Administration to brief lawmakers on secret Syria intelligence

The Obama administration is expected to brief key lawmakers Thursday on the secret intelligence underpinning its firm conviction that Bashar Assad's forces attacked rebels with chemical weapons last week.

The chairmen and ranking members on key Senate and House committees – armed services, foreign affairs and intelligence – are scheduled to participate in a conference call Thursday with senior administration officials, Yahoo News reports. The State Department has said it would share classified information with Congress before making unclassified details available to the public “sometime this week.”

The congressional briefing is likely to focus on intercepted communications between Syrian military leaders on the day of the alleged poison gas attack that rebels say killed more than 1,000 people in the Damascus suburbs last Wednesday. Foreign Policy reported Tuesday that the U.S. intelligence services intercepted a panicked call between the Syrian Ministry of Defense and a chemical weapons unit shortly after the attack, convincing the administration of the Assad regime's culpability – while raising questions about whether a rogue unit might have been to blame.

The administration made it clear Wednesday that it holds Assad ultimately responsible.

“He is responsible, ultimately, for the decisions that are made,” said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.

The briefing comes amid growing pressure from lawmakers to keep Congress in the loop.

More than 100 House members wrote to Obama on Wednesday demanding a congressional authorization. And House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wrote to the president urging him to make the case for military action to Congress and the American people.

“I have conferred with the chairmen of the national security committees who have received initial outreach from senior Administration officials,” Boehner wrote, “and while the outreach has been appreciated, it is apparent from the questions above that the outreach has, to date, not reached the level of substantive consultation.”

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