Syria Special: Chemical Weapons Conspiracy That Wasn’t — Hersh’s “Exclusive” Dissected

Joanna Paraszczuk, " />
By , December 11, 2013 08:22 Updated

Syria Special: Chemical Weapons Conspiracy That Wasn’t — Hersh’s “Exclusive” Dissected

This week Seymour Hersh — the investigative reporter who broke the My Lai story and reported on Watergate before Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein picked up the trail — splashed a dramatic exclusive in the London Review of Books, “Whose Sarin?

Hersh effectively claims that the Obama Administration lied when it said it had intelligence about the Assad regime’s responsibility for the August 21 chemical weapons attacks near Damascus. He then implies that the insurgents are really the culprits, as the Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra and possibly the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham had “worked with” the nerve agent.

It’s a dramatic and important story, if it was well-researched, well-supported, and well-developed.

It’s not.

HERSH’S CASE

Hersh’s argument is based on only four arguments:

1. The Morning Report, a daily summary of important military events for a select group of high-level US officials, did not mention Syria or chemical weapons attacks on August 20, 21, or 22. Thus the US was not concerned with the possibility of an assault or even with its immediate aftermath.

2. US intelligence services have a secret sensor system inside Syria to pick up indications of the movement of chemical warheads and their loading with sarin. According to Hersh, those sensors reported nothing before August 21.

3. One of the rockets carrying the chemical weapons, identified by United Nations inspectors in their September report, was an “improvised munition that was very likely manufactured locally”, according to one of Hersh’s sources.

4. US intelligence services reported in late May and June that Jabhat al-Nusra was working with sarin and that the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham “understood the science of producing sarin”.

CHERRY-PICKING EVIDENCE: WHAT HERSH DOESN’T BOTHER TO MENTION

Before considering Hersh’s four points, it is important to note what he does NOT consider:

MULTIPLE ATTACKS AGAINST AT LEAST 7 SITES ACROSS EAST & WEST GHOUTA

The reporter does not take into account that multiple sites, not just one, were hit with chemical agents on August 21. Reports on the day and subsequently indicated that 7-12 sites were attacked with chemical agents at the same time. In other words, whoever was responsible for the attacks launched multiple surface-to-surface rockets with chemical payloads against opposition-held towns in East Ghouta and one town in West Ghouta, near Damascus.

These attacks were immediately followed by very heavy conventional attacks.

This map, posted by activists, shows the areas hit by the chemical weapons.

A report by Human Rights Watch includes a map showing the impact sites of 12 330mm chemical munitions in the Zamalka area of East Ghouta alone.

In omitting these details from his argument, Hersh does not bother to ask who would have had the capability and the capacity to carry out such a widespread operation against multiple, opposition-held targets at the same time.

Hersh also does not examine how insurgents could fire multiple chemical warheads on opposition-controlled towns like the West Ghouta Moadamiyyat ash-Sham. That town, one of the first places that started to demonstrate against the Assad regime over two years ago, has been under a tight regime siege for over a year and is literally surrounded by key regime military strongholds. It is right next to the Mezzeh Military Airport, the site of fierce fighting between regime and insurgent fighters, and just south of the 4th Armored Division base, Sumarieh residences, and key police housing. So while it is easy to see how regime forces could fire on Moadamiyyat ash-Sham from outside the town — indeed, the regime is firing conventional weapons at the town on a daily basis — it would be practically and logistically impossible for insurgents to fire at short-to-medium range from outside the town.

Nor does Hersh bother to examine motive. Why would insurgents fire multiple chemical weapons at Moadamiyyat ash-Sham, a strategically-important opposition-controlled town that had resisted a siege for almost a year at the time of the August 21 attacks? Who would want to weaken the town by causing mass casualties and mass panic?

SEVERAL MUNITIONS, NOT JUST ONE, WERE USED TO HIT MULTIPLE TARGETS

By omitting to mention that that August 21 chemical attacks hit multiple sites, Hersh is able to leave out another salient fact — that not one, but several rockets were deployed.

The UN report notes that, “Information gathered about the delivery systems used was essential for the investigation. Indeed, several surface to surface rockets capable of delivering significant chemical payloads were identified and recorded at the investigated sites.”

Hersh has no real excuse — beyond his need to cherry-pick to make his conspiracy theory stick — to omit this detail, as the UN inspectors say they “carefully measured, photographed and sampled” several of the rockets and rocket fragments from two sites.

One ordnance found and analysed by the UN team in the opposition-controlled town of Moadamiyya, West Ghouta (which is surrounded by regime military bases) was detailed in the UN report as having engravings in Cyrillic on the bottom ring of the engine.

A munition linked to one impact site in Zamalka in East Ghouta was reported as “indicatively matches one of the variants of the M14 artillery rocket”. The warhead was not observed at the impact site and was surmised to have been “either an original or an improvised warhead”. A munition linked to another impact site in Zamalka was described as “by observed and measured characteristics indicatively matches a 330 mm caliber, artillery rocket”.

WHO ARE HERSH’S SOURCES AND HOW RELIABLE ARE THEY?

Hersh claims that his work is drawn from “an awful lot of people in the government who just were really very, very upset with the way the information about the gas attack took place”, but he bases his argument on information from only three (possibly two) sources. These are: an unnamed “senior intelligence consultant”, an unnamed “former senior intelligence official” (it is not possible to tell whether these are the same individual), and Theodore Postol, named as a “professor of technology and national security at MIT”.

It is impossible to know for sure, of course, who unnamed former officials are, but it there is a high likelihood based on the information given that the “former senior intelligence official” is F. Michael Maloof, a former staffer in the Undersecretary of State of Defense’s office in the George W. Bush Administration.

Here is Hersh’s passage on Islamist factions handling chemical toxins:

By late May, the senior intelligence consultant told me, the CIA had briefed the Obama administration on al-Nusra and its work with sarin, and had sent alarming reports that another Sunni fundamentalist group active in Syria, al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), also understood the science of producing sarin. At the time, al-Nusra was operating in areas close to Damascus, including Eastern Ghouta. An intelligence document issued in mid-summer dealt extensively with Ziyaad Tariq Ahmed, a chemical weapons expert formerly of the Iraqi military, who was said to have moved into Syria and to be operating in Eastern Ghouta. The consultant told me that Tariq had been identified ‘as an al-Nusra guy with a track record of making mustard gas in Iraq and someone who is implicated in making and using sarin’. He is regarded as a high-profile target by the American military.

And here is Maloof writing on the right-wing website WorldNet Daily in mid-September:

In a classified document just obtained by WND, the U.S. military confirms that sarin was confiscated earlier this year from members of the Jabhat al-Nusra Front, the most influential of the rebel Islamists fighting in Syria.

The document says sarin from al-Qaida in Iraq made its way into Turkey and that while some was seized, more could have been used in an attack last March on civilians and Syrian military soldiers in Aleppo.

The document, classified Secret/Noforn – “Not for foreign distribution” – came from the U.S. intelligence community’s National Ground Intelligence Center, or NGIC, and was made available to WND Tuesday.

It revealed that AQI had produced a “bench-scale” form of sarin in Iraq and then transferred it to Turkey.

A U.S. military source said there were a number of interrogations as well as some clan reports as part of what the document said were “50 general indicators to monitor progress and characterize the state of the ANF/AQI-associated Sarin chemical warfare agent developing effort.”

“This (document) depicts our assessment of the status of effort at its peak – primarily research and procurement activities – when disrupted in late May 2013 with the arrest of several key individuals in Iraq and Turkey,” the document said.

“Future reporting of indicators not previously observed would suggest that the effort continues to advance despite the arrests,” the NGIC document said.

Maloof repeated his claim six days later on Russia Today, which had campaigned for weeks to link the insurgents to the August 21 attacks.

This, however, was far from the first time that Maloof had condemned the insurgency as foreign-supported terrorists linked to Al Qa’eda. In March, he denounced a lifting of the European arms embargo on the insurgency, telling Iran’s Press TV:

They have no guarantee into which hands these arms will go. We’ve got al-Nusra leading the charge with the rebels up there in Damascus and they’re very, very powerful and they’re the ones that are al-Qaeda related and they’re probably going to gain the arms and there would be no control over who gets them, how they’re going to be used.

If Hersh’s main source is Maloof — which fits the public assertions — there is a telling irony. Condemning the Obama Administration’s “cherry-picking” of intelligence over Syria, Hersh compares it to the Bush Administration’s selection of “evidence” on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

That selection of raw intelligence was taken over in 2002 by Undersecretary of State Douglas Feith’s office — of which F. Michael Maloof was a key member.

Hersh is on less controversial ground when he uses Postol as an appeal to authority over the rockets. However, in the attempt to dismiss the report of the UN weapons inspectors, Postol — or at least Hersh’s citation of the source — gives the false impression that the UN inspectors only found and analysed a single rocket.

The one rocket, Hersh has Postol lead us to believe, “fails to match the specifications of a similar but smaller rocket known to be in the Syrian arsenal”.

Postol claims that the maximum range of the rocket was 2 kilometers, suggesting it could only have been fired from insurgent-held territory.

Eliot Higgins (“Brown Moses”), the closest observer of the Assad regime’s use of munitions, has written this morning that the two rockets found by the UN were a Soviet M14 140 mm artillery rocket — held only by Syrian forces — and a “Volcano”, also used by pro-regime units.

Higgins also counter Postol’s claim on the range of the Volcano. He says, from conversation with Postol’s co-author Richard Lloyd, that the rocket can travel up to 2.5 kilometers, putting its launch site within Damascus suburbs seized by the regime in June 2013.

Even if one accepts Postol’s partial critique, there is a further problem. The claims exist publicly only because of Hersh’s revelation of an e-mail exchange. In contrast to the UN findings and the considerations of other close observers, such as Higgins, Postol and co-author Richard Lloyd have not published their latest study projecting the range and flight path of the rocket — presumably because, as Hersh reveals, they have been trying to get the New York Times to print a summary of the study.

WHAT ABOUT HERSH’S ARGUMENTS?

Obama Administration’s Intelligence Before and After the Attacks

Hersh’s supposed dramatic revelation that the daily Military Report did not mention the chemical weapons issue in Syria from August 20 through August 22 is little more than a red herring.

Key developments in intelligence are summarized in memoranda such as the President’s Daily Brief.

Nor does Hersh’s lengthy exposition on the secret sensors “proof” that there was no movement of chemical stocks and munitions by the regime before the attacks. It is based on an assumption that the system was 100% complete and 100% effective — a bit of a stretch in the real world.

But, in fact, the sensors may have worked. Indeed, if you pick apart Hersh’s story, you will find the “truth” that he struggles to deny: US intelligence agencies had some information about the regime’s chemical activities — the problem lay in communicating and interpreting that intelligence. From the Wall Street Journal, after a lengthy investigation, on November 23:

As Syrian troops battled rebel forces in the Damascus suburbs Aug. 18, U.S. eavesdropping equipment began picking up ominous signals.

A special Syrian unit that handles chemical weapons was ordered closer to the front lines, officials briefed on the intelligence say, and started mixing poisons. For two days, warning signs mounted until coded messages went out for the elite team to bring in the “big ones” and put on gas masks.

U.S. intelligence agencies didn’t translate the intercepts into English right away, so White House officials didn’t know what the Syrian regime was planning until the assault began.

The significance of those intercepts would only come out after the attacks, as the US Government conducted a review. Hersh refers to that review — “Once the scale of events on 21 August was understood, the NSA [National Security Agency] mounted a comprehensive effort to search for any links to the attack” — but for him, it is not the logical quest to ascertain what had occurred. Instead, it is an attempt to the Obama Administration to set up Assad as the villain.

Doing so, Hersh casts aside a compelling argument: namely, that problems of communication within the Obama Administration prevented a US response to deter the attacks. He cites Razan Zaitouneh, “It’s unbelievable they did nothing to warn people or try to stop the regime before the crime,” but quickly moves on.

Why? Because Hersh’s acceptance that the US had intelligence pointing to an attack but failed to act on it would undermine his real effort: to absolve the Assad regime and blame the insurgency.

The Casualties and the Rockets

Hersh’s cherry-picking and distortion of the evidence around the chemical weapons — discussed above — is compounded by serious questions of his handling of casualty figures. He asserts:

The number of deaths attributable to the attack varied widely, from at least 1429, as initially claimed by the Obama administration, to many fewer. A Syrian human rights group reported 502 deaths; Médicins sans Frontières put it at 355; and a French report listed 281 known fatalities. The strikingly precise US total was later reported by the Wall Street Journal to have been based not on an actual body count, but on an extrapolation by CIA analysts, who scanned more than a hundred YouTube videos from Eastern Ghouta into a computer system and looked for images of the dead. In other words, it was little more than a guess.

There are enough errors in this one paragraph to put a question mark over the entire article.

1. Hersh does not name the “Syrian human rights group”, which might alert astute readers to his sleight-of-hand. (It’s likely to be the lowest figure by the organization claiming to hold casualty figures — in this case, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.)

The most detailed study of the casualties, carried out since August 21 and continuing, is by the Violations Documentation Center — who only “confirm” a death when they have verified information from a medical source or multiple witnesses. Their latest total is 950, but it is likely to be conservative, given that some bodies were not recovered or were buried quickly.

2. Médicins sans Frontières never claimed that “355″ was the total number of deaths. They said, in the days after the attack, that it was the total from three field hospital with whom their personnel had worked in the past. There were far more field hospitals that MSF could not or did not access.

3. The “French report” is probably based on the French Government’s initial claim of at least 281 deaths, which was based on the MSF findings (Paris later revised the total to 355, matching MSF).

4. The Obama Administration’s “striking precise” claim of “at least 1429″ was probably based on the information put out by the opposition Local Coordination Committees. There was a slight error, however — LCC put out 1429 as the total number of deaths across Syria on August 21, of which about 1360 were in East Ghouta and West Ghouta.

The Insurgency and Sarin

Apart from the claim which appear to be based on — or at least closely parallel — F. Michael Maloof, Hersh appears to be recycling a story from May.

Initially, it was reported that 12 men allegedly affiliated to Jabhat al-Nusra had been detained in Turkey for possession of sarin. However, six were quickly released, and Turkish authorities soon said that the other six suspects had chemical which might be used to make sarin — and not the nerve agent itself.

The prosecution reiterated at the trial of the six in September that the charge was handling of precursors. At no point was it alleged, let alone proven, that the six had the facilities or the know-how to make sarin — and definitely not on the scale of the toxins used on August 21.

A source adds another key point:

In areas where they have no significant presence, Jabhat al-Nusra sometimes has small teams for networking and reconnaissance, but as far as I know, they did not have strength in the areas hit on August 21.

Rest assured, Jabhat al-Nusra did not hit civilians on that day.

Hersh adds the allegation that “Ziyaad Tariq Ahmed, a chemical weapons expert formerly of the Iraqi military, …moved into Syria and [was] operating in Eastern Ghouta”. Hersh’s intelligence consultant, who may or may not be Maloof, added that Tariq Ahmad had been identified “as an al-Nusra guy with a track record of making mustard gas in Iraq and someone who is implicated in making and using sarin”.

Hersh pronounces, “[He] is regarded as a high-profile target by the American military.”

So high-profile that a search does not reveal any information whatsoever about “Ziyaad Tariq Ahmed”.

CONCLUSION

Sometimes a story is not what is true, but what the author — and his sources — want to be true. As Hersh tries to conclude with a flourish:

While the Syrian regime continues the process of eliminating its chemical arsenal, the irony is that, after Assad’s stockpile of precursor agents is destroyed, al-Nusra and its Islamist allies could end up as the only faction inside Syria with access to the ingredients that can create sarin, a strategic weapon that would be unlike any other in the war zone.

There is one statement of fact in that sentence: after carrying out the August 21 attacks, the Assad regime — primarily to avoid military retaliation and/or political setback — committed itself to a handover of its remaining chemical stocks.

But the rest of the sentence is polemic, not information. Hersh’s article is based on suspect, unnamed sources and precious little examination of the evidence — the real evidence — that has accumulated since August 21.

When the WorldNet Daily publishes this type of story, it is regarded as the propaganda of a right-wing, conspiracy-chasing outlet. Should a famed investigative reporter be exempt from that same verdict?

Joanna Paraszczuk, " />
By , December 11, 2013 08:22 Updated
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42 Comments

  1. Catmari December 14, 11:57

    I finally managed to read this yesterday and I join the many who have paid Scott and Joanna compliments on this fine rebuttal. I’m pleased to see so many pingbacks, too. In fact, this piece made it into my inbox at work before I even saw it here. :-)

    Interesting to note that both the publication with which Hersh is most associated, The New Yorker, and The Washington Post passed on “Whose Sarin?”
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/08/seymour-hersh-syria-report_n_4409674.html

    Reply to this comment
  2. Rafael December 12, 23:59

    Excellent work. We need more reasoned and logical analysis like this in the media.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Dan Kaszeta December 12, 14:28

    Good post.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Issar December 12, 02:43

    How many sites were attacked with chemical weapons on August 21? If 8 sites were attacked, where does this information come from if not the UN? The UN of course did not have time to investigate the 8 sites since they had to flee from the imminent bombing of the country. Bombing always comes first! We have to shoot first and ask questions later! Those who are on the side of ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ are then responsible for the lack of accurate information—no? Now the people wallowing in fragmentary information would like to make their statements. Fair enough. Where are the ‘open source videos’ of the chemical attacks of August 21 showing the so-called ‘Volcano rockets’? So far, no videos. So much for your you- tube new age information.

    [edited by moderator]

    Reply to this comment
  5. Chuck Hamilton December 11, 16:52

    Hersh probably imagines himself at the razor’s edge of public opinion, not realizing he’s following the same tired path previously trod by countless other has-beens trapped in the past. Those are the kind of people that enabled the Serbs in Bosnia to kill, rape, and plunder so many Bosnians much longer than should have gone on. Hersh was good once, but he needs to retire. The left needs to stop defending people like Milosevic, Assad, Morsi, Ahmadinejad, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Fidel, etc. Thank you, Scott and Joanna, for this piece.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Buenos Aires December 11, 03:28

    Senior Member Of The SMC Defects To ISIS And Details Foreign Involvement In the Oppostion

    http://brown-moses.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/senior-member-of-smc-defects-to-isis_2.html?m=1

    Reply to this comment
  7. Jerry December 10, 21:36

    Regarding Ziyaad Tariq Ahmed: isn’t it possible that he is a high profile target for the US military and that he doesn’t show up on a Google search?

    Regarding the rockets found by the UN: isn’t it possible that these rockets were related to conventional rocket attacks? And that some rockets would be in the hands of the rebels, since much of the FSA is reportedly defecting regime troops?

    Regarding the motive of why rebels would attack their own territory: isn’t it possible that they may have shot the rocket and it failed to go to their intended destination, and blew up in their own territory?

    I agree it is unlikely that the rebels performed these chemical attacks, but the idea that the Obama admin had “no doubt” it was done by the regime forces seems too much. There is definitely room for doubt here.

    I think the Obama admin’s whole chemical weapons angle was a foolish one to begin with. Should have just focused on the humanitarian/pro-democracy angle of the anti-Assad fighters. Trying to prove guilt of a specific event in a war zone is extremely difficult.

    Reply to this comment
    • Clay Claiborne December 12, 01:28

      After the attack, the Obama admin claims to have found communications which they captured before the attack that indicated that Assad CW forces carried out the attack. Sy Hersh seems to be very confused about how this works, because he says:

      .”A former senior intelligence official told me that the Obama administration had altered the available information – in terms of its timing and sequence – to enable the president and his advisers to make intelligence retrieved days after the attack look as if it had been picked up and analysed in real time, as the attack was happening. ”

      This is so confused. As Snowden’s revelations show, they record everything but they don’t listen to everything in real time. When something happens, they go back to their recordings and retrieve the relevant data. When Sy Hersh says “picked up and analyzed in real time” he just shows he doesn’t know how this work.

      But if they are not out right lying, and if they did pick up communications from Assad forces and then later found that it showed the preparation for the attack, then they could say definitively that Assad’s forces did it.

      This is the heart of Hersh’s argument, they they couldn’t know for sure. This is wrong. He can say they are lying about receiving these communications, but if they did, they would have no doubt that Assad did it.

      Reply to this comment
      • Richard Rittenburg December 12, 16:57

        wasn’t there a Syrian officer who claims he was ordered to use chemicals and chose to defect instead? I seem to recall something of the sort. I think he kept a copy of the printed orders.

        another curious thing about this file is the complete lack of satellite data. A person would think that Israel, EU, or US would have parked a satellite over Damascus and could rewind their infrared tapes. I personally suspect that satellite evidence exists but was with held as part of the CW deal.

        The ba’ath were far to certain of a retaliation strike, Assad was far to agreeable about disarming, and Putin was far too quick about dropping his cold war rhetoric. They would not have acted that way unless they were looking at undeniable evidence.

        Reply to this comment
        • Andre De Angelis December 14, 07:25

          “The ba’ath were far to certain of a retaliation strike, Assad was far to agreeable about disarming, and Putin was far too quick about dropping his cold war rhetoric. They would not have acted that way unless they were looking at undeniable evidence.”

          The retaliation strike looked a certainty right up until the moment Kerry suggested the only way to avert it would be for Syria to give up it’s CWs. The Russians stepped in immediately and took advantage of what was claimed at the time to have been a gaffe by Kerry.

          The Syrian government has no need for the CWs in this conflict against the rebels, who they pretty much have on the ropes. Intervention by the US would be a disaster for them, so any way to remove this pretext would have been the best option for them.

          Reply to this comment
          • gunniy December 15, 01:38

            I’m assuming that you know the items which describe the disaster of 21 August.

            There are more than 100 hundred reasons to assume that Assad was the culprit.

            Your only reason what you’re describing is that the rebels are bombarding themselves to draw US into the war?

            With weapons they do not own ? Since when will JAN and ISIS an involvement of US at war?

            Reply to this comment
            • Andre De Angelis December 15, 08:27

              Indeed I do know the items which describe the disaster of 21 August.

              There are more than 100 hundred reasons to assume that Assad was the culprit.

              No, there are very few, and there certainly is no logical motive.

              Your only reason what you’re describing is that the rebels are bombarding themselves to draw US into the war?

              There have been a number fo reports of infighting among rebel factions, so it’s hardly impossible.
              http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/04/world/middleeast/syria.html?_r=0

              With weapons they do not own ?

              How do you know what weapong they do or do not own? The rebels have seized a number of Syrian Army weapons caches.
              http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/11/us-syria-crisis-usa-idUSBRE9BA08820131211

              Reply to this comment
              • gunniy December 15, 12:17

                Sorry, you have misunderstood something….

                1. Where do the guns come from with which the poison gas was fired after Eastghouta?
                2. Where these weapons were developed?
                3. Who has the expertise to deal with poison gas Kow?
                4. Where is the laboratory in which these gases were developed?
                5. Who did the immense investments to make the development of war gases possible?
                6. Which group is responsible for the financing, development, testing and use of war gases? There are about 1,000 rebel groups in Syria who have partially closed together.

                Which group has the technical and financial capabilities to produce WMD’s?

                7. The political orientations of the rebels are inconsistent. Which favor of a U.S. application and which are not?

                8. Which Political orientation have the rebel groups fighting in Eastghouta?

                These are just some questions that you do not answering.

                How would it be with facts?

                [edited by moderator]

                Reply to this comment
                • Andre De Angelis December 15, 23:30

                  “1. Where do the guns come from with which the poison gas was fired after Eastghouta?”

                  Could be anyone of JAN’s supporters, be they Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the US etc.

                  “2. Where these weapons were developed?”‘

                  See above.

                  “3. Who has the expertise to deal with poison gas Kow?”

                  CNN’s December 2012 report titled, “Sources: U.S. helping underwrite Syrian rebel training on securing chemical weapons,” stated that:

                  The United States and some European allies are using defense contractors to train Syrian rebels on how to secure chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria, a senior U.S. official and several senior diplomats told CNN Sunday.
                  The training, which is taking place in Jordan and Turkey, involves how to monitor and secure stockpiles and handle weapons sites and materials, according to the sources. Some of the contractors are on the ground in Syria working with the rebels to monitor some of the sites, according to one of the officials.

                  “4. Where is the laboratory in which these gases were developed?”

                  Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the US etc.

                  “5. Who did the immense investments to make the development of war gases possible?”

                  Pocket change for Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the US etc.

                  “6. Which group is responsible for the financing, development, testing and use of war gases? There are about 1,000 rebel groups in Syria who have partially closed together.”‘

                  Your guess is as good as mine. JAN is the most likely.

                  “Which group has the technical and financial capabilities to produce WMD’s?”

                  See the CNN report above.

                  “7. The political orientations of the rebels are inconsistent. Which favor of a U.S. application and which are not?”

                  Best you ask the US.
                  http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/14/us-syria-crisis-rebels-idUSBRE9BD08D20131214

                  “8. Which Political orientation have the rebel groups fighting in Eastghouta?”

                  Sorry, makes no sense. Please try re-writing that question?

                  Reply to this comment
      • Andre De Angelis December 15, 08:32

        This is so confused. As Snowden’s revelations show, they record everything but they don’t listen to everything in real time.

        That pertains to the surveillance drag nett where they have elected to collect everything and store it in case they need it later. In targeted survilance cases, it is real time.

        And yes,they are out right lying. Obama made it pretty clear:

        “In the days leading up to August 21st, we know that Assad’s chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gas masks to their troops. Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighbourhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces.”

        Reply to this comment
        • gunniy December 15, 13:04

          Internet and telephone surveillance is one thing. Another are the facts on the ground.

          You didn`t noticed yet that the statements of Kerry and Obama about monitoring fit with the events happened on the ground?

          The question which remains :
          Why Obama has not posted any original documents from this monitoring to assign the question of guilt unambiguously?

          This is a political question. Is this question beyond your horizon?

          You need facts to participate in a political discussion.

          To deny facts as currently operate extreme right – and extreme left wing is certainly not in your interest – or is this assumption incorrect?

          [edited by moderator]

          Reply to this comment
          • Andre De Angelis December 15, 23:37

            “Internet and telephone surveillance is one thing. Another are the facts on the ground.”

            I agree, but I was addressing the claim that the Obama administration did not claim to have real time knowledge of the events as they unfolded, when the above quote proves they did make this claim.

            “You didn`t noticed yet that the statements of Kerry and Obama about monitoring fit with the events happened on the ground?”

            It’s easy to make statements after the fact and claim you knew them at the time they were happening. As Hersh reports, there was no way the administration could have monitored communications between Assad and his commanders, since the Syrians had discovered – and plugged up – holes in their security months prior to the incident. (We know this thanks to Edward Snowden.) So they were lying about that.

            “Why Obama has not posted any original documents from this monitoring to assign the question of guilt unambiguously?”

            Probably because they don’t exist.

            Reply to this comment
    • Andre De Angelis December 14, 07:28

      “Regarding the motive of why rebels would attack their own territory”

      To drag the US into the conflict and bomb Syrian military targets a la Lybia. Had they attacked Syrian government targets, then it would have been them accused of crossing the red line, not the Assad government.

      Reply to this comment
      • gunniy December 15, 13:19

        To talk about the “rebels” is definitly wrong – particularly on the question of the use of soldiers from the outside.
        Why do I have to tell you this – you’re not informed?

        The question again: who exactly ( which rebell group?) is murdering civilians, women and children by WMD `s to to draw US into the war?

        Are you offering to continue bloating or do you have a respond?

        Reply to this comment
  8. gunniy December 10, 18:20

    Scott, your response to Hersh’s article is excellent. Thanks for that

    Reply to this comment
  9. Clay Claiborne December 10, 16:20

    I also took on this disappointing Hersh piece on my blog. I took him to task for his motives – he wants Assad to win. Thank you and Elliot Higgins for de constructing his arguments

    http://claysbeach.blogspot.com/2013/12/whose-seymour-hersh.html

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    • gunniy December 10, 18:14

      Please tell the rogue what kind of damage he causes.

      Currently on wikipedia is written that Sy is researching “”accurately””(?) and he also “”understands”” (?) the things about which he writes.

      This ability Hersh has certainly lost.

      Reply to this comment
    • Andre De Angelis December 14, 06:06

      That’s kind of silly accusation – that Hersh wants Assad to win. Should we therefore conclude that you want Al Qaeda to win?

      What are your motives, and what do they even matter? The case should stand on the evidence.

      Reply to this comment
      • gunniy December 15, 13:56

        “”The case should stand on the evidence””

        Note — No one has reported training the rebels in these weapons of WMD`s and there is no reason to believe the Iranians would do so in the case of the Fadjr-5 used for the 333 mm rockets.

        One of these systems is Russian, the other Iranian, and Russia and Iran are on Assad’s side.

        The rebels were NOT trained in these systems unless you’ve got solid evidence to the contrary. Put up, or shut up.

        Reply to this comment
        • Andre De Angelis December 15, 23:12

          “Note — No one has reported training the rebels in these weapons of WMD`s ”

          Wrong.

          CNN’s December 2012 report titled, “Sources: U.S. helping underwrite Syrian rebel training on securing chemical weapons,” stated that:

          The United States and some European allies are using defense contractors to train Syrian rebels on how to secure chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria, a senior U.S. official and several senior diplomats told CNN Sunday.
          The training, which is taking place in Jordan and Turkey, involves how to monitor and secure stockpiles and handle weapons sites and materials, according to the sources. Some of the contractors are on the ground in Syria working with the rebels to monitor some of the sites, according to one of the officials.

          http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2012/12/09/sources-defense-contractors-training-syrian-rebels-in-chemical-weapons/

          Emails between American contractor Matthew Van Dyke and members of the Western media, including Higgins which indicated that militants had chemical weapons and were planning to use them in an attack to frame the Syrian government – serving as impetus for wider foreign intervention.

          http://www.qatar-leaks.com/vandyke-leaks/

          Is that solid enough for you?

          Reply to this comment
  10. Catmari December 10, 12:02

    Sy Hersh’s Chemical Misfire
    What the legendary reporter gets wrong about Syria’s sarin attacks.
    BY Eliot Higgins, FP
    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/12/09/sy_hershs_chemical_misfire#sthash.YLj73tgq.dpbs

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    • Andre De Angelis December 14, 06:48

      “Sy Hersh’s Chemical Misfire”

      A very weak article that has been taken apart here.
      http://landdestroyer.blogspot.mx/

      Higgins denies any possibility that the rebels could have carried out the attack, but his correspondence with a contractor in Syria reveals that not only was it established that the rebels had access to Sarin, but were planning to use it.

      Reply to this comment
      • gunniy December 15, 14:08

        These rockets are each delivering 50 liters of gas – that’s a car gas tank worth. You should deal with the question it where the rebels are said to have produced these quantities of poison gas.

        These attacks were carried out by the Syrian Army. Unless someone is going to explain how they got the launchers back into rebel territory after launching from right under the Syrian Army’s nose.

        Any answers?

        Reply to this comment
        • Andre De Angelis December 15, 23:24

          “These rockets are each delivering 50 liters of gas”

          That’s funny. None of the pictures of the rockets they claim were used to deliver the gas look close to 50 liters in capacity. But please cite the source that states they were indeed delivering 50 liters of gas.

          “You should deal with the question it where the rebels are said to have produced these quantities of poison gas.”

          It has already been established by contractors on the ground that the rebels did indeed had access to the ingredients for the gas, so the question of what capability they might have is conjecture.

          Al Nusra and other extremist networks inside of Syria have had the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel’s backing since at least as early as 2007. Since 2011, Qatar and Turkey have also played immense roles in supporting Al Nusra – with NATO-member Turkey providing them sanctuary and even logistical support.

          In other words, JAN has had access to limitless amounts of money and very powerful state actors for whom such capacity is trivial.

          There is no evidence the attacks were carried out by the Syrian Army and there certainly is no motive.

          “Unless someone is going to explain how they got the launchers back into rebel territory after launching from right under the Syrian Army’s nose.”

          As Hersh noted:

          Theodore Postol, a professor of technology and national security at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told Hersh that the Volcano is “something you could produce in a modestly capable machine shop” — in other words, a weapon the rebels could make. Postol also stated that various organizations’ flight path analysis of the Aug. 21 Volcanoes, which put the point of origin of the munitions at a Syrian military base more than nine kilometers away from the impact locations, were “totally nuts.” Postol’s analysis, Hersh wrote, had “demonstrated that the range of the improvised rockets was ‘unlikely’ to be more than two kilometres.”

          So the launchers never had to be moved out of rebel territory or anywhere near the Syrian Army’s nose.

          I hope that helps.

          Reply to this comment
  11. kevin December 9, 23:54

    Hersh has never met an authoritarian regime he wasn’t willing to defend at the expense of the US. He is another one of these “anti-war” activists who seeks to blame every ill in the world on the US. I think it’s sad he would make himself an accomplice in allowing Assad to get away with a horrific chemical attack to suit his worldview.

    Reply to this comment
    • Andre De Angelis December 14, 07:08

      This is an interesting effort to refute Hersh’s article and it does point to some weaknesses in his report, but does not actually refute it.

      “The reporter does not take into account that multiple sites, not just one, were hit with chemical agents on August 21.”

      How does that refute Hersh’s arguments? Higgins and others have insisted that the AL Nusra front doesn’t have the resources to carry out such an attack, but this seems dubious.

      Al Nusra and other extremist networks inside of Syria have had the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel’s backing since at least as early as 2007. Since 2011, Qatar and Turkey have also played immense roles in supporting Al Nusra – with NATO-member Turkey providing them sanctuary and even logistical support.

      There is no shortage of money or resources available to Al Nusra.

      “EVERAL MUNITIONS, NOT JUST ONE, WERE USED TO HIT MULTIPLE TARGETS”

      Does the UN report state that any traces of Sarin were found on any of those munitions?

      ” It is based on an assumption that the system was 100% complete and 100% effective — a bit of a stretch in the real world.”

      Would the system need to be 100% effective to detect any movement of chemical stocks?

      “However, six were quickly released, and Turkish authorities soon said that the other six suspects had chemical which might be used to make sarin — and not the nerve agent itself.”

      Sarin is mixed just prior to being used. No one who planned to use it would therefore be in possession of the nerve agent itself.

      The most compelling issue of course is who benefits. Knowing that Washington had committed to intervention in the event that CWs were used by the Syrian government against civilians, what did the Syrian Military have to gain by launching the attack – especially given that they were in in the ascendancy by that stage?

      On the other hand, the losing side would have gained enormously from US strikes on Syrian military targets.

      Reply to this comment
      • gunniy December 15, 13:38

        “”Al Nusra and other extremist networks inside of Syria have had the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel’s backing since at least as early as 2007″”

        JAN announced its creation on January 2012 but before its establishment, it should have been supported by the west?
        How is that possible?

        To write a page-long fairy-tale is not necessary.
        Some facts with source disclosures would be sufficient.

        Reply to this comment
        • Andre De Angelis December 15, 23:08

          “JAN announced its creation on January 2012 but before its establishment, it should have been supported by the west?”

          Just because JAN got their business cards printed on January 2012 doesn’t mean they didn’t already exist prior to that date in one form or another.

          It has been widely reported that the US and Saudi Arabia had already been planning this back in 2007 as a way to ovethrow the leadership in Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.
          http://landdestroyer.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/syrian-war-prequel.html

          Reply to this comment
  12. Daniel Doerig December 9, 23:09

    Scott,

    This is simply brilliant! Thank you so much for this dissection!

    Daniel

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