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
- 25.04.2018Senate confirms new director of National Security Agency
- 25.04.2018US urges all sides in Armenia to engage constructively on transition of power
- 25.04.2018Trump and France's Macron seek new measures on Iran as deadline looms
- 25.04.2018US: 2 officers, 1 civilian shot in Texas
- 25.04.2018Venezuelan refugees in Colombia exceed one million
- 24.04.2018US defense official comments on relations with Russia
- 24.04.2018Terrorism is likely motive behind Toronto van attack: U.S. source
- 24.04.2018Driver kills 10, injures 15 plowing van into Toronto sidewalk crowd
- 24.04.2018France's Macron visits Trump as Iran nuclear deal hangs in balance
- 24.04.2018At least nine dead in Nicaragua protests, U.S. curbs embassy services
- 24.04.2018U.S. allies press Trump to keep Iran nuclear deal alive
- 24.04.2018Mattis says he is optimistic North Korea talk will be 'fruitful'
- 22.04.2018One killed, six injured in overnight shooting in San Francisco
- 21.04.2018At least three dead, including police officer, in Nicaragua protests
- 21.04.2018Trump, France's Macron to discuss Iran nuclear deal next week
- 21.04.2018State Dept reveals content of US under secretary meeting with Russian ambassador
- 21.04.2018Russia calls for greater UN presence in Syria
- 20.04.2018US president slams cartel OPEC over high oil prices
- 20.04.2018Time reveals 100 Most Influential People for 2018
- 20.04.2018Man linked to 9/11 attacks on U.S. captured in Syria
- 20.04.2018No intent to change Syria's strategic balance: Pentagon
- 20.04.2018Trudeau says recognizes NAFTA timeline, will stick up for Canada
- 20.04.2018Russian diplomat calls on US to show readiness for constructive dialogue
- 20.04.2018US State Dept warns Turkey of possible sanctions over S-400 purchase
- 19.04.2018Steven Seagal has no plans to visit Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh
- 19.04.2018Trump: US taking care of Cuba following election of new president
- 19.04.2018Trump: Battle between US forces, Russian nationals in Syria month ago 'sad'
- 19.04.2018Trump, Japan's Abe agree to intensify trade talks
- 18.04.2018Castro nears retirement as Cuban president; successor proposed
- 18.04.2018Pompeo visits North Korea, forms 'good relationship with Kim', says Trump
- 18.04.2018Mike Pompeo, CIA chief, met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un
- 18.04.2018US, allies to be unable to dislodge Assad
- 18.04.2018Former First Lady Barbara Bush dies at the age of 92
- 17.04.2018Top NAFTA officials to meet in Washington Thursday
- 17.04.2018US-led coalition ready to share data with Russia on İSİL in Syria’s Abu Kamal
- 17.04.2018Syria says missiles fired at air base intercepted; Pentagon denies involvement
- 17.04.2018Trump administration delays new sanctions on Russia: official
- 17.04.2018U.S., Britain blame Russia for global cyber attack
- 17.04.2018U.S. bans American companies from selling to Chinese phone maker ZTE
- 16.04.2018U.S. military chiefs to brief Congress on Syria behind closed doors
- 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