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.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4411) }}

What We're Following See More »
Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
2 days ago

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
2 days ago

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Trump Is Still Ahead, but Who’s in Second?
1 days ago

We may not be talking about New Hampshire primary polls for another three-and-a-half years, so here goes:

  • American Research Group’s tracking poll has Donald Trump in the lead with 30% support, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich tying for second place at 16%. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 53%-41%.
  • The 7 News/UMass Lowell tracking poll has Trump way out front with 34%, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz with 13% apiece. Among the Democrats, Sanders is in front 56%-40%.
  • A Gravis poll puts Trump ahead with 28%, followed by Kasich with 17% and Rubio with 15%.
CNN Calls the Primary for Sanders and Trump
23 hours ago

Well that didn’t take long. CNN has already declared Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump the winners of the New Hampshire primary, leaving the rest of the candidates to fight for the scraps. Five minutes later, the Associated Press echoed CNN’s call.