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Syrian chemical attack: What's the US evidence? (+video)

The US says Syria launched a chemical weapons attack on its citizens last week. With US military action likely, it's vitally important for intelligence to be right this time.

UN inspectors set off Wednesday to a site in the Syrian capital of alleged chemical weapons attacks, a day after suspending their mission over safety concerns.
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US officials say that soon – perhaps as early as Wednesday – the US will release an intelligence report detailing evidence that Syria used chemical weapons on its own citizens.

“The intelligence community is working on an assessment ... it will come, and I think you can expect it this week,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney on Tuesday.

Mr. Carney and other administration officials say there is “little doubt” that the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad is guilty. Given that certainty, what sorts of evidence is the forthcoming intelligence report likely to contain?

For one thing, it’s possible it will reference intercepted communications. Last Wednesday, in the wake of a deadly chemical attack outside Damascus, a Syrian Ministry of Defense official exchanged “panicked” phone calls with the leader of a Syrian Army chemical weapons unit, according to an exclusive dispatch from Foreign Policy Magazine.

The ministry official wanted some answers about what had happened in the nerve agent strike, writes Foreign Policy’s Noah Shachtman.

“Those conversations were overheard by US intelligence services ... and that is the major reason why American officials now say they’re certain that the attacks were the work of the Bashar al-Assad regime – and why the US military is likely to attack that regime in a matter of days,” writes Mr. Shachtman on Foreign Policy’s “The Cable” blog.

The report notes this bit of intelligence raises some questions of responsibility. Was the Army unit freelancing? Was the Ministry of Defense surprised? Did the Syrian military have blanket clearance to use the weapons?

Meanwhile, the British newspaper The Guardian reports that a unit of the Israeli military which specializes in electronic surveillance intercepted a conversation between Syrian officials regarding the use of the chemical weapons.

Israel has provided the US the “bulk” of evidence proving Mr. Assad’s deployment of poison gas, says The Guardian, citing German media sources.

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