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Amanpour examines the evidence on Syria chemical weapons

September 9th, 2013
04:21 PM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

What do we know about Western Nations’ intelligence on the Syrian chemical weapons attack, and who was behind it?

It’s a question that many people in and out of government have – whether for or against intervention – ever-mindful of the Iraq weapons of mass destruction fiasco.

On Monday, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour examined the issue with two experts: Jean Pascal Zanders, a chemical weapons expert, and Greg Thielmann, former chief of the nonproliferation analysis office in the State Department's intelligence bureau.

“Right now we seem to be in a spiral of confirmation bias on the part of the number of Western leaders,” Zanders told Amanpour from Geneva. “Much more can be put on the table – without compromising intelligence sources – about the nature of the investigations undertaken, how many samples were investigated, how widespread were those samples.”

Thielmann agreed that more information should be made available, especially because of the Iraq experience, but said that he personally found the case against Assad persuasive.

“I find two pieces of this extremely convincing,” Thielmann told Amanpour. “One is the remote sensing data on the muzzle flashes and rocket flashes that show where the attack was launched from.”

That data, he said, indicated that the flashes all originated from “government-held” areas.

“Ninety minutes later,” he said, “we started getting reports of the victims. So that’s very convincing to me about who was responsible for this attack.”

The second piece of evidence Thielmann cited were intercepts between Syrian commanders discussing the chemical weapons attack, reportedly provided by Israeli intelligence.

But both Zanders and Thielmann said that the public deserved to see those transcripts, which as of yet have remained secret.

“I think there are quite a number of intercepts that could be published in full,” Zanders said.

Zanders, the chemical weapons expert, urged the governments to be “very honest,” and put all of their evidence – for and against chemical weapons use – on the table for all to see.

This evidence could include, he said, “physiological samples from victims. One could indicate where they come from, they could be indicated how they have been analyzed in the laboratories.”

Germany has added a new element to the evidence mix; over the weekend, a German newspaper reported that German intelligence intercepted communications that indicated al-Assad had repeatedly denied his military approval for chemical attacks. They still, however, believe that his regime was responsible for the August 21 attack that gripped the world’s attention.

“In his dictatorship, and given the understanding of his tight control over chemical weapons use, one would presume that he had a role to play in this,” Thielmann said. “If he did not have a role to play, one would like to see evidence of his arrest of the generals and others who committed this atrocity.”

The aftermath chemical weapons attack, and President Obama’s subsequent pledge for military action, has proven to be a fast-moving and surprising story – and Monday was no exception.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that his country was urging Assad to turn over its chemical weapons to international control.

Syria, while neither confirming nor denying its chemical weapons stockpile, said it “welcomes” the proposal.

“The Russians are obviously influential with the Syrians,” Thielmann told Amanpour. “If they can actually get the Syrians to agree to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which they have been disinclined to do for decades, that would also be a very positive step. But this is a testable proposition.”

In other words, it will all come down to whether Assad actually hands over control.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article mistakenly identified Greg Thielmann as the "former director of the U.S. State Department Bureau of Intelligence." He is in fact the former chief of the nonproliferation analysis office in the State Department's intelligence bureau.


Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode • Syria
soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. azt

    better questions and reporting tan previous eager ones. however, the video was not helpful since no one knows whether these people were attacked by the gov or the rebels. no causal association to what is being discussed.

    September 9, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Reply
  2. Gershon

    You say you had muzzle flashes 90 minutes before the first cases were reported. Were there no other muzzle flashes during that time? Of course, a muzzle flash for a false flag operation would originate within a government held area. Even a CIA agent would know that.

    September 9, 2013 at 5:00 pm | Reply
  3. Abram

    If the Syrians agree to the Chemical Weapons Convention, Zionist Israel must be forced to do the same as well as NPT, regarding the criminal Zionists' stockpile of nuclear weapons. No more double-standards in dealing with the people of that part of the world; otherwise, there will be more problems in the future. The double-standards are as evil as the weapons.

    September 9, 2013 at 5:02 pm | Reply
  4. Abram

    As to the following two paragraphs, I will believe the Germans. The Israelis have been supplying weapons to the rebels. Israel should be included – as a suspect – in the ongoing investigation regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

    The second piece of evidence Thielmann cited were intercepts between Syrian commanders discussing the chemical weapons attack, reportedly provided by Israeli intelligence.

    Germany has added a new element to the evidence mix; over the weekend, a German newspaper reported that German intelligence intercepted communications that indicated al-Assad had repeatedly denied his military approval for chemical attacks. They still, however, believe that his regime was responsible for the August 21 attack that gripped the world’s attention.

    September 9, 2013 at 5:08 pm | Reply
  5. Norma Lee Nichols-Mahdavi

    Since Germany has not dog in the fights ,so to speak, I ceretainly take their intercepts over Israel, who are itching for provacation to attack Iran.Frankly, as an American I am embarrassed for those, albeit just a few,from our hundreds of thousands of our "intercepters" who were so busy intercepting their girl/boy friends..I am equally embarrassed by the Russians' ability to navigate through diplomacy while our "leader:" and his cronies keep raising the threats from Iran and their avatars and the N.Koreans and their blasted-up missles. While I am at it...dif you hear Obama coyly mention that he discussed this new peoposal with Putin..and why didn't he mention this earlier?

    September 9, 2013 at 9:09 pm | Reply
  6. eric

    omg Christian ,, what happened to you? I so respected your coverage throughout the Iraq war. You were truly a hard hitting journalist then. But to watch you come out so obviously as a Whitehouse talking head over this Syria debacle,it really saddens me. They have brought you in to obviously lend some international credibility to this hodgepodge group of weak chinned wannabe reporters at CNN. It sickened me to watch your 360 roundtable lunacy and war mongering by your panel tonight. Watching you continually misquote Assad and completely deny the overwhelming evidence all over the world that it was the CIA backed terrorists. I could see the fear in all of your eyes when a real journalist who was actually there told you that you were all wrong. Immediately you cut him off and went back to the CIAs talking points. I feel real bad for what has happened to you.

    September 9, 2013 at 10:44 pm | Reply
    • Ed

      really, ME TOO !!

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  7. samoosapur

    journalist do not ask questions anymore since 911, that they lied about Iraq, just as they are lying about Syria.Israel’s chemical weapons under the spotlight

    September 11, 2013 at 1:57 am | Reply
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    Helen THOMAS where art thow??

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  9. Rufus Reeta

    I am against war/fighting in Syria. But from what i have heard from the Arab league and the evidence possessed by France, UK, USA, Isreal plus the fact that Russia does not deny the use of chemical weapons surprises me what some People are saying in their comments. The fact of the matter is that chemical weapons have been used that should not have been used and that should never happen again. So the five permanent members of the security council should find ways to ensure that those chemicals are never used again. If you are against it, you might as well look forward to a future of chemical weapons stockpiles by rogue states eventually ending in the hands of terrorists like taliban and al-qaeda and other madmen of this world who have lost the ability to be peaceful and joyful and don't care if there is life or not.

    September 11, 2013 at 3:59 am | Reply
    • eric

      geez rufus,,thanks for quoting verbatim the whitehouse talking points as spun by your obvious only source of info,that being CIANN....these admissions you refer to are taken out of context and purposely misinterpreted to coincide with a path to the globalists agenda. ASK THE WHITEHOUSE WHAT WHITE PHOSPHOROUS IS THE NEXT TIME THEY GET ALL INDIGNANT ABOUT HOW WARFARE IS FOUGHT !!!

      September 11, 2013 at 7:59 pm | Reply
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