German intel suggests Assad blameless in chemical attack

Some intercepted communications by German intelligence shows that President Assad did not personally order the chemical attack that killed 1500 people, and that he has refused to grant permission to his area commanders to use gas over the last few months.


The intelligence findings were based on phone calls intercepted by a German surveillance ship operated by the BND, the German intelligence service, and deployed off the Syrian coast, Bild am Sonntag said. The intercepted communications suggested Assad, who is accused of war crimes by the west, including foreign secretary William Hague, was not himself involved in last month's attack or in other instances when government forces have allegedly used chemical weapons.

Assad sought to exonerate himself from the August attack in which hundreds died. "There has been no evidence that I used chemical weapons against my own people," he said in an interview with CBS.

But the intercepts tended to add weight to the claims of the Obama administration and Britain and France that elements of the Assad regime, and not renegade rebel groups, were responsible for the attack in the suburb of Ghouta, Bild said.


The German intelligence findings concerning Assad's personal role may complicate US-led efforts to persuade the international community that punitive military action is justified. They could also strengthen suspicions that Assad no longer fully controls the country's security apparatus.

Addressing a closed meeting of the German parliamentary committee last week, the BND chief Gerhard Schindler said his agency shared the US view that the attack had been launched by the regime and not the rebels. But he said the spy agency had not have conclusive evidence either way, German media reported.

Schindler said that BND had intercepted a telephone call in which a high-ranking member of Hezbollah in Lebanon told the Iranian embassy in Damascus that Assad had made a big mistake when he gave the order to use the chemicals, the magazine Der Spiegel said.

So the attack came from the government but without Assad's blessing? It's hard to believe that authorization to use gas could come from an area commander. If that's true, Assad has lost control of a very dangerous part of his military.

Regardless, the conventional wisdom that argues against Assad ordering an attack - that he would have nothing to gain and everything tlose if the US intervened - has a gaping flaw that is seldom mentioned.

Look around the world and what do you see? Are the nations enraged at Assad's brutality, eager to bomb him and overthrow him? Is the UN aching to pass a Security Council resolution authorizing an attack? Is Russia or China abandoning him? Are the Arabs ready to invade?

Finally, would a leader like Assad be taken in by the carefully crafted media image of Obama as a resolute leader and a man of his word? Or would he see through the endless media spin and peg the president for what he is; a weak, vacillating, conniving, cowardly leader who can be defied with impunity?

The CIA has dossiers on every national leader in the world that include their  tendencies and possible reactions to various scenarios. If Assad's intel people don't possess such a dossier on Obama, you can bet the Russians do. Might this tepid and inconsequential reaction by Obama and the world to the use of gas on civilians have been predictable, and therefore offering Assad an opportunity to use the gas to gain a military advantage?

A calculated risk to be sure, but to break a stalemate, it might be worth running.