The State Department is publicly discounting claims made by its own diplomats about a chemical weapons attack in Syria.
On Tuesday, Foreign Policy detailed a secret and previously unknown cable from the U.S. consulate in Istanbul which came to the explosive conclusion that Syrian government forces dropped a hallucinogen known as "Agent 15″ on rebels in the town of Homs on December 23.
But less than a day later, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland has denied the report, saying that the Foreign Policy story "did not accurately convey the anecdotal information that we had received from a third party regarding an alleged incident in Syria in December."
"At the time we looked into the allegations that were made and the information that we had received, and we found no credible evidence to corroborate or to confirm that chemical weapons were used," she added. That's a major deal, because the international community has repeatedly told the Assad Regime in Syria that the use of chemical weapons is beyond unacceptable. The White House issued a statement along similar lines.
Let's dig a little deeper into this story and click on that "dropped a hallucinogen" link...
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.
Said "compelling case" was made by a contractor who monitors rebel communications and discovered some YouTube videos.
What has been confirmed is that Syria used some sort of tactical weapon on its own citizens on December 23, and said weapon consisted of a "riot control agent."
In other words, it could be tear gas, it could just be smoke, or it could be Agent 15, which is employed in such a fashion and is roughly as dangerous as tear gas, in that with normal use, it's an irritant; in concentrated doses, it can be fatal.
CNN investigated the story and uncovered that doctors who treated those rebels employed atropine, which would actually enhance the effects of a hallucinogen. Those who were closest to the weapons strikes had more severe reactions to the agent than those farther away.
Atropine is used to treat sarin gas exposure. Hence, a denial nondenial.