Control of information networks has been integral to the Syrian conflict, and American officials are now using those same networks to warn off people who might distribute chemical weapons. Eli Lake, national security correspondent for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, reports that after a July suicide bombing in Syria, the US government began looking for the email addresses, phone numbers, Skype names, and social media accounts of mid-level military officials who might be in charge of missiles or sarin and mustard gas. Once they found them, they sent a "message of deterrence," urging officials not to use or transfer weapons.

The idea isn't just to ask them to keep arsenals safe in the case of a regime collapse — it's to drive home that the US knows who they are and that they could be held responsible if weapons are used. The program, which has not been officially confirmed, is an extension of other efforts to reach out to military officials who could be convinced to safeguard weapons or (in a separate program) defect. "The people who were killed and injured in that suicide bombing were the people who we could try to persuade not to use this stuff," one source tells Lake. "When that happened, we needed to find another way to get to these guys."