U.S. intelligence has yet to uncover evidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad directly ordered the chemical attacks last month on civilians in a suburb of Damascus, though the consensus inside U.S. agencies and Congress is that members of Mr. Assad’s inner circle likely gave the command, officials tell The Washington Times.
The gap in the intelligence has raised debate in some corners of the wider intelligence community about whether Mr. Assad has full control of his war-weary Army and their arsenal of chemical missiles, which most likely would be treasured by terrorist groups known to be operating in Syria, said officials, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing intelligence matters.
“If there was a rogue general that did it on his own accord, that would be a bigger problem for Assad, because that would imply that he does not have control of his own weapons,” said one senior congressional source familiar with U.S. intelligence assessments on Syria.
Apart from concerns about weapons falling into the hands of such Sunni extremist and al Qaeda-linked groups as the al-Nusra Front, there are also concerns about serious hurdles now likely to lie ahead for the international community trying to assemble a special team to work with Mr. Assad on securing his chemical arsenal.
Some foreign policy insiders, meanwhile, said the lack of specific intelligence about who ordered the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack is the main reason why top Obama administration officials — including the president himself — have in recent days carefully assigned blame to “Assad’s regime” rather than the Syrian leader personally.