Ake Sellstrom, the chief UN investigator on site in Ghutah, released a report that confirmed the use of sarin in Ghutah without saying who was responsible. Though the report does not say as much, I've seen bloggers state that this report traces the sarin rocket trajectory back to Syrian forces.

The report does trace the trajectory of the rockets at two impact sites. Two rockets were fired into Moadamiyah with an azimuth of 214-215 degrees. One of them was identified as a M14 artillery rocket, and the location of the other impact site is "fully congruent" with being from the same launcher. A 330mm artillery rocket fired into Ein Tarma stuck into the mud at an azimuth of 105 degrees. Samples were taken from the areas of these impacts.

Looking at the tables of chemical sample tests, the samples taken from the rocket at Moadamiyah on August 26th all show negative for any CW agent, although in the column for "degradation or and by-Products" both laboratories found diisopropyl methylphosphonate (DIMP), a sarin byproduct, in one of the 13 samples. One of the two laboratories found byproducts in several other Moadamiyah samples while these samples came out clean from the other laboratory. Both labs detected sarin and/or its byproducts in most of the samples that were taken from the Ein Tarma rocket on the 28th and the 29th. Meanwhile, two different laboratories found strong evidence of sarin exposure in blood and urine samples taken from residents at both sites.

It seems to me that the Moadamiyah rocket might have been conventional, with the sarin byproducts coming by air from another source. The evidence is stronger for the Ein Tarma rocket being a chemical weapon.

The report also describes the rocket type that Brown Moses calls "UMLACA", which appears to be the chemical weapon carrier. Sellstrom is not clear whether or not the 330mm rocket in the mud at Ein Tarma is one of this type, and he provides no more detail on the trajectory of these rockets other than their having "arrived from the northwest".

The Rogue Adventurer has what appears to be a photo of the Ein Tarma rocket. The size and tail appearance match the UMLACA. He says that the same type of weapon has also been seen using a conventional warhead in past attacks.

Signs are now pointing toward the Syrian government being responsible for the attack.

  • Various blogs are saying that the trajectories point back to Syrian government installations. I personally can't say, but I'll accept that for now.
  • The UMLACA weapons broke on impact in a way that suggests they carried a non-explosive weapon, making them the most likely carriers of the sarin gas.
  • The weapons worked, which suggests construction by the state following a chain of testing and development rather than being built in some guy's workshop from scrap parts.
  • These appear to be custom weapons made for an Iranian launch platform that the Syrian government is likely to have more of than the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • The sarin attack may have coincided with a conventional attack upon the same locations, suggesting the same party was responsible.

As for the theories of Muslim Brotherhood responsibility:

  • Syria and Iran have claimed that some of the videos released the day of the attack were produced earlier, but that only discredits some of the videos and none of the other evidence. It is quite possible that the Muslim Brotherhood had gassed the Latakia children with captured or homemade sarin and kept the videos in reserve to be used in a future disinformation campaign. That is the sort of thing the Brotherhood would happily do, and they would have released the videos for improved PR and sympathy when they got news of an actual chemical attack. Again, if that had actually happened, it discredits only those particular videos and nothing else. Syria has yet to produce evidence of its claim of the children in the videos being the ones missing from Latakia.
  • The strong identification of the sarin's artillery delivery system has discredited Yahya Ababneh's theory of underground bunkers of Saudi-supplied sarin being the cause, as has the lack of any such bunkers being discovered by Syrian forces.
  • Yossef Bodansky has yet to produce his video of MB forces in al-Ghutah switching loyalty to the Syrian government on Syrian television or to show that these same people are the victims of the chemical attack. He has followed up his prior posts with a whole bunch of details that nobody else is reporting with no evidence and insufficient sourcing to verify them, which is his usual style. His claim that the sarin was not military grade, if true, can be explained away by Syria doing things cheaply after two years of war and/or not having as advanced a chemical weapons program as Russia.
  • Pierre De Prata's allegation of overhearing MB forces taking responsibility for the attack is hearsay, possibly misheard, and unsupported by any further information, and his witness Domenico Quirico refused to back him up.
  • The hacked Col. MacDonald emails prove nothing more than a guy consoling his upset wife.

Questions still remain:

  • We don't know for certain whether the UMLACA is only a Syrian weapon or one held by both sides.
  • We don't know for certain where the launch points were and whether they were controlled by Syrian forces at the time.

Perhaps the strongest sign of Syrian responsibility for the attack is that they have yet to come out with a good explanation of how the Muslim Brotherhood could have carried out the attack that fits the evidence we now have. I can imagine several possibilities, but none of them have been proposed yet. If Syria had evidence of events taking place along one of those lines, they would have mentioned it as a possibility. They haven't, therefore it's unlikely.

€Wagn3r hacked into some US Army intelligence officers' email accounts and claims to have found evidence of the US having "staged" the chemical weapons attack in Syria. The evidence arises during a conversation between Col. Anthony J. "Jamie" MacDonald and Eugene "Gene" P. Furst discussing how intelligence contracts are funded. Gene breaks the conversation to say:
By the way, saw your latest success, my congratulations. Good job.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/syrian-activists-accuse-government-of-deadly-chemical-attack-near-damascus/2013/08/21/aea157e6-0a50-11e3-89fe-abb4a5067014_story.html

This is a link to the article on the chemical weapons attack. Jamie replies:

As you see I'm far from this now, but I know our guys did their best.

The second message of interest is from Jamie's wife Jennifer MacDonald to a Mary Shapiro. Speaking of the attack in Syria, she writes:

Tony comforted me. He said the kids weren't hurt, it was done for cameras.

Neither email exchange includes the word "staged", let alone "well staged". So the evidence released by an anti-American hacker does not say what the hacker says it does? Colour me shocked. Maybe something is hidden in one of the base64 sections that I haven't been able to open yet (this should help).

Both of the emails have alternate explanations that are just as believable and better fit Occam's razor by producing a less complicated story. For the first, they could be talking about intelligence gathering and/or building a story for the media. For the second, Tony lied to his wife to make her feel better and to shut her up. We need more evidence to say that anything has been proven either way.

Could the attack have been staged? Faking atrocities is a standard Muslim Brotherhood tactic. The Brotherhood in Syria has gone above this and held up their own Christian and Shiite massacre victims as Sunni victims of the Syrian secularists. (Examples: the Houla massacre and the Zayn al-Abidin Mosque bombing.) The Serbians claimed the Brotherhood was doing this back in Bosnia, with rumours of Serbian exiles recognizing their family members as the victims in the TV news reports of Serbian massacres of Bosnian Muslims. I didn't believe it at the time, but I'm starting to think they deserved a closer look.

Pretending that 1,400 people died in a nerve gas attack is more difficult to do. A real attack of that size would produce hospital and morgue records, graves, many families with missing members across all age groups (not only military-age males gone off to camp), many survivors suffering permanent brain damage, etc. All of this would need to be falsified. This would not be impossible, but it would be difficult and unlikely to hold up to scrutiny. Syria is a place where it would be difficult for that scrutiny to meet the evidence, and Middle East diplomacy is an area where honest scrutiny is in short supply.

My thoughts: as opposed to last time, I have no information. It sure looks like an attack took place and signs point to Syrian regime responsibility, but these signs all come from the pro-war media. As for whether this justifies a war (if true), the question is more complicated than it seems. Syria can claim that a chemical weapons attack is justified by the previous use of chemical weapons and acts of genocide by the Muslim Brotherhood.

From the rumour mill:

  • A report from Yahya Ababneh blames the attack on the Saudis, allegedly citing locals from the area. There are enough details to warrant scrutiny, repeat as above. Knowing nothing, it's just as easy to say he might have been rolled by Syrian/Iranian disinformation.
  • There was a report that the NSA had intercepted Syrian central command asking its officers in the field who the hell had ordered them to use chemical weapons. I can't find the link.
  • There are reports on right-wing blogs that Israeli intelligence intercepted Bashir Assad personally ordering the attack. That would seal it if true, but their sources are news articles that refer to Assad as a figurehead in describing the attack as being conducted by his forces.

Update: The rumour mill churned out a new one. In two articles, Yossef Bodansky is calling the attack a false flag done by the Muslim Brotherhood. His claims are:

  • A week before the attack, US, Turkish, and Qatari intelligence discussed an upcoming "war-changing development". Immediately following the attack, they would provide Muslim Brotherhood forces in the north of Syria with 400-1000 tons of weapons and ammunition.
  • A few days before the attack, US and Jordanian intelligence sent a small army of 650 men into Syria from Jordan where they got bogged down and started begging for American air support.
  • Two days before the attack, the local Muslim Brotherhood forces in al-Ghutah defected and appeared on state TV calling for the people to support Assad.
  • After the attack, Syrian forces raided Jobar and found precursor chemicals for producing sarin along with gas masks and laboratory equipment.

I haven't made up my mind about Bodansky. He says a lot of things that cannot be verified from publicly available information, but that cannot be discredited either. He was certainly in a position to know such things twenty years ago when he was head of the Republican congressional delegation's task force on terrorism, and there's a good chance that he made enough connections to still be in a position to know these things.

The WSJ reports that the CIA has been refusing to arm the "Free Syrian Army" "rebels" because they're fucking al-Qaeda. If Bodansky is correct about the arms shipments beginning after the attack, then the WSJ's information is old and it shows that somebody ordered the floodgates be opened over the CIA's objections.


Update #2: Via [personal profile] mindstalk, German intelligence intercepted a phone call where a Hezbollah commander informed an Iranian contact that Assad had personally ordered the attack. The US claims to have a separate intercept of "a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21".


Update #3: Pierre Piccin da Prata claims he overheard Free Syrian Army soldiers taking responsibility for the attack while he was being held for ransom at a FSA base. He says he cannot release any more details of what he heard until a second witness, Domenico Quirico of La Stampa, goes through the "magistrate" in Italy, which sounds suspicious.

Side note: I find it interesting that Quirico was captured and held for ransom by the FSA almost immediately upon entering Syria under FSA protection, after he had previously been captured and released by anti-Ghadafi forces in Libya. It's almost as if the same people are calling the shots in both wars, and that payment of a ransom, bribe, or blackmail will result in a repeat of the demand. Who could have imagined? On a darker note, I wonder if certain people in Europe are arranging for their own underlings to get captured as a mechanism to justify funding al-Qaeda through ransom money, or if they're too dumb to understand what they're doing in paying the ransoms. It has the same effect.


Update #4: Signs point to Syrian responsibility in al-Ghutah gas attack

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