It may have taken a while to convince President Obama that Assad had used chemical weapons, but it was no revelation that he had them. Leaked US diplomatic cables and declassified intelligence records show the White House had long been tracking the growing chemical arsenal being amassed by the Syrian president and his predecessor, the New York Times reports. The documents show that Assad and his father, who ruled for decades before him, created front companies to import chemicals from not only the likely suspects, (the Soviet Union, Iran) but also western European and US suppliers, providing Syria with the ingredients to make banned weapons such as VX and sarin.
It wasn't that the US and other foreign governments didn't know or care, says a former George W. Bush security adviser—they just had bigger fish to fry. "People tried. There were always other understandably urgent priorities—Iran’s nuclear program, North Korea," he says. "It was an issue that was always there, but never rose to the top of the world’s agenda." Similar news is reverberating around the UK today, with revelations that two British companies had been given export licenses to sell Syria sodium fluoride—a key ingredient in sarin, the Daily Mail reports. "Previously we thought that while export licenses had been granted, no chemicals were actually delivered," says a member of the UK Parliament. "Now we know that in the build-up to the Syrian civil war, UK companies—with the backing of our government—were supplying this potentially lethal substance." (Read more Syria stories.)