Allegations underscore need for Congressional investigation, grants of immunity, BEFORE authorization for use of military force...
By Ernest A. Canning on 9/11/2013, 11:58am PT  

On the day after Secretary of State Colin Powell's infamous Feb. 5, 2003 U.N. presentation of inaccurate information concerning Iraqi WMD and alleged ties between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, a group of high-ranking, former intelligence agency veterans and whistleblowers calling themselves Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), published their very first "VIPS Memo" to George W. Bush.

In their February 5, 2003 memo [PDF], the former intelligence professionals warned of the politicization of intelligence used by the Administration in their case for war, and cautioned against rushing into military action. They were, of course, ignored by Bush at the time.

A full decade, trillions of dollars, and hundreds of thousands of dead bodies later, here we are again, as a President of the United States continues his call for U.S. involvement in yet another military excursion in the Middle East based on a "just trust us" public assessment of purported classified evidence.

Repeating the course they took in hopes of warning Bush after Powell's UN presentation, last week VIPS published another warning in the form of a memo to President Barack Obama, warning that his advisers may not be keeping him fully informed and asserting, among other things, "the most reliable intelligence shows that Bashar al-Assad was NOT responsible for the chemical incident that killed and injured Syrian civilians on August 21."

While the VIPS memo presents a disturbing alleged scenario detailing claims that U.S. allies and intelligence officials had advanced knowledge of the August 21 chemical attack, like the White House claims, the VIPS scenario offers little more than serious, if unproven allegations unless and until they are substantiated, or refuted, by hard evidence or, preferably, a Congressional investigation including full immunity for the sources cited by the former intelligence veterans...

Unverified allegations

Citing a fairly detailed scenario they say was provided by unnamed "former co-workers" --- and while recalling the Bush Administration's effort to "fix the facts and intelligence around the policy", as revealed in the infamous Downing Street memo --- VIPS alleges that the current claims surrounding the August 21, 2013 chemical weapons incident in a Damascus suburb amounts to a case of "Déjà Fraud."

VIPS repeats the advice offered to Bush in 2003 to "widen the discussion beyond...the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war," so as to avoid "unintended consequences [that] are likely to be catastrophic."

"We choose to assume that you have not been fully informed," they write, "because your advisers decided to afford you the opportunity for what is commonly known as 'plausible denial.'"

Each of the 12 steering committee members listed on the new VIPS memo boasts a long and distinguished career in public service. Each one served in the U.S. military, one or more of the U.S. intelligence agencies, or, in the case of Coleen Rowley, who was a TIME Magazine Person of the Year in 2002, with the FBI. Each has also, in some measure, been critical in the past of misuses of intelligence for political purposes. Some, like Thomas Drake, a former senior NSA executive, became whistleblowers upon leaving government service. In 2009, former Marine Corps captain Matthew Hoh became the first Foreign Service officer to resign in protest over the war in Afghanistan. Now retired, 27-year CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who personally delivered Presidential Daily Briefing memos to a number of former Presidents, is perhaps best known to the public for his 2006 confrontation with Donald Rumsfeld, in which he asked the then Secretary of Defense : "Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary?"

The VIPS memo, signed by each of the steering committee members, provides far greater detail than the otherwise vague "high confidence" assertions set forth in the Obama Administration's 4-page "unclassified intelligence community assessment [PDF]." That document asserts, without providing any hard evidence, that the Syrian regime was responsible for the August 21 chemical attack. The VIPS memo presents a counter-narrative which, like the Administration's, includes unverified allegations, some of which are said to come from former colleagues still working inside the intelligence community

Advance knowledge?

One portion of the VIPS memo should not be considered controversial. It states that the former intelligence professionals are "unaware of reliable physical evidence to support the claim that [the August 21 incident] was a result of a strike by a Syrian military unit with expertise in chemical weapons."

Truth be told, the administration itself has not offered any "reliable physical evidence" to support the claim that the Syrian military was responsible for the attack. Indeed, The BRAD BLOG has been cautiously skeptical of the administration's "unclassified intelligence community assessment" because it "did not include the actual first-hand evidence from which the intelligence community is making their assessment, only their evaluation and summary of that evidence."

According to Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), Congress members were furnished with a longer, 12-page, classified intelligence summary, said to be based on 300 intelligence reports. No member of Congress has been provided access to any of the 300 intelligence reports, however, even though members all have security clearances, according to Grayson.

The VIPS memo contains a mixed bag of unsupported allegations and claims that could well be supported by at least circumstantial, if not direct evidence, if the VIPS' sources were to step forward with a first-hand account.

As stated in the memo:

Our sources confirm that a chemical incident of some sort did cause fatalities and injuries on August 21 in a suburb of Damascus. They insist, however, that the incident was not the result of an attack by the Syrian Army using military-grade chemical weapons from its arsenal. That is the most salient fact, according to CIA officers working on the Syria issue. They tell us that CIA Director John Brennan is perpetrating a pre-Iraq-War-type fraud.

Whether from high level officials in Washington or unnamed "CIA officers working on the Syria issue," the mere allegation that the Syrian Army was or was not involved in the attack is, for now, simply a conclusion. It is quite possible that forensic evidence could establish whether or not the attack was carried out by "military-grade chemical weapons." But neither the government's intelligence assessment nor the VIPS memo offer such evidence.

VIPS does offer some details, however, that, if accurate, provide circumstantial evidence to support their "false flag" scenario.

In addition, we have learned that on August 13-14, 2013 [one week prior to the Aug. 21 chemical attack]...opposition forces in Turkey started advance preparations for a major, irregular military surge. Initial meetings between senior opposition military commanders and Qatari, Turkish and U.S. intelligence officials took place at the converted Turkish military garrison in Antakya..now used as the command center and headquarters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and their foreign sponsors.

Senior opposition commanders who came from Istanbul pre-briefed the regional commanders on an imminent escalation in the fighting due to "a war-changing development," which, in turn, would lead to a U.S.-led bombing of Syria.

At operations coordinating meetings at Antakya, attended by senior Turkish, Qatari and U.S. intelligence officials as well as senior commanders of the Syrian opposition, the Syrians were told that the bombing would start in a few days. Opposition leaders were ordered to prepare their forces quickly to exploit the U.S. bombing, march into Damascus, and remove the Bashar al-Assad government.

The Qatari and Turkish intelligence officials assured the Syrian regional commanders that they would be provided with plenty of weapons for the coming offensive. And they were. A weapons distribution operation unprecedented in scope began in all opposition camps on August 21-23. The weapons were distributed from storehouses controlled by Qatari and Turkish intelligence under the tight supervision of U.S. intelligence officers.

Those detailed allegations partially dovetail with what McClatchy described as the Obama administration's "eyebrow-raising claim" that that U.S. intelligence had "'collected streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence' that showed the regime preparing for an attack three days before the event."

The newspaper asks:

Why didn't the U.S. warn rebels about the impending attack and save hundreds of lives? And why did the administration keep mum about the suspicious activity when on at least one previous occasion U.S. officials have raised an international fuss when they observed similar actions?

Setting aside any nefarious conjecture in response to those perfectly reasonable questions, none of us should have to speculate on what did or did not take place, especially in light of the possibility that the administration might be using the event as a pretext for war.

Congress could and should conduct a thorough investigation, including closed-door sessions, as necessary, with grants of immunity so that VIPS' alleged intelligence agency sources can provide detailed, sworn testimony without either placing themselves or others at personal risk of either harm from foreign agents or a fate similar to that suffered by Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning. That way, Congress can acquire information vital to a meaningful exercise of its exclusive, and most solemn of Article I powers: The decision whether to send the nation to war.

Official secrets

Given our recent past experience with the lies presented during the run-up to our unprovoked "war of aggression" in Iraq (not to mention other less-than-truthful cases for war presented by Presidential administration's in American history), the new VIPS memo underscores the need for, at a minimum, a full and robust Congressional examination of all claims, and all available evidence surrounding the August 21 incident before any member of Congress so much as considers whether to authorize the use of military force.

Yet, the following colloquy between Rep. Grayson and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel during Congressional hearings last week, raises the troubling prospect that the Administration is asking, once again, for little more than a "faith-based" authorization for the use of military force:

GRAYSON: Secretary Hagel, there's been a report in the media that the administration has mischaracterized post-attack Syrian military communications and that these communications actually express surprise about the attack. This is a very serious charge. Can you please release the original transcripts so that the American people can make their own judgment about that important issue?

HAGEL: What transcripts are you referring to?

GRAYSON: The transcripts that were reported that took place after the attack in which the government has suggested that they confirmed the existence of an attack, but actually it's been reported that Syrian commanders expressed surprise about the attack having taken place, not confirmed it.

HAGEL: Well, that's probably classified…

During his Sept. 5 appearance on Democracy Now! (see video below), Grayson offered his reasons for opposing the requested authorization to use military force, including this response to Secretary of State John Kerry's refusal at the time to rule out the possibility of "boots on the ground."

"Listen," Grayson told DN! host Amy Goodman, "it's clear that if the Syrian government...retaliates in virtually any way, then there will be a war between Syria and the United States, and it will involve boots on the ground...If they respond with a missile attack against the...U.S. embassy in Beirut, which is...15 miles from the Syrian border...there will be a war."

If Syrian President Bashar Assad, who told CBS's Charlie Rose over the weekend to "expect every action" in retaliation to a U.S. strike, is to be taken at his word, the prospect that Syria will passively sit back and accept a beating seems unlikely.

The VIPS memo backs up that assessment. Referencing the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and the 1983 attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, the former intelligence community professionals argue that the issue of retaliation is "not a matter of IF, but rather WHERE and WHEN."

Anyone who would doctor or wholly fabricate intelligence in order to take this nation to war should not merely be removed from office but should also be subject to criminal prosecution. Even if a war resolution vote should be indefinitely postponed or if Congress were to say "no" to war, the allegations contained in the VIPS memo would still warrant a complete and thorough investigation --- one that would include a grant of immunity to whistleblowers still inside the military and intelligence communities in exchange for vital testimony.

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The 9/5/2013 interview of Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) on Democracy Now! follows below...

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Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968). Follow him on Twitter: @Cann4ing.