US intelligence intercepted communications between Syrian military and chemical experts
The US military and intelligence community has intercepted communications featuring Syrian military and chemical experts talking about preparations for the sarin attack in Idlib last week, a senior US official tells CNN.
The intercepts were part of an immediate review of all intelligence in the hours after the attack to confirm responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in an attack in northwestern Syria, which killed at least 70 people. US officials have said that there is "no doubt" that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the attack.
The US did not know prior to the attack it was going to happen, the official emphasized. The US scoops up such a large volume of communications intercepts in areas like Syria and Iraq, the material often is not processed unless there is a particular event that requires analysts to go back and look for supporting intelligence material.
So far there are no intelligence intercepts that have been found directly confirming that Russian military or intelligence officials communicated about the attack. The official said the likelihood is the Russians are more careful in their communications to avoid being intercepted.
The Russian and Syrian governments have both denied involvement in the chemical attack.
President Donald Trump told a White House news conference Wednesday that the Pentagon is looking into the question of Russian complicity in the chemical attack. "I would like to think that they didn't know, but certainly they could have," Trump said. "(Defense Secretary) Gen. (James) Mattis is looking into it with the entire Pentagon group that does that kind of work."
The US now assesses that Syria has re-established a unit of personnel associated with chemical weapons that existed before the 2013 agreement in which the Syrian government pledged to give up its weapons inventory. And there is some indication they are getting outside help.
"We know they have the expertise. And we suspect that they have help," a US military official told reporters at a background briefing Friday.
At that briefing, the official also noted, "We know the Russians have chemical expertise in-country. We cannot talk about openly any complicity between the Russians and the Syrian regime in this -- in this case, but we're carefully assessing any information that would implicate the Russians knew or assisted with the Syrian capability."
But even if there is a definitive finding of Russian complicity, it's not clear the Pentagon or the White House would make that information public, a senior US official said.
First, it would have to be ironclad proof, which could be difficult to determine. But also, the US feels right now that it has made the case that Russian support for Assad must end.
For now, the official said the most specific evidence of Russian involvement remains a Russian drone that flew over the hospital that was treating people injured in the attack. The US has specific intelligence showing it was a Russian drone. While the drone operator may not have known why the aerial vehicle was flying in the area, it was a Russian-controlled asset.
Related news releases
- 23.05.2017Wall Street closes higher with rise in oil prices
- 21.05.2017At least 46 wounded in Saturday anti-government protests in Venezuela
- 21.05.2017Congressman threatened with lynching after calling for Trump’s impeachment
- 21.05.20178 injured in plane-truck collision at LA airport
- 21.05.2017U.S. calls on Iran to halt support for 'destabilizing forces'
- 21.05.2017Brazil president lambastes bribe testimony by JBS executives
- 20.05.2017Tillerson unaware of White House 'person of interest' in Russia probe
- 20.05.2017US hopes re-elected Iranian President Rouhani to stop missile program
- 20.05.2017Approval of President Trump drops to lowest since inauguration
- 20.05.2017‘Trust’ Us: Tillerson urges North Korea to back off nuke program
- 20.05.2017U.N. sees 'incremental progress' after Syria talks
- 20.05.2017White House adviser is person of interest in Russia probe: report
- 19.05.2017Mattis: Militia hit by US strike in Syria Iran-directed offensive force
- 19.05.2017US imposes sanctions on Venezuela Supreme Court
- 19.05.2017US sends second aircraft carrier to Korea after DPRK’s missile test
- 19.05.2017Democrats predict a Trump sellout on NAFTA
- 19.05.2017Fox News founder dies at 77
- 19.05.2017U.S. executives tell Congress they want permanent tax reform
- 19.05.2017Trump: "I never asked Comey to close Flynn probe"
- 18.05.2017Trump calls special counsel Russia probe 'greatest witch hunt' in U.S. history
- 18.05.2017Brazilian Supreme Court Authorizes opening of investigation against President
- 18.05.2017One person dead, at least 13 injured after car hits pedestrians in the U.S. - VIDEO - UPDATED
- 18.05.2017Private jet crash kills 2 in central Mexico
- 18.05.2017Anti-government protests claim another life in Venezuela
- 18.05.2017US: Special counsel appointed to FBI's Russia probe
- 18.05.2017Trump calls Netanyahu amid intelligence sharing controversy
- 18.05.2017U.S. extends sanctions relief under Iran nuclear deal
- 17.05.2017Venezuelan government prolongs economic emergency for seventh time
- 17.05.2017One killed, 25 injured in Tornado in US State of Wisconsin
- 17.05.2017White House won't release list of persons present during Trump-Lavrov talks
- 17.05.2017White House fence jumper arrested
- 16.05.2017Mexico expects NAFTA talks by late August: economy minister
- 16.05.2017US Treasury adds more anti-Syria sanctions: 2 Assad's cousins on the list
- 16.05.2017Trump: "US backs Turkey in the fight against terrorist groups like ISIS and the PKK" - UPDATED
- 16.05.2017Trump revealed intelligence secrets to Russians in Oval Office: officials
- 16.05.2017Another journalist killed as Mexico struggles to contain violence
- 16.05.2017Small plane crashes at Teterboro airport in New Jersey
- 16.05.2017Washington calls on Russia, China to do everything possible on North Korea sanctions
- 16.05.2017Cyber attack's spread slows; security stocks gain
- 14.05.2017Trump pledges to move quickly to name new FBI director
- 13.04.2017Trump says 'things will work out fine' with Russia
- 13.04.2017Pentagon drops 'mother of all bombs' in Afghanistan for first time ever - UPDATED
- 13.04.2017NASA: Nearby ocean worlds could be best bet for life beyond Earth
- 13.04.2017White House: China abstained from UN vote on Syria thanks to Trump-Xi meeting
- 13.04.2017Venezuela protests spread to poor areas, two more deaths amid unrest
- 13.04.2017Trump, NATO chief hold joint news conference