On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that the U.S. intelligence community has determined with “some degree of varying confidence,” that the Syrian regime has launched small scale chemical attacks against rebel forces. The consensus was laid out in a letter from Office of Legislative Affairs Director Miguel Rodriguez to Senators John McCain and Carl Levin, which can be read here.
The announcement followed several weeks of building speculation that Syrian troops had used chemical weapons near Damascus and Aleppo. According to the letter, the reality of these attacks has been confirmed primarily by blood samples that were analyzed in both American and British laboratories. Further confirmation, in the form of UN soil analysis that was likely requested by the Obama Administration, is still to come.
Sarin, the only chemical specifically identified in the White House letter, is a nerve agent that the Sryian regime has long been known to possess. Though Syria is not yet expected of having used it, the Assad regime is widely believed to have developed stockpiled VX gas.
In its letter to Senators McCain and Levin, the White House explains that it will not act on the current, preliminary intelligence estimates alone, but will require corroborated facts. Though it is not mentioned specifically, it seems likely that the additional evidence being referred to is the UN soil sample study, which was announced Friday.
When the UN delivers its verdict, Rodriguez’s letter suggests, the Obama Administration will consult with Congress and determine what course of action to pursue. “No option is off the table,” the letter states.