The Drezner Intelligence Explainer

Dan Drezner, definite clever clogs, explains all the news stories about Syria’s chemical weapons being “moved” or “prepared” that you’re seeing in the media as essentially an intelligence community fishing expedition.

TRANSLATION: “We’re seeing deviations from the status quo ante. We ‘re not entirely sure what this means, and we don’t like that, so we’re going to talk about it in the press to see if we can get a rise out of Assad.”

While noting that the unofficially official Obama administration policy seems to remain the same: bleeding Iran of treasure and political capital via a protracted Syrian civil war because it is easier and offers less immediate risk to the US than any form of direct military intervention.

Sounds likely to me, but I wonder if our own intelligence explainer, JPD, agrees.

 Bonus read: Julian Borger of The Guardian bolsters JPD’s analysis that Turkey asked for NATO Patriot missiles because they’re worried about Assad’s chemical arsenal.

“We have intelligence from different sources that the Syrians will use ballistic missiles and chemical warheads,” a senior Turkish official said. “First they sent the infantry in against the rebels and they lost a lot of men, and many changed sides. Then they sent in the tanks, and they were taken out by anti-tank missiles. So now it’s air power. If that fails it will be missiles, perhaps with chemical warheads. That is why we asked Nato for protection.”

Maybe. It just seems too pat to me, and if Turkey was looking to establish a de facto no-fly zone this would be the perfect pretext for getting the hardware to do that in place. No-one argues much about defending against WMD, no matter how likely the threat actually is. Assad has to know that using such weapons would be the only thing guaranteed to bring a massive Western intervention.

Update: Engineers working for the Assad regime in Syria have begun combining the two chemical precursors needed to weaponize sarin gas, an American official with knowledge of the situation tells Danger Room.

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Steve Hynd

Most recently I was Editor in Chief of The Agonist from Feb 2012 to Feb 2013. My blogging began at Newshoggers and I’ve had the immense pleasure of working with some great writers there and around the web ever since, including at Crooks & Liars. I'm a late 40′s, Scottish ex-pat, now married to a wonderful Texan, with Honours in Philosophy from Univ. of Stirling, UK 1986. I worked most of life in business insurance industry (fire, accident, liability) including 12 years as a broker/underwriter/correspondent at Lloyd’s of London. Being from the other side of the pond, my political interests tend to focus on how US foreign policy affects the rest of the planet. Other interests include early and dark-ages British history, literature and cognitive philosophy/science.

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  • I would not characterize this as quite such a fishing expedition. These aspects of WMD signature – particularly readying for use – have been extensively studied (they are a key aspect of the national warning function) and are thought by those at the top of the food chain to be well understood. It doesn’t strike me as terribly likely that they think they don’t know what they’re looking at – where there’s likely to be ambiguity is in how what they’re looking at should be interpreted. They’ll be asking questions along the line of scale of deployment, intention, and surety (i.e., is this an intentional regime act or do they have folks doing things without the Syrian equivalent of National Command Authority?) – there are doubtless others.

    The aim in the Syrian context (only one among a number), I suspect, is not to “get a rise” out of Assad, but rather to let the public (particularly including those in the region) know what’s up. This would hopefully constrain his action, hedge against the possibility that these actions are occurring without his knowledge, and guard against the possibility that the regime could come to the nutbar conclusion that the west would be okay with this, so long as they could guarantee stability (before dismissing the possibility of the last consider the fact that we’re willing to tolerate this much ambiguity and unrest is a massive departure without significant intellectual underpinnings – someone raised on the calculus of the previous 50 years who thinks it through clearly without understanding that the rules have completely changed could end up with some very logical, but entirely wrongheaded conclusions – as examples, look to Saddam’s thought process pre-invasion).

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