Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

U.S. Spies Missed Signs of Aug. 21 Syrian Attack

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

U.S. Spies Missed Signs of Aug. 21 Syrian Attack

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON * U.S. intelligence agencies did not detect the Syrian regime's readying a massive chemical weapons attack in the days ahead of the strike, only piecing together what had happened after the fact, U.S. officials say.

One of the key pieces of intelligence that Secretary of State John Kerry later used to link the attack to the Syrian government intercepts of communications telling Syrian military units to prepare for the strikes was in the hands of U.S. intelligence agencies but had not yet been "processed," according to senior U.S. officials.

That explains why the White House did not warn either the regime or the rebels who might be targeted as it had done when detecting previous preparations for chemical strikes.

"We know that for three days before the attack the Syrian regime's chemical weapons personnel were on the ground in the area making preparations," Kerry said as he presented the evidence in a State Department speech last week. "We know that the Syrian regime elements were told to prepare for the attack by putting on gas masks and taking precautions associated with chemical weapons."

But administration of President Barack Obama uncovered the evidence only after Syrians started posting reports of the strike from the scene of the attack, leading U.S. spies and analysts to focus on satellite and other evidence showing a Syrian chemical weapons unit was preparing chemical munitions before the strike, according to two current U.S. officials and two former senior intelligence officials.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the intelligence publicly.

The spokesman for the director of national intelligence confirmed that U.S. intelligence did not detect the massive chemical weapons attack beforehand.

"Let's be clear, the United States did not watch, in real time, as this horrible attack took place," Shawn Turner said in a statement on Wednesday. "The intelligence community was able to gather and analyze information after the fact and determine that elements of the Assad regime had in fact taken steps to prepare prior to using chemical weapons," Turner said.

Turner offered no reason for the delay in processing the intelligence, but current and former intelligence officials said analysts were stretched too thin with the streams of intelligence coming out of multiple conflict zones, from Syria to Libya to Yemen. …

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