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12 March 2016

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PeteM

You are jumping to conclusions about what I wrote. I only stated what is known and proven so far, Assad was and is the only one who possessed and had the ability to produce Sarin in or near Syria and the Sarin used in the Ghouta attack matched the Syrian military stockpile. The UN CW report was careful not to draw guilt conclusions just present the known and proven facts.

The link you provided has some interesting assertions, speculations and information but no verifiable evidence of anyone else possessing or actually producing the Sarin used in Ghouta.

Charles Michael

Consortium news have published at the time of the sarin attack the strong doubts of the Veteran Intelligence Professionnal for Sanity, alluding to inside sources from active IP.
In the French MSM there were very affirmative accustion and no proof ppresented. The now famous "we know because we know"

IMO the person who defined this red line provided a good opportunity for a provocation.

Old Microbiologist

Exactly. I got suspicious when in the early days they stated it could take 6 months for results. We do this stuff right on site using a portable GC/MS system which gives highly accurate preliminary results. The UN inspectors stated early it was not of Syrian origin and then went silent. Remember everyone had samples of the Soviet produced stuff in the Syrian inventory for direct comparison. The same is true for the stockpiles from Iraq and Libya. The precursor chemicals could also have been used for pesticide production or even in pharmaceuticals so it isn't exactly a smoking gun. Turkish MP Eren Erdem stated that this material was supplied through Turkey.http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/world-news/sarin-gas-materials-sent-to-isis-from-turkey-claims-mp-eren-erdem-34286662.html

This is really why it is so important to back up serious allegations with physical evidence. I am certain both the US and UK have this data and that it is extremely accurate, yet, is not being revealed. The same could be said for the MH-17 shootdown. Radar evidence, (2 AWACS monitoring the theater), Guided missile cruiser on station), satellite photos, testimony from the air traffic controllers, even the voice data from the Black Boxes, etc., all absent. We seem to be eager to cast serious allegations yet we do not provide any actual evidence to support these claims. I cannot explain that in any other way than as a false flag operation. Classified evidence which will damage US National Security? Bogus claim. If that's true then HRC is definitely going to prison, which we all know will never happen. To me the lack of evidence is the most damning evidence being shown. We have very sophisticated forensic capabilities and none of that data is being shown. I am very skeptical.

Old Microbiologist

A nice piece putting a lot of it together in one place. Thanks.

pmr9

As set out in my reply to ToivoS above,

(1) there is ample evidence for an opposition sarin production program in 2013.

(2) the impurities in Ghouta samples reported by the OPCW labs are not consistent with the synthetic pathway used for Syria's military stockpile.

The statement that "sarin used in the Ghouta attack matched the Syrian military stockpile" may relate to a UN HRC report in December 2013 which stated that the chemical profile of the sarin used in the Khan-al-Assal attack on a Syrian army post in March 2013 matched that used in Ghouta. The HRC report asserted that as the "quality and quantity" of sarin used in the Ghouta attack would have required access to the Syrian military stockpile, the perpetrators of the Khan-al-Assal attack also must have had this access.

The UNHRC's conclusion about the chemical profile of the sarin used in Khan-al-Assal could only have been based on access to the Russian report, which found that the sarin was synthesized under "cottage industry conditions". Churkin agreed that the sarin used in Ghouta was similar: “As our experts concluded, sarin used on August 21 was of approximately the same type as the one used on March 19, though of a slightly better quality. It means that over a few months opposition chemists somewhat improved the quality of their product”. The UNHRC chose to ignore the Russian conclusion about the quality of the sarin, which would have contradicted their unsourced assertion about the quality of the sarin used in Ghouta.

As for the UNHRC's argument that the quantity of sarin used in Ghouta could only have come from the regime's stockpile, this is weak for two reasons. First, the phone transcripts from the Turkish prosecutor' report imply a process that required hundreds of kilos of precursors. Second, we don't know how much sarin was used in Ghouta: it may have been just enough to fill a few rockets each with 60 litres of low-grade sarin and to produce a few dozen survivors whose blood samples would test positive. Visual evidence suggests that most of the Ghouta victims were captive civilians, probably gassed in basements with carbon monoxide or cyanide: this is summarized at http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/syria-ghouta-massacres-visual-evidence.html. The most compelling evidence for this is a careful reconstruction of the videos from Kafr Batna, where one of the victims appears to have woken up in the morgue and had his throat cut.

jag pop

Indeed

"measure twice cut once"

David Habakkuk

PeterM,

The central thread of the analysis conducted by 'sasa wawa' on the 'Who Attacked Ghouta?' site is that the scientific evidence demonstrates that the material used in the atrocity was 'kitchen sarin' (Hersh's phrase.)

If this analysis stands up, it follows, firstly, that it would have been extraordinarily unlikely to have come from the arsenals of the Syrian Government.

Secondly, it follows that it would have been extraordinarily imprudent simply to rule out the possibility that the insurgents could have obtained the sarin used, particularly if was not prepared to discount the possibility that they could have had help from foreign governments or intelligence agencies.

A key part of Hersh's argument, meanwhile, was that the crucial tests establishing that 'kitchen sarin' had been at issue had been done at the British military science laboratory at Porton Down.

Among attempts to discredit this conclusion, a particular interesting one comes in a series of 'tweets' by Tom Coghlan of the 'Times', in the wake of the interview with on 'Democracy Now!' which followed up his original article in the 'London Review of Books'.

The sequence starts on the afternoon of the day following the publication of the interview, 8 April 2013,with tweets from Elliot Higgins – aka 'Brown Moses', and Michael D. Weiss – two noted figures in neocon 'information operations', both on Syria and Ukraine.

In response, Coghlan tweeted: '@michaeldweiss @Brown_Moses Hersh's claim that Porton Down found it to be ''Kitchen Sarin'' is completely untrue. We've just checked.' A problem with Twitter, unfortunately, is that one can be called out on one's claims.

The journalist Ilhan Tanir – who had recently interviewed Hersh, and used the 'Twitter' name '@WashingtonPoint' – asked Coghlan whether Porton Down had 'sent any statement', Coghlan responded: '@WashingtonPoint @michaeldweiss @Brown_Moses We think the S. Hersh story is a non-story. For now that's about it from us.'

(See https://twitter.com/TomCoghlan/status/453570964023169024?ref_src=twsrc^tfw .)

Subsequently, however, Coghlan did attempt to produce some evidence for his claim: '@WashingtonPoint @michaeldweiss @Brown_Moses 'MOD sources: no doubts expressed by Porton Down on quality of sarin found in the soil sample'. And he followed this up with: 'MoD's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory spokesman said absolute confidence that the sarin analysed was from Syrian regime stocks.'

(See https://twitter.com/navsteva/status/453602766133665793 ; https://twitter.com/tomcoghlan/status/453590367204835328 .)

It is this final claim, which produced some derisive responses, which brings out the preposterousness of Coghlan's position. If indeed the tests vindicated not just the weaker claim that 'kitchen sarin' was not at issue, but the much stronger one that there was conclusive evidence it came from Syrian government stocks, why indeed was the confirmation from Porton Down that Tanir had asked for absent?

A denial from a MoD spokesman really is not the same as one from the laboratory itself. Why moreover had no official denial been featured at the outset? And – most important – why had there not been front-page stories broadcasting the fact that the much-respected Porton Down laboratory had decisively proved the guilt of the Syrian government?

The following day the investigative journalist Gareth Porter responded:

'The press office of MoD's DSTL says it did NOT say sarin samples came fm Syrian regime stocks – only that many tested positive.' At this point again, if Coghlan had been able to adduce a spokesman from Porton Down to defend his claims, he could have been expected to do so.

There are certainly plenty of cases where the maxim 'the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence' holds good. But this is not one of them. Indeed, it seems to me very close to compelling evidence in support of Hersh's central contention – that tests done by Porton Down had established that Ghouta was almost certainly a 'false flag'.

So, ironically, Coghlan and his MoD sources had inadvertently raised a raised a fundamental question – when they had rushed to judgement, endorsing the claims of regime responsibility, on 29 August 2013, had the British Joint Intelligence Committee been aware of this evidence from Porton Down?

(For their 'assessment', see http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/world/Jp_115_JD_PM_Syria_Reported_Chemical_Weapon_Use_with_annex.pdf .)

However, these attempts to dismiss Hersh also point back to a contradiction in his accounts, which 'sasa wawa' noted in his or her discussion of these – but went on to interpret in what, to my mind, is a thoroughly implausible way.

(See http://whoghouta.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/seymour-hershs-new-report.html .)

In the 'Democracy Now!' interview, and that with Ilhan Tanir, he or she suggests the tests found that the sarin used as Ghouta was 'kitchen sarin'. In the 'London Review of Books' article, however, he produced a complicated description of a protracted process of analysis and interpretation. This as it happens is precisely the kind of process that might have been appropriate, if what had been at issue was 'military grade' sarin – but coming from a source other than the Syrian government's arsenals.

Having suggested there were problems with this account, 'sasa wawa' wrote:

'A more likely explanation is that this sample showed the same traces reported by the UN, which indicate use of very low quality chemicals, and this information got distorted on its way to Hersh's source.'

What 'sasa wawa' ignores is an obvious possible alternative – that Hersh's sources were trying to finesse a dilemma. In order to establish that Ghouta was a 'false flag', and that the evidence was available to top American decisionmakers, they had to bring in Porton Down. But this, obviously, risked 'dropping them in it' – as we say in England.

Accordingly, they may have ended up describing a ludicrously foreshortened process of analysis and interpretation, starting as it were from cold, following the Ghouta incident on 21 August.

As 'pmr9' notes in his or her comment, there are strong reasons to believe that Porton Down had tested environmental material from one of the incidents in March 2013. Among this evidence is the relevant passage in the laboratory's Annual Report for 2013-14. What it has to say is interestingly ambiguous:

'In summer 2013, it was suspected that chemical weapons had been used in Syria. Dstl’s world-class Chemical, Biological and Radiological (CBR) capability helped to provide evidence to UK and international Governments of the first use of chemical weapons in 25 years. Our scientists analysed clothing and soil samples from affected areas, and worked closely with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to provide S&T advice on CBR materials ahead of the OPCW inspections. This expertise assisted international partners in gathering their own evidence, which later helped the international community come together to begin to remove Syria's chemical weapons capability.'

If indeed as seems extremely likely Porton Down had concluded that a sample they had from either the Utaybah or Khan al-Assal incidents was 'kitchen sarin', they would also have been able to assess the accuracy of the claims made in the Russian report provided to the UN on 9 July.

If their cross-checking had shown essentially the same characteristics in the sarin tested by them and the OPCW-certified Russian laboratory, questions about the 'chain of custody' of the Russian sample would have been irrelevant. The puzzle about why both Porton Down and the DIA trusted a Russian-supplied sample in relation to Ghouta would disappear.

Indeed, we would then be left with the very real possibility that a group of interrelated people, at Porton Down, in British Defence Intelligence, as well as the DIA, had concluded weeks before Ghouta that a 'false flag' had been attempted, and might well be attempted again. If that was so, they might have made contingency plans to prevent it generating an overwhelming momentum towards war.

This however could well have been something which all those involved wanted to hide from view – hence the obfuscation to Hersh.

We would also be left with reason to suspect, both in relation to the British 'Defence Intelligence' and also I fear the UN investigation, that very powerful pressure had been put on those involved to obfuscate the fact that the scientific evidence pointed in directions diametrically opposite to those which the powers that be wanted to suggest.

In relation to the latter, we would know how the UN people had been able to cross-check results from tests of samples from earlier incidents and tests from samples from Ghouta. But we would also have reason to believe that the cross-checking exonerated the Syrian authorities, rather than incriminating them.

FkDahl

The number of people with pin prick eyes in Ghouta found by the UN was 5 (11% of N=36) at least at one site - strongly indicating it was not army grade sarin, and that many others were killed by some kind of suffocation chemical, but also exposed to http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_2013_553.pdf

This attack is very clearly a gas attack, near Israel by Al Qaeda linked terrorists, you'd think it be newsworthy (I have linked to it before):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_V0fIf3MKU&oref=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D1_V0fIf3MKU&has_verified=1
Mustard gas is my guess.

David Habakkuk

OM,

Thanks for that. It seems appropriate in the light of what you write to expand a bit on my earlier comments. (Apologies for failure to proof-read these before posting, and resulting sloppinesses, incidentally.)

On 22 March 2013 – that is, following the Utaybah and Khan al-Assal incidents – a report appeared in the 'Times', by the same Tom Coghlan whose 'tweets' I quoted. It opened:

'Government scientists at Porton Down are examining a soil sample smuggled out of Syria after a suspected nerve gas attack on rebels in the country's civil war.

'The sample was obtained in a covert mission involving MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service.

'Experts at the Ministry of Defence's chemical research establishment in Wiltshire, southern England, are testing the soil for traces of sarin nerve agent.'

(See http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/mi6-tests-soil-smuggled-from-syria-for-nerve-gas/story-fnb64oi6-1226603770335 .)

The issue of whether there were tests on environmental samples, which as I understand it would, unlike physiological samples, enable close analysis of the composition of the sarin, thereafter appears and disappears from view, in a very strange way.

A question. Would it have been apparent to any competent scientific specialist, at that point, that analysis of the 'soil sample' referred to would be likely not simply to clarify the presence or absence of sarin, but also who was likely to have used it?

Is analysis of any significant sample likely to be able to answer questions such as whether sarin, if found present, is 'kitchen sarin' – and also if it is not, whether, for example, it is likely to have been sourced from Syrian or Libyan stocks?

How long would it have been expected to take, before it was clear what could or could not be established from the analysis of a given sample?

PeteM

When the 'stories' began appearing after the Ghouta attacks I tended to believe that something such as a false flag attack might be possible, even probable. There were many claims, some contradictory, but none have been proven with any real evidence just conjecture, rumor and misdirection and there has been three years for verifiable evidence to be produces.

The idea that someone in Syria produced 'kitchen sarin' is ludicrous especially when it is based on samples supposedly collected by a party involved in the Syrian conflict supporting Assad. I won't even bother to further examine Sy Hersh's confused fables whispered in his ear by his old Spook connections.

I enjoy a good conspiracy theory such as the one presented about these attacks but this one, just as many others, requires too many moving parts and too much belief in improbable, unproven and unlikely assumptions. It seems to be based more on support for an agenda than a search for the facts and the verifiable evidence to support conclusions.

LeaNder

Interesting link, pmr9. While it does not work for me directly, an on site search produces a lot more articles then I like to dig through, I guess.

Although, from the top of my head wise: I never heard or read, at least it feels, of a defector codenamed: "Caesar"

ex-PFC Chuck

re "We have very sophisticated forensic capabilities and none of that data is being shown. I am very skeptical."

In the past 10-15 years skepticism has become my default response to any western government blame announcement in the face of lack of corresponding solid evidence. In the best case the assumption should be that they don't have any supporting facts but it may well be that the evidence they do have would reveal the pronouncement to have been an outright lie. The latter situation is especially likely to be the case when the PTB jump out with a blame assignment so soon after the event that evidence could hardly have been already gathered. The Ghouta and MH-17 incidents are exhibits A and B in this regard.

David Habakkuk

PeteM,

'The idea that someone in Syria produced 'kitchen sarin' is ludicrous especially when it is based on samples supposedly collected by a party involved in the Syrian conflict supporting Assad.'

You simply are not addressing the arguments which have been presented.

It was not disputed by Tom Coghlan of the 'Times' and his MoD sources that Porton Down had samples from the Ghouta incident, and they made no attempt whatsoever to question the provenance of these. And Coghlan himself – please take the trouble to read my response to 'Old Microbiologist' – had specifically stated that the laboratory had obtained samples from one of the March 2013 incidents, whose source was, supposedly MI6.

Moreover, when on 5 September 2013, at the G20 summit in St Petersburg, David Cameron tried to rescue the case against Assad after the 'thumbs down' given by the British people, through the Commons, he quite specifically based his case upon claims that Porton Down had tested reliable samples from Ghouta.

Before you produce any more comments, I think you should study carefully the relevant reports from the 'Independent' and the 'Guardian'.

The first is headlined:

'Cameron: British scientists have proof deadly sarin gas was used in chemical weapons attack: Samples from soil and victim's clothing provide independent confirmation that illegal weapon was used against civilians and opposition fighters.'

(See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/cameron-british-scientists-have-proof-deadly-sarin-gas-was-used-in-chemical-weapons-attack-8800528.html .)

The second opens:

'Britain, France and the US on Thursday tried to pile pressure on an increasingly emboldened Vladimir Putin by producing new evidence that lethal sarin nerve gas was used in the notorious chemical attack in Syria in August.

'The predominantly British claims were based on tests of clothing and soil samples that David Cameron said had been taken from Syria and tested positive for sarin by scientists at Porton Down, Wiltshire.

'The British prime minister said that "we were confident and remain confident that Assad was responsible" for the attack on Ghouta, east Damascus, and added: "We have just been looking at some samples taken from Damascus in the Porton Down laboratory in Britain which further shows the use of chemical weapons in that Damascus suburb."'

(See http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/05/russia-west-gas-attack-syria .)

So, there can be no conceivable doubt that Porton Down had samples, taken from Ghouta, whose authenticity nobody disputed. Unless you can find rational reasons for disputing this conclusion, your reliance on the tired criticism that Hersh said that Porton Down tests were carried out on samples from Russia patently has no merit.

What is little short of incredible is that not only Cameron, but the 'Independent' and the 'Guardian', simply took for granted that, if tests demonstrated that sarin had been used at Ghouta, that definitively established the guilt of the Assad regime.

Whatever view one took of the credibility of the Russian report on Khan al-Assal, which as I noted in my initial comment had been presented to the UN on 9 July 2013, it clearly established the basic point that, in principle, tests on environmental samples could establish not simply whether sarin had been used but who might have used it.

It is little short of surreal that, having been told that Porton Down had reliable samples of sarin from Ghouta, no British journalist bothered to discuss the question of what tests on these might have established about the credibility of claims that the Assad regime was responsible – up until the claims by Tom Coghlan.

And these, as I have noted, produced derision when he was stupid enough to make them on 'Twitter'. Can you produce any rational reasons why the derision was not well-merited?

(Perhaps somewhere down in Hell, Stalin is laughing. What a wonderful people, these British: their journalists simply print what the 'organs' tell them to, without raising any questions. Why was I not born an Englishman – or indeed, an American?)

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