Yves here. It’s disheartening to have to run this post. Even though Seymour Hersh wrote at some length (see here and here) about how the idea that Assad was behind a sarin attack in 2013 was a White House narrative that quickly fell apart, forcing Obama to back down from a plan to launch massive airstrikes against Syria, the latest round of claims against Syria, made by a President that the media until recently demonized as utterly untrustworthy, is treated as gospel truth. And notice that the canard about Assad’s role 2013 attacks is being hauled out of mothballs as part of the demonization campaign.
Gaius’ post compiles some of the recent accounts throwing doubts on the White House’s claims. This is yet another critical thinking exercise, although it’s a shame that almost every major news story needs to be approached from that angle. And needless to say, this example also illustrates the importance of the alternative media as a venue for independent analysis.
By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. GP article archive here. Originally published at DownWithTyranny
(This piece is organized in two parts, the story to this point and the new evidence. To go directly to the new evidence, click here.)
Since our last report on the Syrian “gas attack” story (see “Another Intelligence Group Makes the Case: Assad’s Responsibility Is Not Proved“), events have moved along. Nothing, though, has dismissed the doubts of those willing to entertain doubts that the story as told by the White House — and repeated by Democrats and Republicans alike — is baseless, a fabrication.
First, British scientists were given samples from the alleged gas attack that contained traces of sarin. The presence of sarin had previously been doubted, since first-responders were videoed handling victims with their bare hands (see image at the top), actions that would have killed them if sarin were present on the victims’ bodies. On this evidence — the discovery of sarin in samples given to analysts — British UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft concurs with the U.S. that Assad’s responsibility for a gas attack is “highly likely.” In other words, an estimation.
Second, a small crater that was said to have been made by a sarin-containing munitions blast has been studied by Dr. Theodore Postol, professor emeritis at MIT, and he showed that the blast dispersal pattern is “more consistent with the possibility that the munition was placed on the ground rather than dropped from a plane.” Postol continues, “Analysis of the debris as shown in the photographs cited by the White House clearly indicates that the munition was almost certainly placed on the ground with an external detonating explosive on top of it that crushed the container so as to disperse the alleged load of sarin [downward].”
The Story to This Point
Gareth Porter, an investigative reporter who writes on national security policy, summarizes events to that point as follows (my emphasis):
The Trump administration officials dismissed the Russian claim that the Syrian airstrike had targeted a munitions warehouse controlled by Islamic extremists as an afterthought to cover up the Syrian government’s culpability for the chemical attack. Moreover, the Trump officials claimed that US intelligence had located the site where the Syrian regime had dropped the chemical weapon.
However, two new revelations contradict the Trump administration’s line on the April 4 attack. A former US official knowledgeable about the episode told Truthout that the Russians had actually informed their US counterparts in Syria of the Syrian military’s plan to strike the warehouse in Khan Sheikhoun 24 hours before the strike. And a leading analyst on military technology, Dr. Theodore Postol of MIT, has concluded that the alleged device for a sarin attack could not have been delivered from the air but only from the ground, meaning that the chemical attack may not have been the result of the Syrian airstrike.
[T]he US military allegedly knew in advance that the strike was coming: Russian military officers informed their American counterparts of the Syrian military’s plan to strike the warehouse in Khan Sheikhoun city 24 hours before the planned airstrike, according to the former US official who spoke with Truthout. The official is in direct contact with a US military intelligence officer with access to information about the US-Russian communications. The military intelligence officer reported to his associate that the Russians provided the information about the strike to the Americans through the normal US-Russian Syria deconfliction telephone line, which was established after the Russian intervention in 2015 to prevent any accidental clash between the two powers. The officer said that Russia communicated to the US the fact that the Syrians believed that the warehouse held toxic chemicals.
That information was considered so politically sensitive that after its initial dissemination, it was available only to a few officials, the US military intelligence officer told his associate.
The senior US officials briefing the press insisted that a Syrian air strike delivering sarin was the only credible explanation for the dozens of deaths in Khan Sheikhoun. One of the officials cited a video showing a crater in the middle of a main road, which the Trump administration’s key officials have determined was the site of the chemical weapon that reportedly killed 50 to 100 people. He implied that this was evidence that a Syrian airstrike had released what was believed to be sarin.
But Dr. Theodore Postol of MIT, who debunked the original official claims of the location of rockets that hit Syria’s Ghouta area with what appeared to be sarin on August 21, 2013, has come to a different conclusion. Postol says that the carcass of the delivery vehicle — shown in last week’s video and in still photos of the small crater — indicates that the chemical attack was not delivered via airstrike but from the spot on the road where it was found.
For more, see the rest of Mr. Porter’s clear write-up here. To that point, sarin had been suspected, but not proved. As Porter notes: “Exposure to smoke munitions that create phosphine gas when in contact with moisture can cause neurological symptoms that mimic those of sarin, because they both damage the body’s ability to produce the enzyme cholinesterase.”
Postol’s piece showing that the suspected sarin device “could not have been delivered from the air” is linked both in Borosage’s piece and in my fifth paragraph, above.
Finally, if Gareth Porter and his sources are right, the U.S. military knew everything they needed to know to understand that the reason they gave for launching the Tomahawk strike was false. That they knowingly lied, in other words.
And now the new evidence. I’d like to print the follow-up report from Dr. Postol. It contains video evidence that indicates tampering with the “bomb site” by men wearing “Health Directorate” uniforms in rebel-held Idlib in the two or three days after the so-called “gas attack.
Theodore Postol is the former Chair of the MIT Security Studies Department and was called as an expert witness in a lawsuit against the National Missile Defense Program. This is his area of expertise. According to Dr. Postol, this clear evidence should have been available to any competent intelligence professional. The attack was reported on April 4. The U.S. intelligence report claiming that Assad was responsible for a sarin attack was published April 11.
In other words, Dr. Postol’s piece below supports the conclusion in my headline — that it indeed contains “evidence that the Syrian gas story was fabricated by the White House.” (Side comment: What does that make of claims by even well-meaning Democrats like this one?)
Note also, as you read, the role and responsibility in this deception of General McMaster, a member of Trump’s National Security Council. According to one report (detailed here), McMaster may well have become, in my phrasing, the “tip of the spear for neocon control of Trump’s foreign policy.”
The rest of this piece is Dr. Postol’s report, printed in full. Emphasis, where mine, is called out and attributed. Emphasis added by Dr. Postol is called out but not attributed. Remaining emphasis is in the original quoted document.
Evidence that the White House Intelligence Report
of April 11, 2017 Was Fabricated
April 14, 2017
Video Evidence of False Claims Made in the White House Intelligence Report of April 11, 2017
This is my third report assessing the White House intelligence Report of April 11, 2017. My first report was titled A Quick Turnaround Assessment of the White House Intelligence Report Issued on April 11, 2017 about the Nerve Agent Attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria and my second report was an Addendum to the first report.
This report provides unambiguous evidence that the White House Intelligence Report (WHR) of April 11, 2017 contains false and misleading claims that could not possibly have been accepted in any professional review by impartial intelligence experts. The WHR was produced by the National Security Council under the oversight of the National Security Advisor, Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster[emphasis added (GP)].
The evidence presented herein is from two selected videos which are part of a larger cache of videos that are available on YouTube. These videos were uploaded to YouTube in the time period between April 5, 2017 and April 7, 2017. Analysis of the videos shows that all of the scenes taken at the site where the WHR claims was the location of a sarin release indicate significant tampering with the site. Since these videos were available roughly one week before the White House report was issued on April 11, this indicates that the office of the WHR made no attempt to utilize the professional intelligence community to obtain accurate data in support of the findings in the report.
The video evidence shows workers at the site roughly 30 hours after the alleged attack that were wearing clothing with the logo “Idlib Health Directorate.” These individuals were photographed putting dead birds from a birdcage into plastic bags. The implication of these actions was that the birds had died after being placed in the alleged sarin crater. However, the video also shows the same workers inside and around the same crater with no protection of any kind against sarin poisoning [emphasis mine (GP)].
These individuals were wearing honeycomb face masks and medical exam gloves. They were otherwise dressed in normal streetwear and had no protective clothing of any kind.
The honeycomb face masks would provide absolutely no protection against either sarin vapors or sarin aerosols [emphasis mine (GP)]. The masks are only designed to filter small particles from the air. If there were sarin vapor, it would be inhaled without attenuation by these individuals. If the sarin were in an aerosol form, the aerosol would have condensed into the pours in the masks, and would have evaporated into a highly lethal gas as the individuals inhaled through the mask. It is difficult to believe that such health workers, if they were health workers, would be so ignorant of these basic facts.
In addition, other people dressed as health workers were standing around the crater without any protection at all.
As noted in my earlier reports, the assumption in WHR that the site of the alleged sarin release had not been tampered with was totally unjustified and no competent intelligence analyst would have agreed that this assumption was valid. The implication of this observation is clear – the WHR was not reviewed and released by any competent intelligence experts unless they were motivated by factors other than concerns about the accuracy of the report [emphasis mine (GP)].
The WHR also makes claims about “communications intercepts” which supposedly provide high confidence that the Syrian government was the source of the attack. There is no reason to believe that the veracity of this claim is any different from the now verified false claim that there was unambiguous evidence of a sarin release at the cited crater.
The relevant quotes from the WHR are collected below for purposes of reference:
The United States is confident that the Syrian regime conducted a chemical weapons attack, using the nerve agent sarin, against its own people in the town of Khan Shaykhun in southern Idlib Province on April 4, 2017.
We have confidence in our assessment because we have signals intelligence and geospatial intelligence, laboratory analysis of physiological samples collected from multiple victims, as well as a significant body of credible open source reporting.
We cannot publicly release all available intelligence on this attack due to the need to protect sources and methods, but the following includes an unclassified summary of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s analysis of this attack.
By 12:15 PM [April4, 2017] local time, broadcasted local videosincluded images of dead children of varying ages.
… at 1:10 PM [April4, 2017] local … follow-on videos showing the bombing of a nearby hospital …
Commercial satellite imagery from April 6 showed impact craters around the hospital that are consistent with open source reports of a conventional attack on the hospital after the chemical attack.
Moscow has since claimed that the release of chemicals was caused by a regime airstrike on a terrorist ammunition depot in the eastern suburbs of Khan Shaykhun.
An open source video also shows where we believe the chemical munition landed [Emphasis Added]—not on a facility filled with weapons, but in the middle of a street in the northern section of Khan Shaykhun. Commercial satellite imagery of that site from April 6, [Emphasis Added] after the allegation, shows a crater in the road that corresponds to the open source video.
observed munition remnants at the crater and staining around the impact point are consistent with a munition that functioned, but structures nearest to the impact crater did not sustain damage that would be expected from a conventional high-explosive payload. Instead, the damage is more consistent with a chemical munition.
Russia’s allegations fit with a pattern of deflecting blame from the regime and attempting to undermine the credibility of its opponents.
Summary and Conclusions
It is now clear from video evidence that the WHR report was fabricated without input from the professional intelligence community [emphasis mine (GP)].
The press reported on April 4 that a nerve agent attack had occurred in Khan Shaykhun, Syria during the early morning hours locally on that day. On April 7, The United States carried out a cruise missile attack on Syria ordered by President Trump. It now appears that the president ordered this cruise missile attack without any valid intelligence to support it [emphasis mine (GP)].
In order to cover up the lack of intelligence to supporting the president’s action, the National Security Council produced a fraudulent intelligence report on April 11 four days later [emphasis mine (GP)]. The individual responsible for this report was Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster, the National Security Advisor. The McMaster report is completely undermined by a significant body of video evidence taken after the alleged sarin attack and before the US cruise missile attack that unambiguously shows the claims in the WHR could not possibly be true. This cannot be explained as a simple error.
The National Security Council Intelligence Report clearly refers to evidence that it claims was obtained from commercial and open sources shortly after the alleged nerve agent attack (on April 5 and April 6). If such a collection of commercial evidence was done, it would have surely found the videos contained herein.
This unambiguously indicates a dedicated attempt to manufacture a false claim that intelligence actually supported the president’s decision to attack Syria, and of far more importance, to accuse Russia of being either complicit or a participant in an alleged atrocity [emphasis mine (GP)].
The attack on the Syrian government threatened to undermine the relationship between Russia and the United States. Cooperation between Russia and the United States is critical to the defeat of the Islamic State. In addition, the false accusation that Russia knowingly engaged in an atrocity raises the most serious questions about a willful attempt to do damage relations with Russia for domestic political purposes.
We repeat here a quote from the WHR:
An open source video also shows where we believe the chemical munition landed—not on a facility filled with weapons, but in the middle of a street in the northern section of Khan Shaykhun[Emphasis Added]. Commercial satellite imagery of that site from April 6, after the allegation, shows a crater in the road that corresponds to the open source video.
The data provided in these videos make it clear that the WHR made no good-faith attempt to collect data that could have supported its “confident assessment.” that the Syrian government executed a sarin attack as indicated by the location and characteristics of the crater.
This very disturbing event is not a unique situation. President George W. Bush argued that he was misinformed about unambiguous evidence that Iraq was hiding a substantial store of weapons of mass destruction. This false intelligence led to a US attack on Iraq that started a process that ultimately led to the political disintegration in the Middle East, which through a series of unpredicted events then led to the rise of the Islamic State [emphasis mine (GP)].
On August 30, 2013, the White House produced a similarly false report about the nerve agent attack on August 21, 2013 in Damascus [emphasis mine (GP)]. This report also contained numerous intelligence claims that could not be true. An interview with President Obama published in The Atlantic in April 2016 indicates that Obama was initially told that there was solid intelligence that the Syrian government was responsible for the nerve agent attack of August 21, 2013 in Ghouta, Syria. Obama reported that he was later told that the intelligence was not solid by the then Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.
Equally serious questions are raised about the abuse of intelligence findings by the incident in 2013. Questions that have not been answered about that incident is how the White House produced a false intelligence report with false claims that could obviously be identified by experts outside the White House and without access to classified information. There also needs to be an explanation of why this 2013 false report was not corrected. Secretary of State John Kerry emphatically testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee repeating information in this so-called un-equivocating report.
On August 30, 2013 Secretary of State Kerry made the following statement from the Treaty Room in the State Department:
Our intelligence community has carefully reviewed and re-reviewed information regarding this attack [Emphasis added], and I will tell you it has done so more than mindful of the Iraq experience. We will not repeat that moment. Accordingly, we have taken unprecedented steps to declassify and make facts available to people who can judge for themselves.
It is now obvious that this incident produced by the WHR, while just as serious in terms of the dangers it created for US security, was a clumsy and outright fabrication of a report that was certainly not supported by the intelligence community [emphasis mine (GP)].
In this case, the president, supported by his staff, made a decision to launch 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian air base. This action was accompanied by serious risks of creating a confrontation with Russia, and also undermining cooperative efforts to win the war against the Islamic State.
I therefore conclude that there needs to be a comprehensive investigation of these events that have either misled people in the White House White House, or worse yet, been perpetrated by people to protect themselves from domestic political criticisms for uninformed and ill-considered actions.
Sincerely yours, Theodore A. Postol
Professor Emeritus of Science,
Technology, and National Security Policy
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Video Evidence That Reveals the White House Intelligence Report Issued on April 11, 2017 Contains Demonstrably False Claims about a Sarin Dispersal Crater Allegedly Created in the April 4, 2017 Attack in Khan Sheikoun, Syria
Dead Birds Video
[Embedded below (GP)]
[Stills from VIDEO #1, click to view (GP)]
Idlib Health Directorate Tampering with Alleged Sarin Dispersal Site Video
[Embedded below (GP)]
[Stills 1–10 from VIDEO #2, click to view (GP)]
[Stills 11–13 from VIDEO #2 below (GP)]