In discussions with friends, one of the points we have been making very clearly for the last week is that although there is widespread belief that Assad used chemical weapons, no sources that we have read and no persons we have talked to have been able to show any knowledge of such an assertion. ABC News sums it up very nicely in the article: Doubts Linger Over Syria Gas Attack Responsibility. Emphasis is ours.
The U.S. government insists it has the intelligence to prove it, but the public has yet to see a single piece of concrete evidence produced by U.S. intelligence — no satellite imagery, no transcripts of Syrian military communications — connecting the government of President Bashar Assad to the alleged chemical weapons attack last month that killed hundreds of people.
One specific issue in particular is the 3-day preparation for the attack based on satelite imagery. As the ABC article states:
The Obama administration … says its own assessment is based mainly on satellite and signals intelligence, including intercepted communications and satellite images indicating that in the three days prior to the attack that the regime was preparing to use poisonous gas.
We have no doubt that US satellite imagery is top notch. What bothers us is contained in these questions:
- What preparations are the US talking about? This is an urban battlefield. Chemical agents are delivered by rocket, mortar or artillery shell. It doesn’t take long to set these things up.
- Why does it take 3 days to prepare to fire a rocket or an artillery shell?
- How do you tell what the munition is? How do you distinguish that a munition is chemical and not high explosive?
- The reported time of the attack was at 0245 (local time) in Ein Tarma and again at 0247 in Zamalka (source: BBC). What kind of satellite imagery would exist at this time of day? Presumably they might have infra red but that isn’t going to reveal much detail.
- And on the last point, why would you launch a chemical attack in the middle of the night when everyone is indoors sleeping instead of when they are going to work or at noon when everyone is breaking for lunch?