Syrian forces using chemical weapons, she cautioned “against anyone assuming that any signals intelligence or any human intelligence will be included in that unclassified version” because the intelligence community wanted “to be able to use them in the future to detect future use of these kinds of weapons.”
The Bush administration had allowed transcripts from overheard conversations to be used by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell in his presentation to the U.N. Security Council in February 2003.
Harf did indicate indirectly that there may be evidential proof of the specific Syrian Army-owned weapons used in the Aug. 21 chemical attack.
She said, “Multiple rockets fired through a certain delivery system” carried out the chemical attack “against a wide swath of area.” She added, “There is one party in Syria who has the capability to do that, and it’s the Assad regime.”
As for speculation that elements within the Syrian opposition did it, she said, “Our assessment remains crystal clear, that they don’t have the capability.”
Of course, proving that negative will be impossible to those who refuse to believe it.