Thielmann said the intercepts of Syrian military commanders’ conversations and information about the timing and location of rocket launches on the day of the attacks were “very damning.”
“The intelligence community has undertaken some important reforms” since 2003, he said. “And the Obama administration is so obviously reluctant to engage militarily in the Middle East that that makes the end assessment much more creditable.”
But another leading chemical weapons expert pointed out that many elements in the report are short on confirmation.
Jean Pascal Zanders, a leading expert on chemical weapons who until recently was a senior research fellow at the European Union’s Institute for Security Studies, said in an email from France that he was surprised by the report’s death toll figure of 1,429, a number much higher than the several hundred estimated by humanitarian organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders.
“Not that it is impossible, but because it coincides with the higher range cited by insurgent sources,” Zanders said.
Zanders said he also was surprised about the revelation that the U.S. had collected intelligence from multiple sources in the three days prior to the attack that showed Syrian weapons personnel were preparing chemical munitions.
“Was this something the U.S. had in real time or did it get it (and) appreciate its significance after the attacks?” he said. “If not, then my question is why the Obama administration did not issue a public warning to deter the attack?”
At least one former chemical weapons inspector who was involved in gathering intelligence in Iraq 10 years ago saw more similarities to 2003 than differences.
The inspector, who requested anonymity to speak freely, said that reading the unclassified U.S. intelligence report on Friday gave him a sense of deja vu. He said the lack of information about a specific chemical agent could indicate that the administration lacks forensic evidence.
“A lot of this seems circumstantial,” he said. “This document is written by the choir for the choir to preach to the choir.”