Gas Attack: Germany Offers Clue in Search for Truth in Syria

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A handout image purporting to show UN weapons inspectors collecting samples at the site of the Aug. 21 gas attack in Syria. Zoom
DPA

A handout image purporting to show UN weapons inspectors collecting samples at the site of the Aug. 21 gas attack in Syria.

German intelligence agrees with other Western agencies that the Assad regime was behind the Aug. 21 poison gas attack in Syria. One important clue was provided by a telephone conversation intercepted by German agents.

Germany has said in no uncertain terms that it will not participate in a strike on Syria without the backing of the United Nations Security Council. But the country's foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), agrees with the US position which holds Syrian President Bashar Assad responsible for the poison gas attacks near Damascus on Aug. 21. In a secret briefing to select lawmakers on Monday, BND head Gerhard Schindler said that while there is still no incontestable proof, analysis of the evidence at hand has led his intelligence service to believe that Assad's regime is to blame.

In the briefing, Schindler said that only the Assad regime is in possession of binary chemical weapons such as sarin. The BND believes that regime experts would be the only ones capable of manufacturing such weapons and deploying them with small missiles. The BND believes that such weapons had been used several times prior to the attack on Aug. 21, which is believed to have killed more than 1,400 people. Schindler said in the earlier attacks, however, the poison gas mixture was diluted, explaining the much lower death tolls in those assaults.

During his 30-minute presentation, Schindler offered up scenarios to explain why the Assad regime resorted to chemical weapons use, including, he said, the possibility that Assad sees himself involved in a crucial battle for Damascus. The city is besieged by rebel groups, with particular pressure coming from the east. Schindler believes it is possible that the regime ordered the use of poison gas as a way of intimidating the rebels. It could also be the case that errors were made in mixing the gas and it was much more potent than anticipated, he said.

The analysis presented by the BND is similar to that produced by the US. The American report holds that the poisonous gas was delivered via several small missiles that can be fired from mobile launch units. Casings found at the scenes of the gas attacks indicate that they were 107 mm rockets, which the regime possesses in large numbers. Schindler emphasized that the rebels are unable to carry out such a concerted attack.

An Additional Clue

Although the samples collected on site last week by United Nations weapons inspectors are still being analyzed, the BND is relatively certain that the chemical agent in question is sarin. Schindler noted that the BND intercepted a telephone call in which a doctor precisely described several of the symptoms patients suffered from -- and they were all consistent with exposure to sarin. The UN samples will likely offer the final proof, but analysis could take several more weeks.

Schindler also presented an additional clue, one that has not thus far been made public. He said that the BND listened in on a conversation between a high-ranking member of the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, which supports Assad and provides his regime with military assistance, and the Iranian Embassy. The Hezbollah functionary, Schindler reported, seems to have admitted that poison gas was used. He said that Assad lost his nerves and made a big mistake by ordering the chemical weapons attack.

The new information from the BND could become important in the coming days. Thus far the US has only noted that after the attack, intelligence agencies had intercepted internal government communications indicating concern about a possible UN inspection of the site. The telephone conversation intercepted by the BND could be an important piece in the puzzle currently being assembled by Western intelligence experts.

Schindler on Monday gave no indication as to the weight being given to the intercepted telephone call and said that his agency only shares intelligence directly with France. But it seems likely that the BND has also informed the US, where President Barack Obama is currently lobbying for Congressional support for a Syria strike. French President François Hollande is likewise under pressure from the opposition to get parliamentary approval prior to taking action in Syria.

German Surveillance in the Med

Despite its refusal to take part in a strike on Syria, Germany's military is nevertheless preparing for a possible escalation should the US and France take action. The German warship Sachsen is currently in the Mediterranean and is prepared to evacuate Germans and other foreigners from Lebanon should the need arise. An internal check is likewise underway to determine what assistance might be available to Jordan in the event of a chemical weapons attack from Syria.

Furthermore, a German ship outfitted with highly sensitive surveillance equipment is currently stationed off the coast of Syria. It is able to intercept telephone and other radio communications deep inside the war-torn country. The German military indicated on Monday that it would likely remain there even in the case of a US attack. Sources say, however, that the ship was unable to deliver useful intelligence related to the chemical weapons attacks due to the mountains between Damascus and the coastline.

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1. Warped Lede
Jim in MD 09/03/2013
After an earlier piece that implied American warmongering, now SPIEGEL asserts that Germany will lead the West to truth. The earlier SPIEGEL piece suggested that it had broken a story about earlier Syrian/Iranian tests with such smaller missiles to deliver chemical weapons (omitted here). This piece confirms that German intelligence essentially confirms American and French intelligence. An accurate headline would read, "Germans Concede Americans Right on Syria." It would confirm that it independently had gathered evidence that Syria had tested the rockets like the 107mm casings found by the Americans and intercepted similar communications as the Americans and that French doctors independently confirmed symptoms of the Sarin nerve agent tested and confirmed by the Americans. That would be fair and balanced reporting. After years of reflexively anti-American and Socialist reporting, most of the world seems unable to see the facts. What if you find evidence in the rubble of Syria, that Saddam Hussein really moved his mobile chemical/biological labs to Syria as was early reported? Just because George W. Bush was self-righteous and blunt might not mean that he was wrong. God help us, if he was right.
2. A Very Convenient Lie?
vasily 09/03/2013
it seems coincidental for this to happen after Merkel committed to helping the USA out "politically". Could it be that the BND is merely a partly owned subsidiary of the NSA?
3. a
maiken53 09/03/2013
Kerry/Obama (or vice versa) are saying that USA has undisputed evidence of overhearing a Syrian phone conversation and in addition, Holland claims that France has also undisputed evidence - from own FRANCE source -overhearing a Syrian phone conversation "independently"!! Now German's BND "agrees" with USA "finding". France is overheard by the NSA. Germany are overheard by the NSA. EU is overheard by NSA, etc, etc (UK is not overheard by NSA as UK is overhearding with NSA). What is what is the credibility of the BND's opinion?? I'm a little bit confused with such a coincidence is impossible from a mathematical point of view, if the rules of logic to take into account. Could somebody explain, PLEASE.
4. German intelligence Syria
beestyng 09/03/2013
Just as for Iraq, the wording is key that the so-called "intelligence" is less than what is required to start a war: "BND head Gerhard Schindler said that while there is still no incontestable proof, analysis of the evidence at hand has led his intelligence service to believe that Assad's regime is to blame." There are other possibilities, such as a gov. missile falling on a rebel WMD cache, opposition fighters mishandling the gas, etc... - Bombing Syria will unfortunately mean killing far more civilians than the gas did. So, spare us the "humanitarian" concern and the fake outrage: Israel used phosphorous on Gaza where civilians died a horrible death - it burns until it reaches the bones -, but the US and friends shielded Israel from all consequences. We are allying ourselves with Saudi Arabia, the primary exporter of extremism in the region, to the detriment of Christan and other minorities in Syria. The enemy of my enemy is NOT my friend, but it seems that for the US, this is not the case. Wait for the blowback.
5. A Very Convenient Lie?
vasily 09/04/2013
it seems coincidental for this to happen after Merkel committed to helping the USA out "politically". Could it be that the BND is merely a partly owned subsidiary of the NSA?
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