A secret State Department cable has concluded that the Syrian military likely used chemical weapons against its own people in a deadly attack last month, The Cable has learned.
United States diplomats in Turkey conducted a previously undisclosed, intensive investigation into claims that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, and made what an Obama administration official who reviewed the cable called a “compelling case” that Assad’s military forces had used a deadly form of poison gas.
The cable, signed by the U.S. consul general in Istanbul, Scott Frederic Kilner, and sent to State Department headquarters in Washington last week, outlined the results of the consulate’s investigation into reports from inside Syria that chemical weapons had been used in the city of Homs on Dec. 23.
U.S.: Syria didn’t use chemical weapons in Homs incident
The Syrian government did not use chemical weapons against residents of Homs in a December attack, a U.S. State Department investigation shows, but did apparently misuse a riot-control gas in the incident, according to senior U.S. officials.
The investigation stemmed from allegations inside Syria about the use of chemical weapons during an attack on the city of Homs on December 23. The officials said the State Department launched a probe from its consulate in Istanbul after doctors and activists reported dozens of victims suffering from nervous system, respiratory and gastrointestinal ailments after inhaling the gas.
Syria Dropped Hallucinogen Weapon on Rebels, Secret Cable Says
The Syrian military used an exotic chemical weapon on rebels during an attack in the city of Homs, some U.S. diplomats now believe.
That conclusion — first reported by Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin and laid out in a secret cable from the U.S. consul general in Istanbul — contradicts preliminary estimates made by American officials in the hours after the December 23 strike. But after interviews with Syrian activists, doctors, and defectors, American diplomats in Turkey have apparently rendered a different verdict. It’s important to note, however, that this was the conclusion of a single consulate within the State Department, and there is still wide disagreement within the U.S. government over whether the Homs attack should be characterized as a chemical weapons incident.
“We can’t definitely say 100 percent, but Syrian contacts made a compelling case that Agent 15 was used in Homs on Dec. 23,” an unnamed U.S. official tells Rogin.
Agent 15 is similar to 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate or BZ, a powerful hallucinogen that the American military tested out on its own soldiers during the Cold War. Its emergence on the Syrian battlefield would be nothing short of bizarre. While Syria is well-known to have a massive supply of chemical weapons, international observers haven’t ordinarily included BZ on that list.