The release of the White House “Government Assessment” on August 30, providing the purported evidence to support a bombing attack on Syria, defused a conflict with the intelligence community that had threatened to become public through the mass resignation of a significant number of analysts. The intelligence community’s consensus view on the status of the Syrian chemical-weapons program was derived from a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) completed late last year and hurriedly updated this past summer to reflect the suspected use of chemical weapons against rebels and civilians.
The report maintained that there were some indications that the regime was using chemicals, while conceding that there was no conclusive proof. There was considerable dissent from even that equivocation, including by many analysts who felt that the evidence for a Syrian government role was subject to interpretation and possibly even fabricated. Some believed the complete absence of U.S. satellite intelligence on the extensive preparations that the government would have needed to make in order to mix its binary chemical system and deliver it on target was particularly disturbing. These concerns were reinforced by subsequent UN reports suggesting that the rebels might have access to their own chemical weapons. The White House, meanwhile, considered the somewhat ambiguous conclusion of the NIE to be unsatisfactory, resulting in considerable pushback against the senior analysts who had authored the report.
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