David Kenner reviews some newly declassified intelligence from the French, who support a strike on Syria:
While U.S. officials have conceded that they don’t know if Assad himself ordered the use of chemical weapons, the French assessment rebuts claims that the Aug. 21 attack could have been the work of a rogue officer. France traces Syria’s chemical weapons program to “Branch 450” of the innocuously named Center of Scientific Studies and Research, which Israel bombed in May. Only Assad and top members of his regime, the report says, have authority to order the branch to employ its deadly weapons. Nor does the report give credence to the idea of a rogue element within Branch 450 itself: The unit, it says, is “composed solely of Alawite military personnel … [and] distinguished by a high level of loyalty to the regime.”
Kenner also reviews the possible logic behind such a brazen attack:
While some analyses suggested the rebels were making gains in Damascus, the conventional wisdom was that Assad was making military progress without the use of chemical weapons. The French report, however, suggests that Assad’s position in the capital was weaker than had been supposed: “Our information confirms that the regime feared a large-scale opposition attack in Damascus,” the assessment reads. The attack, it says, was intended to “secure strategic sites” that would allow Assad to control the capital, such as the Mezze military airport.
The French also insist that Assad launched an additional assault to destroy the evidence. Meanwhile, Matthias Gebauer reports on a phone call intercepted by Germany’s foreign intelligence agency:
[Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) head Gerhard Schindler] said that the [agency] listened in on a conversation between a high-ranking member of the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, which supports Assad and provides his regime with military assistance, and the Iranian Embassy. The Hezbollah functionary, Schindler reported, seems to have admitted that poison gas was used. He said that Assad lost his nerves and made a big mistake by ordering the chemical weapons attack.
The new information from the BND could become important in the coming days. Thus far the US has only noted that after the attack, intelligence agencies had intercepted internal government communications indicating concern about a possible UN inspection of the site. The telephone conversation intercepted by the BND could be an important piece in the puzzle currently being assembled by Western intelligence experts.
Earlier Dish on the intel question here.