What UN Inspectors Can Tell Us About Chemical Weapon Traces Found In Syria
Charles Duelfer was a top U.N. inspector in Iraq during the 1990s. After the U.S. invasion in 2003, he led the CIA's Iraq Survey Group, which continued to look for weapons of mass destruction. He's author of "Hide and Seek: The Search for Truth in Iraq."
CHARLES DUELFER: If it is a sophisticated kind of a rocket or an artillery shell, such as the Syrian army would have, you can tell.
There's different reservoirs for the components of the sarin gas if they're there which are made to mix when it's fired. They're able to look at the type of gas, the sarin gas. Some of it is more sophisticated than others. For example, if it were just made up by insurgents, an ad hoc group, as some are suggesting as one alternative, they wouldn't have something called stabilizers or preservatives in it.
Serious Syrian army stuff has been on the shelf for a long time. It's like Wonder Bread. It has got something in the agent which will keep it active for years.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, come back to the intelligence community. And I say that because the British intelligence just put out a report today saying it is highly likely that the regime was responsible for the chemical weapons attack on 21 August.
CHARLES DUELFER: Presumably, the British and Americans have very similar sets of intelligence. They have got presumably agents on the ground. Presumably, they can hear what's going on.
One would think that the NSA, which is so prominent in the news these days, is listening carefully to the types of communications going on. Now, that communication can sometimes be ambiguous. But if you put all that together, it can clearly point in the direction of one actor in this, and I think there's probably, as has been said, the preponderance of evidence, public or nonpublic, does fall on the side that it's the Syrian government that did this.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, the important context here, of course, is what happened in Iraq, where you were involved, where you looked at what happened afterwards. To what degree has what happened there affected how these kinds -- how this kind of work is done?
CHARLES DUELFER: Well, the weapons inspectors, it turned out, did a much better job than anyone thought.
Their techniques and methods have improved a fair amount. On the other hand, the intelligence community, they have had their fingers burned. They got it massively wrong in 2002 and 2003. So they are going to be very reluctant to make categorical statements like slam dunk to the policy-makers.
They will caveat their language, and that in effect is going to make policy-makers' life a little bit more difficult. It's also interesting that, like 2002-2003, Washington in a way is now seeing the U.N. processes as a bit of a problem. They're teed up and ready to go, and you hear language coming out of the White House which in a different time you could equally hear coming out of Bush White House, where they're seeing the U.N. process, well, it's slow, it's ponderous, and people can slow down the process. It's an encumbrance.
So there are many similarities, but I would finally say the evidence is much stronger in this case than it was in 2003. There's much more data.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, when you look at something like -- there was an article earlier this week in Foreign Policy about an intercepted phone call supposedly between Syrian army officials talking about this attack.
Does that feel helpful, either on the intelligence side? Does that remind you of things from Iraq, where you might wonder about it?
CHARLES DUELFER: What disturbs me about that is that it suggests that there's a lot of confusion on the part of the Syrian government.
One of the nightmare scenarios we have in all this is that all these weapons, which we know that they have, can fall out of their control. The one positive thing that anyone can say about Bashar is that he had control over these weapons. If that's coming apart, then we have got a problem that's even bigger than we thought.