U.S. Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013

Aug. 30, 2013, 9:26 a.m.

The United States Gov­ern­ment as­sesses with high con­fid­ence that the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment car­ried out a chem­ic­al weapons at­tack in the Dam­as­cus sub­urbs on Au­gust 21, 2013. We fur­ther as­sess that the re­gime used a nerve agent in the at­tack. These all-source as­sess­ments are based on hu­man, sig­nals, and geo­spa­tial in­tel­li­gence as well as a sig­ni­fic­ant body of open source re­port­ing. Our clas­si­fied as­sess­ments have been shared with the U.S. Con­gress and key in­ter­na­tion­al part­ners. To pro­tect sources and meth­ods, we can­not pub­licly re­lease all avail­able in­tel­li­gence ““ but what fol­lows is an un­clas­si­fied sum­mary of the U.S. In­tel­li­gence Com­munity’s ana­lys­is of what took place.

Syr­i­an Gov­ern­ment Use of Chem­ic­al Weapons on Au­gust 21

A large body of in­de­pend­ent sources in­dic­ates that a chem­ic­al weapons at­tack took place in the Dam­as­cus sub­urbs on Au­gust 21. In ad­di­tion to U.S. in­tel­li­gence in­form­a­tion, there are ac­counts from in­ter­na­tion­al and Syr­i­an med­ic­al per­son­nel; videos; wit­ness ac­counts; thou­sands of so­cial me­dia re­ports from at least 12 dif­fer­ent loc­a­tions in the Dam­as­cus area; journ­al­ist ac­counts; and re­ports from highly cred­ible non­gov­ern­ment­al or­gan­iz­a­tions.

A pre­lim­in­ary U.S. gov­ern­ment as­sess­ment de­term­ined that 1,429 people were killed in the chem­ic­al weapons at­tack, in­clud­ing at least 426 chil­dren, though this as­sess­ment will cer­tainly evolve as we ob­tain more in­form­a­tion.

We as­sess with high con­fid­ence that the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment car­ried out the chem­ic­al weapons at­tack against op­pos­i­tion ele­ments in the Dam­as­cus sub­urbs on Au­gust 21. We as­sess that the scen­ario in which the op­pos­i­tion ex­ecuted the at­tack on Au­gust 21 is highly un­likely. The body of in­form­a­tion used to make this as­sess­ment in­cludes in­tel­li­gence per­tain­ing to the re­gime’s pre­par­a­tions for this at­tack and its means of de­liv­ery, mul­tiple streams of in­tel­li­gence about the at­tack it­self and its ef­fect, our post-at­tack ob­ser­va­tions, and the dif­fer­ences between the cap­ab­il­it­ies of the re­gime and the op­pos­i­tion. Our high con­fid­ence as­sess­ment is the strongest po­s­i­tion that the U.S. In­tel­li­gence Com­munity can take short of con­firm­a­tion. We will con­tin­ue to seek ad­di­tion­al in­form­a­tion to close gaps in our un­der­stand­ing of what took place.


The Syr­i­an re­gime main­tains a stock­pile of nu­mer­ous chem­ic­al agents, in­clud­ing mus­tard, sar­in, and VX and has thou­sands of mu­ni­tions that can be used to de­liv­er chem­ic­al war­fare agents.

Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar al-As­ad is the ul­ti­mate de­cision maker for the chem­ic­al weapons pro­gram and mem­bers of the pro­gram are care­fully vet­ted to en­sure se­cur­ity and loy­alty. The Syr­i­an Sci­entif­ic Stud­ies and Re­search Cen­ter (SS­RC) ““ which is sub­or­din­ate to the Syr­i­an Min­istry of De­fense ““ man­ages Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al weapons pro­gram.

We as­sess with high con­fid­ence that the Syr­i­an re­gime has used chem­ic­al weapons on a small scale against the op­pos­i­tion mul­tiple times in the last year, in­clud­ing in the Dam­as­cus sub­urbs. This as­sess­ment is based on mul­tiple streams of in­form­a­tion in­clud­ing re­port­ing of Syr­i­an of­fi­cials plan­ning and ex­ecut­ing chem­ic­al weapons at­tacks and labor­at­ory ana­lys­is of physiolo­gic­al samples ob­tained from a num­ber of in­di­vidu­als, which re­vealed ex­pos­ure to sar­in. We as­sess that the op­pos­i­tion has not used chem­ic­al weapons.

The Syr­i­an re­gime has the types of mu­ni­tions that we as­sess were used to carry out the at­tack on Au­gust 21, and has the abil­ity to strike sim­ul­tan­eously in mul­tiple loc­a­tions. We have seen no in­dic­a­tion that the op­pos­i­tion has car­ried out a large-scale, co­ordin­ated rock­et and ar­til­lery at­tack like the one that oc­curred on Au­gust 21.

We as­sess that the Syr­i­an re­gime has used chem­ic­al weapons over the last year primar­ily to gain the up­per hand or break a stale­mate in areas where it has struggled to seize and hold stra­tegic­ally valu­able ter­rit­ory. In this re­gard, we con­tin­ue to judge that the Syr­i­an re­gime views chem­ic­al weapons as one of many tools in its ar­sen­al, in­clud­ing air power and bal­list­ic mis­siles, which they in­dis­crim­in­ately use against the op­pos­i­tion.

The Syr­i­an re­gime has ini­ti­ated an ef­fort to rid the Dam­as­cus sub­urbs of op­pos­i­tion forces us­ing the area as a base to stage at­tacks against re­gime tar­gets in the cap­it­al. The re­gime has failed to clear dozens of Dam­as­cus neigh­bor­hoods of op­pos­i­tion ele­ments, in­clud­ing neigh­bor­hoods tar­geted on Au­gust 21, des­pite em­ploy­ing nearly all of its con­ven­tion­al weapons sys­tems. We as­sess that the re­gime’s frus­tra­tion with its in­ab­il­ity to se­cure large por­tions of Dam­as­cus may have con­trib­uted to its de­cision to use chem­ic­al weapons on Au­gust 21.


We have in­tel­li­gence that leads us to as­sess that Syr­i­an chem­ic­al weapons per­son­nel ““ in­clud­ing per­son­nel as­sessed to be as­so­ci­ated with the SS­RC ““ were pre­par­ing chem­ic­al mu­ni­tions pri­or to the at­tack. In the three days pri­or to the at­tack, we col­lec­ted streams of hu­man, sig­nals and geo­spa­tial in­tel­li­gence that re­veal re­gime activ­it­ies that we as­sess were as­so­ci­ated with pre­par­a­tions for a chem­ic­al weapons at­tack.

Syr­i­an chem­ic­al weapons per­son­nel were op­er­at­ing in the Dam­as­cus sub­urb of ‘Adra from Sunday, Au­gust 18 un­til early in the morn­ing on Wed­nes­day, Au­gust 21 near an area that the re­gime uses to mix chem­ic­al weapons, in­clud­ing sar­in. On Au­gust 21, a Syr­i­an re­gime ele­ment pre­pared for a chem­ic­al weapons at­tack in the Dam­as­cus area, in­clud­ing through the util­iz­a­tion of gas masks. Our in­tel­li­gence sources in the Dam­as­cus area did not de­tect any in­dic­a­tions in the days pri­or to the at­tack that op­pos­i­tion af­fil­i­ates were plan­ning to use chem­ic­al weapons.

The At­tack:

Mul­tiple streams of in­tel­li­gence in­dic­ate that the re­gime ex­ecuted a rock­et and ar­til­lery at­tack against the Dam­as­cus sub­urbs in the early hours of Au­gust 21. Satel­lite de­tec­tions cor­rob­or­ate that at­tacks from a re­gime-con­trolled area struck neigh­bor­hoods where the chem­ic­al at­tacks re­portedly oc­curred ““ in­clud­ing Ka­fr Bat­na, Jaw­bar, ‘Ayn Tarma, Darayya, and Mu’ad­dam­iyah. This in­cludes the de­tec­tion of rock­et launches from re­gime con­trolled ter­rit­ory early in the morn­ing, ap­prox­im­ately 90 minutes be­fore the first re­port of a chem­ic­al at­tack ap­peared in so­cial me­dia. The lack of flight activ­ity or mis­sile launches also leads us to con­clude that the re­gime used rock­ets in the at­tack.

Loc­al so­cial me­dia re­ports of a chem­ic­al at­tack in the Dam­as­cus sub­urbs began at 2:30 a.m. loc­al time on Au­gust 21. With­in the next four hours there were thou­sands of so­cial me­dia re­ports on this at­tack from at least 12 dif­fer­ent loc­a­tions in the Dam­as­cus area. Mul­tiple ac­counts de­scribed chem­ic­al-filled rock­ets im­pact­ing op­pos­i­tion-con­trolled areas.

Three hos­pit­als in the Dam­as­cus area re­ceived ap­prox­im­ately 3,600 pa­tients dis­play­ing symp­toms con­sist­ent with nerve agent ex­pos­ure in less than three hours on the morn­ing of Au­gust 21, ac­cord­ing to a highly cred­ible in­ter­na­tion­al hu­man­it­ari­an or­gan­iz­a­tion. The re­por­ted symp­toms, and the epi­demi­olo­gic­al pat­tern of events ““ char­ac­ter­ized by the massive in­flux of pa­tients in a short peri­od of time, the ori­gin of the pa­tients, and the con­tam­in­a­tion of med­ic­al and first aid work­ers ““ were con­sist­ent with mass ex­pos­ure to a nerve agent. We also re­ceived re­ports from in­ter­na­tion­al and Syr­i­an med­ic­al per­son­nel on the ground.

We have iden­ti­fied one hun­dred videos at­trib­uted to the at­tack, many of which show large num­bers of bod­ies ex­hib­it­ing phys­ic­al signs con­sist­ent with, but not unique to, nerve agent ex­pos­ure. The re­por­ted symp­toms of vic­tims in­cluded un­con­scious­ness, foam­ing from the nose and mouth, con­stric­ted pu­pils, rap­id heart­beat, and dif­fi­culty breath­ing. Sev­er­al of the videos show what ap­pear to be nu­mer­ous fatal­it­ies with no vis­ible in­jur­ies, which is con­sist­ent with death from chem­ic­al weapons, and in­con­sist­ent with death from small-arms, high-ex­plos­ive mu­ni­tions or blister agents. At least 12 loc­a­tions are por­trayed in the pub­licly avail­able videos, and a sampling of those videos con­firmed that some were shot at the gen­er­al times and loc­a­tions de­scribed in the foot­age.

We as­sess the Syr­i­an op­pos­i­tion does not have the cap­ab­il­ity to fab­ric­ate all of the videos, phys­ic­al symp­toms veri­fied by med­ic­al per­son­nel and NGOs, and oth­er in­form­a­tion as­so­ci­ated with this chem­ic­al at­tack.

We have a body of in­form­a­tion, in­clud­ing past Syr­i­an prac­tice, that leads us to con­clude that re­gime of­fi­cials were wit­ting of and dir­ec­ted the at­tack on Au­gust 21. We in­ter­cep­ted com­mu­nic­a­tions in­volving a seni­or of­fi­cial in­tim­ately fa­mil­i­ar with the of­fens­ive who con­firmed that chem­ic­al weapons were used by the re­gime on Au­gust 21 and was con­cerned with the U.N. in­spect­ors ob­tain­ing evid­ence. On the af­ter­noon of Au­gust 21, we have in­tel­li­gence that Syr­i­an chem­ic­al weapons per­son­nel were dir­ec­ted to cease op­er­a­tions. At the same time, the re­gime in­tens­i­fied the ar­til­lery bar­rage tar­get­ing many of the neigh­bor­hoods where chem­ic­al at­tacks oc­curred. In the 24 hour peri­od after the at­tack, we de­tec­ted in­dic­a­tions of ar­til­lery and rock­et fire at a rate ap­prox­im­ately four times high­er than the ten pre­ced­ing days. We con­tin­ued to see in­dic­a­tions of sus­tained shelling in the neigh­bor­hoods up un­til the morn­ing of Au­gust 26.

To con­clude, there is a sub­stan­tial body of in­form­a­tion that im­plic­ates the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment’s re­spons­ib­il­ity in the chem­ic­al weapons at­tack that took place on Au­gust 21. As in­dic­ated, there is ad­di­tion­al in­tel­li­gence that re­mains clas­si­fied be­cause of sources and meth­ods con­cerns that is be­ing provided to Con­gress and in­ter­na­tion­al part­ners.

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