Members of Turkey's opposition Republican People's Party have accused the Turkish state of responsibility for the Ghuta gas attack, claiming to have wiretaps proving that the sarin and its delivery system were produced or acquired by the Turkish Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation.

The notion that "we found no WMDs in Iraq" was Pentagon propaganda. We found over 5,000 chemical warheads, most from before 1991. Why would the Pentagon cover this up? Who made the decision, who followed the decision, and for what reasons?

The author, John Paul Williams, has no previous history at the New York Times and I cannot find a journalist with that name. This makes me wonder if this is a pseudonym and/or if he is a spook or a Pentagon officer himself. [EDIT]: Tang can't read. Williams is apparently the photographer credit on an image that isn't showing up in my browser. The author is C.J. Chivers.

Seymour Hersh has a new article on the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Summary of key points:

  • The Muslim Brotherhood's Al-Nusra group has had a sarin production program supported by Saudi and Turkish suppliers.
    • By the spring of 2013, Turkey's military intelligence and state police were directly involved in the Muslim Brotherhood's sarin production program.
    • The US Defense Intelligence Agency produced a report on al-Nusra's sarin production on June 20, 2013. An earlier Hersh report names DIA deputy director David R. Shedd as a recipient of the report.
      • The DIA firmly and clearly denies that this report exists.
        • Hersh quotes from the report.
    • The DIA produced a daily situational report on Syria titled "SYRUP" that used to include information on activities related to chemical weapons production.
      • According to "a former senior Defense Department official" White House chief of staff Denis McDonough "severely curtailed" the distribution of information on chemical warfare after reading a SYRUP report on the use of chemical weapons in March and April 2013.
  • A "person with knowledge of the UN’s activities" reported that United Nations investigators found that Muslim Brotherhood forces were responsible for the the March 19 sarin attack near Aleppo (mentioned earlier), but were under a mandate not to assign blame and the news did not get out because it was not what their sponsors wanted to hear.
    • Two sources report that by the time of a May 2013 meeting with President Erdogan and Hakim Fidan, President Obama knew that a chemical weapons attack was a false flag and that Turkish intelligence was involved.
  • British analysts at Porton Down found that the sarin used in the August 21 attack on al-Ghutah (mentioned earlier and earlier) did not match any sarin in Syrian stores.
    • President Obama had ordered a large-scale airstrike on Syria in retaliation for the attack, and he cancelled the order when the information came in from Porton Down. Britain and France had planned to participate in the airstrike.
    • "a former senior US intelligence official" claims to "know" that "some in the Turkish government" called for a false flag chemical weapons attack to push the US further into war against Syria.
    • A US intelligence report in late July or early August predicted that Turkey was likely to do something to instigate a US attack on Syria.
    • According to "the former intelligence official", "intercepts and other data related to the 21 August attacks" confirmed that Turkey was responsible for the attack.
      • These intercepts were blocked from reaching the White House.
  • The US funneled arms to Muslim Brotherhood / al-Qaeda forces through Libya.
    • The Senate Intelligence Committee report on Benghazi includes a "highly classified" annex mentioning an agreement between Presidents Obama and Erdogan to arm MB/AQ forces in Syria.
    • Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar provided the funding.
    • "The operation was run by David Petraeus."
    • "The involvement of MI6 enabled the CIA to evade the law by classifying the mission as a liaison operation."
    • "The [Benghazi] consulate’s only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms".
    • The same "former intelligence official" is the source of all of this information.

In my opinion, there is way too much reliance on one anonymous "former senior US intelligence official" but it all has an air of believability. There are also signs of counterintelligence problems with apparently multiple people shutting off the flow of information about Muslim Brotherhood sarin production.

I wonder if this guy from a few days ago got an advance copy of the Hersh report.

Edit: The National Security Council denies the story, calling the former intelligence official's claims "completely fabricated".

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.

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

News item: Israel accuses Syria of using chemical weapons. Quote:

American intelligence agencies had yet to uncover convincing evidence that an attack on March 19, and smaller subsequent attacks, used sarin gas ... General Brun’s statements were the most definitive to date by an Israeli official regarding evidence of possible chemical weapons attacks on March 19 near Aleppo, Syria, and Damascus, the capital. Another military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the evidence had been presented to the Obama administration but that it had not fully accepted the analysis.

What happened on March 19?

A Reuters photographer said victims he had visited in Aleppo hospitals were suffering breathing problems and that people had said they could smell chlorine after the attack ... He quoted victims at the University of Aleppo hospital and the al-Rajaa hospital as saying people were dying in the streets and in their houses

According to Google Earth, both hospitals are in the Syrian-controlled part of Aleppo, a divided city. This means the victims likely came from the Syrian-controlled part of Aleppo, meaning that the Syrian-controlled zone was the target of the attack. This naturally means that the attack came from the other side.

So let's imagine some possibilities for why the Israelis are coming with this Colin Powell-quality information:

1. They have better intel than me.

We always have to consider this possibility.

If the Israeli report is false, this leaves us with other possibilities:

2. They really, really want to get rid of Assad

In this scenario, Israel's leaders gave the order that toppling the Assad regime would be their strategic objective and they haven't yet noticed that the alternative is worse. It's a simple case of wartime deception to get an ally to accomplish their objective for them.

3. They're following American orders

In this scenario, it is elements in the US government that want to remove Assad while Israel's leadership still thinks the Americans are on their side and will do whatever the Americans tell them to. The Americans tell them to launder this information and send it to the rest of the American leadership that is not yet on board with the plan. It's a complicated case of wartime deception, but not unprecedented. I remember hearing rumours of Rumsfeld planting stories about Iraq in the English and Canadian press so that the planted information would eventually reach politicians who were not yet in favour of the war, to get around a law against propagandizing the US public.

That's a short list of scenarios but it's all I can think of at the moment.

News item: The Syrian rebels named US technology executive Ghassan Hitto as their leader.

Meta-news item: "So far, U.S. media has completely failed to identify any of these [Muslim Brotherhood leadership] positions held by Mr. Hitto who has now become the fourth U.S. Muslim Brotherhood figure to be identified as part of the Syrian National Council." Read more... )

As a side note, Syria and the "rebels" are trading accusations of using chemical weapons on Aleppo. Reuters says that the victims were treated at two specific hospitals. These hospitals are in the western part of Aleppo that is still under Assad's control. In other words, the victims were Assad's people.

Assad is not going to risk being caught firing on his own supporters. He needs all the help he can get, and anybody who would believe the state media is already with him. The attack was almost certainly done by the "rebels".

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