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Intelligence Community: Assad's Regime Used Chemical Weapons and We'll Prove It

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"...release the collected evidence against the Assad regime regarding the chemical attack."

Black columns of smoke from heavy shelling in Barzeh, a suburb of Damascus, Syria, Friday, Aug. 23, 2013. (AP)

TheBlaze's Sharona Schwartz contributed to this report.

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With the war drums beating toward what appears to be imminent U.S. military intervention in the Syrian civil war, the director of National Intelligence plans to release a coordinated response from the intelligence community detailing the evidence they say will prove President Bashar Assad's regime used chemical weapons against civilians last week, TheBlaze has learned.

U.S. and European intelligence officials say the evidence is mounting against Assad and his loyalist regime to include the weapons systems used to deliver the chemicals.

Others are asking whether Assad's loyalist army was really behind the chemical attack, which was reported to have killed between 500 and 1,500 people, including children photographed by rebel forces after the alleged attack.

"The DNI is coordinating a potential intelligence community-wide response to put out within the next few days to back up and release the collected evidence against the Assad regime regarding the chemical attack," a U.S. official told TheBlaze Tuesday. "Secretary of State (John) Kerry alluded to some of the evidence and starting on Sunday the White House said 'very little doubt' that chemical weapons have been used."

A Syrian activist who spoke to TheBlaze by Skype Monday night said there is no doubt the Syrian regime has crossed the line by using chemical weapons on its own people, including small children. The activist, who goes by the name of Abu and lives in an area outside of Damascus, said he has "little faith" the U.S. or Europe will come to their aid.

U.S. intelligence officials are closely coordinating and sharing information with European and Turkish counterparts, who are also collecting their own intelligence on the incident, TheBlaze was told.

The U.S. official, who has direct knowledge of the ongoing crisis, said Assad's forces were trying to clear the neighborhood and fighting rebels outside of Damascus, where the attack took place. Shortly after, the chemical weapons were used.

"Assad's regime has the (weapons) system necessary to deliver the rockets," the U.S. official added. "The rebels do not have this system that we know of and the rockets were launched from areas controlled by Assad."

The Syrian government gave permission to United Nations inspectors on Sunday, allowing the group to visit the site and collect information in Moadamiyeh, a western suburb of the capital and one of the areas where the attack took place. If the attack proves to be true, it would be the worst chemical attack on civilians in more than 25 years, U.N. officials said.

However, when the inspectors headed to the site of the attack on Monday, snipers opened fire on the group from the rooftops.

U.S. intelligence officials believe Assad's forces may have been behind the sniper fire "buying time" from investigations being conducted by the U.N.

Others say it may have been the rebels. They wonder if it's the rebel forces who have more to gain from a chemical weapons attack and the western punishment it would likely provoke.

A photograph taken after last Wednesday's apparent chemical attack on the suburbs of Damascus. (Getty Images/Daya Al-Deen)

Assad and his close ally Russia deny his forces were involved, with Assad on Monday calling the accusations “nonsense.”

"First they level the accusations, and only then they start collecting evidence," Assad told Russia’s Izvestia.

"How can the government use chemical weapons, or any other weapons of mass destruction, in an area where its troops are situated?" Assad asked. "This is not logical.”

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is also slamming the West for blaming the Syrian government without backing up the claims with concrete evidence.

“Washington, London and Paris have officially stated they have irrefutable proof that the Syrian authorities are guilty [of the chemical attack], but they cannot present this proof,” Lavrov said on Friday according to the Voice of Russia.

“Was it really in the interests of the Syrian government to use chemical weapons right when the [U.N.] inspectors are working there?” Lavrov said.

To summarize the Russian and Assad arguments: it doesn’t make sense for the Syrian government to have employed chemical weapons at that place and time, because its own troops were stationed nearby and U.N. chemical weapons inspectors had just arrived in Damascus, staying a mere three miles from the suburbs attacked.

Add to that, Assad’s forces had been making recent military gains, and the embattled Syrian president knew that President Barack Obama had warned use of chemical weapons would constitute a “red line” likely to prompt U.S. military intervention. So why use poison gas? Why now?

Saleh Muslim, who heads Syria’s largest Kurdish party, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), says Assad would not be "so stupid" to use chemical weapons close to Damascus. In an interview with Reuters, Muslim suggested last Wednesday’s attack was aimed at framing Assad in order to provoke an international response.

Black columns of smoke from heavy shelling in Barzeh, a suburb of Damascus, Syria, Friday, Aug. 23, 2013. (AP)

"The regime in Syria...has chemical weapons, but they wouldn't use them around Damascus, 5 km (3 miles) from the (U.N.) committee which is investigating chemical weapons. Of course they are not so stupid as to do so," Muslim told Reuters.

Muslim said "some other sides who want to blame the Syrian regime, who want to show them as guilty and then see action" were behind the chemical attack. Kurdish groups in Syria have clashed with both government forces and with Al Qaeda-linked rebels.

Others are also questioning the rush to judgment in blaming Assad.

Gwyn Winfield, editor of CBRNe World, which covers news about chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosives threats wrote at CNN.com that from the symptoms seen in the videos posted after Wednesday’s attack, “the chemical weapon may be of lower toxicity than traditional nerve agents and may have been mixed with other substances that are likely to remain in the environment longer than sarin gas, which dissipates quickly.”

“Whatever the chemical is, it may well have come from the Assad regime's stocks, but that is not to suggest the Syrian government forces necessarily launched it,” Winfield wrote.

In order to determine if Assad’s forces were behind the attack, Winfield explained that U.N. inspectors would need “complete access” to Syrian government files, get a chemical “fingerprint” through analysis and try to “tie it to a batch of product that has this exact fit.”

The process is cumbersome and time consuming. Inspectors would need to find out the serial numbers “on all the munitions containing this batch” in order to account for any missing munitions. “This would be a process that would take months, if not years, even with the willing assistance of the Assad regime,” Winfield said.

Complicating the matter even further, Winfield wrote, “Indeed it is hard to say definitively that the munitions shown in the pictures were the ones used in the apparent chemical attack.”

Dan Kaszeta, described as a leading private consultant and former U.S. Army Chemical Corps officer, pointed out to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz last week that the footage of the aftermath of last week’s attack left gaping questions.

"None of the people treating the casualties or photographing them are wearing any sort of chemical-warfare protective gear," he said. "And despite that, none of them seem to be harmed."

Haaretz explained that point “would seem to rule out most types of military-grade chemical weapons, including the vast majority of nerve gases, since these substances would not evaporate immediately, especially if they were used in sufficient quantities to kill hundreds of people, but rather leave a level of contamination on clothes and bodies which would harm anyone coming in unprotected contact with them in the hours after an attack.”

Jerome Corsi of World Net Daily wrote that “reliable Middle Eastern sources” say they have evidence those behind the attack were rebel forces, not Assad’s.

WND worked with Walid Shoebat, a former Palestinian Liberation Organization member who is now a peace activist, to uncover evidence they say suggests rebels have tried to use chemical weapons, but even that evidence leaves more questions than answers.

They point to an undated video posted by Syria Tube – a pro-Assad YouTube channel – in which unidentified fighters are heard discussing hitting a building in the distance and talking about loading a rocket on a launcher. “I will bring just one, sarin…sarin gas,” reads the translation on the video. Since the fighters don’t appear in the video clip, TheBlaze is unable to identify which group the fighters are with and what their target is. Here is an excerpt of that video:

Corsi wrote that this photo – taken from a YouTube video – “shows what appears to be Syrian rebel forces loading a canister of nerve gas on a rocket to fire presumably at civilians and possibly government forces.”

This photo purports to show rebels loading a canister of "nerve gas" atop a rocket but we have no idea what is inside the small blue canister (Image source: Facebook via WND)

TheBlaze spoke to an artillery expert who said that though the video does show the fighters loading what looks like some sort of gas canister on top of their rocket, the canister is so small it is unlikely to have done much damage, nor could the aerodynamics have taken it very far. “It looks like it’s more for show,” said the expert, who asked not to be named.

WND does not explain how it is able to conclude from the video that the canister contains “nerve gas.”

WND posted another video from Syrian TV which tries to present a smoking gun about rebels dabbling in chemical weaponry with alleged support from Saudi Arabia.

A Syrian TV report showed bags allegedly in a rebel hideout imprinted with text suggesting it contained chemicals manufactured in Saudi Arabia. But is this a smoking gun? (Image source: Syria TV via WND)

The report shows bags that read “Sodium Hydrochloride Flakes” reportedly manufactured in Saudi Arabia. If the case is being made that the rebels were behind last Wednesday’s gruesome attack, the bags of a bleach-like disinfecting agent, canisters and ammunition do not provide convincing evidence to prove that. If the Syrian television report is accurate, however, it could demonstrate a desire by the rebels to obtain the capability to attack using chemical agents.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday said the evidence of a large-scale chemical attack was "undeniable," “indiscriminate” and “inexcusable” suggesting Assad's regime was responsible.

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