Before believing the new Syria sarin attack story, ask if the 2013 story was true

Summary: Stratfor gives the standard story about Trump’s attack on Syria. But we were told similar confident stories about al-Assad in 2013, which slowly eroded away (until resurfacing now as needed, shiney as new). Given the US government’s history of lying about such things, extreme skepticism is warranted. Here is the Stratfor report, followed by lost news about the 2013 attack. Read and decide if you believe.


“The U.S. Strikes a Syrian Air Base”

Stratfor, 7 April 2017.

The United States has opted to send a message to the Syrian government that it will not tolerate chemical weapons attacks. Washington launched approximately 50-70 precision-guided missiles April 6 at the Shayrat air base. The base, located southeast of Homs city, houses the two squadrons of Syria’s Su-22 ground attack aircraft that carried out the April 4 attack in northern Syria — an attack that killed at least 88 civilians.

U.S. President Donald Trump said the targeted strikes were in the “vital national security interest” of the United States. He gave the statement at Mar-a-Lago, where he is meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson later said in a statement that Russia failed in its 2013 promise to dispose of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons, saying that Moscow was either incompetent or complicit. Syrian state media responded to the U.S. strikes, called them an act of aggression.

The decision to strike only one air base signals that the attack is merely a warning and not intended to be the opening salvo in a major intervention. Moreover, that the U.S. missiles targeted the air base, rather than Syrian surface-to-air missile sites, indicates the strikes were not preparation for larger fixed-wing airstrikes.

But the question now is how Syria will respond. Loyalist forces could, for example, start interfering with U.S. operations in the country. The situation was already tense, but now U.S. pilots operating in the area will have to be alert to potential reprisal. The risk of miscalculation, which was already present, is now even higher.

Russia’s response will also be important to watch. Though Russian forces are operating in Syria, they are not known to have a significant presence at the base that was targeted. Washington said it warned Moscow of the strike beforehand, but Russian media denied that claim. Either way, in the event there were Russian troops at the base, they would have left the area, recognizing that it was an obvious target.

The U.S. Strikes a Syrian Air Base” is republished with permission of Stratfor.


About those claims of chemical attacks by the Syrian government

We have seen a similar story before, in 2013. Confident claims by a US President that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons on a town. The claims unraveled, but that was “undernews” — seldom mentioned by the major news media, and almost never systematically covered. Here are fragments of the story about the 2013 attack in Syria. I suspect that in five years we will have similar fragments of rebuttal to stories about the 2017 attack.

Evidence of Nerve Gas in Aleppo Deaths” by ABC News, 17 April 2013 — Excerpt…

“The British Foreign Security William Hague mentioned in the House of Commons on Monday that they had very strong evidence that chemical weapons were being used in Syria. ‘On Sunday, we saw a number of reports that those three people were killed in Aleppo. We were sent a load of photos, a load of stuff. The symptoms that were described would be similar to nerve agent poisoning, and the use of atropine would have been an effective method to treat these people.’

He said that though certainty was impossible, the likely answer was that improvised chemical weapons had been used, and that they are possibly being used by both sides — ‘by the regime to show that the opposition are using chemical weapons, and by the opposition to show that the regime is using them. Obviously if the regime is using them, then a red line is crossed and things are changed.'”

U.N. has testimony that Syrian rebels used sarin gas: investigator” by Reuters, 5 May 2013 — “U.N. human rights investigators have gathered testimony from casualties of Syria’s civil war and medical staff indicating that rebel forces have used the nerve agent sarin, one of the lead investigators said on Sunday.”

Syrian Military seizes Sarin Gas from ‘rebels’“ by Christof Lehmann at NSNBC, 2 June 2013 — The Syrian Arab News Agency SANA reports that the Syrian Army has seized two containers with Sarin nerve gas. The seizure of the banned chemical followed the recent seizure of two cylinders with Sarin from 12 members of the Jabhat al-Nusrah front by Turkish law-enforcement officers. The evidence trail may lead to Saudi-Arabia and Malaysia. Russia and Syria continue demanding full and independent investigations.”

Whose sarin?” by Seymour Hersh at the London Review of Books, 19 December 2013 — His opening…

“Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack.

“In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.”

Possible Implications of Faulty US Technical Intelligence in the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013” by Richard Lloyd and Theodore A. Postol of the MIT Science, Technology, and
Global Security Working Group, 14 January 2014. Summary…

“The Syrian improvised chemical munitions that were used in the August 21 nerve agent attack in Damascus have a range of about 2 kilometers. The UN Independent Assessment of the range of the chemical munition is in exact agreement with our findings. This indicates that these munitions could not possibly have been fired at East Ghouta from the “heart”, or from the eastern edge, of the Syrian government controlled area shown in the intelligence map published by the White House on August 30, 2013. This mistaken intelligence could have led to an unjustified US military action based on false intelligence. A proper vetting of the fact that the munition was of such short range would have led to a completely different assessment of the situation from the gathered data.”

The Red Line and the Rat Line” by Seymour Hersh at the London Review of Books, 17 April 2014 — About “Obama, Erdoğan and the Syrian rebels.” His opening…

“Last August, after the sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, he was ready to launch an allied air strike, this time to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the ‘red line’ he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons.​ Then with less than two days to go before the planned strike, he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention. The strike was postponed as Congress prepared for hearings, and subsequently cancelled when Obama accepted Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical arsenal in a deal brokered by Russia.

“Why did Obama delay and then relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? The answer lies in a clash between those in the administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.

“Obama’s change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal.

“The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.”

Gov’t rejects probe into Turkey’s role in Syrian chemical attack“, Today’s Zaman (Turkish newspaper),  21 October 2015. “Two deputies from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) have claimed that the government is against investigating Turkey’s role in sending toxic sarin gas which was used in an attack on civilians in Syria in 2013 and in which over 1,300 Syrians were killed.”

About this recent gas attack in Syria (includes updates)

(1) Important: BBC interview of Peter Ford, former UK ambassador to Syria, on 7 April 2017 — Excerpt…

“There is no proof that the cause of the explosion was what they said it was.  Remember what happened in Iraq. …I’ve seen testimony alleged from witnesses who said they saw chemical bombs dropping from the air.  Well, you can not see chemical weapons dropping from the air.  Such testimony is worthless. …But think about the consequences because this is not likely to be the end of it. It doesn’t make sense that Assad would do it.  Let’s not leave our brains outside the door when we examine evidence.  It would be totally self-defeating as shown by the results. …Assad is not mad. …Trump has just given jiahdis a thousand reasons to stage false flag attacks.”


(2) Transcript of the White House press briefing presenting evidence about the gas attack. Here is the “intelligence report” released by anonymous “Senior Administration Officials” (on plain paper, no letterhead, nothing about its source).

(3) Moon of Alabama posted a trenchant analysis of the “report”.

“Even a fast tracked, preliminary National Intelligence Assessment, for which all seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies must be heard, takes at least two to three weeks to create. A “long track” full assessment takes two month or more. These are official documents issued by the Director of National Intelligence. The summary assessment the White House releases has no such heritage. It is likely a well massaged fast write up of some flunky in the National Security Council.”

(4) Also see the 14 page analysis of the White House “intelligence report” by Theodore Postol (Professor Emeritus at MIT, see Wikipedia).

(5)  Chuck Spinney explains why both parties love the Syria poison gas story.

A reminder about our track record of helping in the Middle East

Leaving chaos behind, with jihadist in controls. Will Syria join Iraq and Libya (and Afghanistan, whose secular government we helped overthrow in the 1980s).

Destabilizing the Middle East

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“Wagging the tail” in Syria

The Spoils of War: Trump Lavished With Media and Bipartisan Praise For Bombing Syria” by Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept.

The media loved Trump’s show of military might. Are we really doing this again?” Margaret Sullivan at the WaPo.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Also see all posts about Syria, and especially these …

Hillary’s reaction to Trump’s attack on Syria

Hillary: I wanted to bomb Syria

8 thoughts on “Before believing the new Syria sarin attack story, ask if the 2013 story was true”

  1. Ridiculous! Why did Syria pretend to give up all their poison gas weapons if they didn’t use them? Jim Macdonald

  2. Were all those people and children on the news suffering and dying of the gas attack fake??

  3. Excellent. Skepticism is always appropriate in these things. The referral back to 2013 is a good summary; a few were quite new also. And the irony of the cartoon and caption with Ms. Clinton is perfect for these Times.

    Thank goodness some body or some few are openly repudiating or at least noting the incessant Media propaganda on both these Sarin events. Can we just wait awhile? Allow investigations to ensue? Obviously not….the pundits must spin and 24 Hours, everyday, while the theme is hot. America is finally Great Again for many of these.

  4. Dear Fabius and all,

    First, I am almost embarrassed how much I laughed (still laughing, still crying) at the But *I* wanted to bomb Syria pic. Thank you.

    My only nit (only a nit) with the Stratfor analysis is asserting:

    The decision to strike only one air base signals that the attack is merely a warning and not intended to be the opening salvo in a major intervention.

    While I think this is the proper interpretation, my confidence is only middling. I may be pedantic, but I would have thrown a “seems” or other modifier in there. I have not been overawed by radical competence in the current (or former (or former (rinse lather repeat))) administration.

    I am most definitely *not* a conspiracy theorist. It’s hard enough to throw a surprise birthday party without someone spilling the beans, much less orchestrate a global cabal that folks like Sy Hersh won’t smoke eventually. But, what I have not heard, and I have dug into (dadgummit), is what was the tactical or strategic objective of the /chemical/ attack in the first place? Why drop sarin on a bunch of kids? Why not just whack them with 500 pounders? Or 7.62? I don’t mean to make light of their deaths but rather ask why are the dead at all and why with sarin?

    Second, sarin is not nuclear technology. A crazy ass Christian death cult used sarin to kill 10 people and injured a thousand or more in Japan in 1995. You don’t need to be a government to come into possession of chemical weapons. That was kind of the point. Cheaper than bullets. Fling the rotting cow over the wall with a trebuchet.

    It’s a gift to the Trump administration because they have now put the whole world on notice that they’ll punch at a (geopolitically) slight provocation. What does the task force steaming toward North Korea now mean?

    I get why the administration did what they did. Free beer. I don’t understand why Assad would do this. It doesn’t add up.


    1. Bill,

      I agree that much of this doesn’t makes sense, and attempting to discern a coherent strategy in Trump’s decisions is like building a wall with jello. But we’re strange times, a transitional era when the rules change.

      My guess (emphasis on guess) is that it is best to focus on observations — attempting to see actions — rather than guess at motives and goals. Observation is difficult enough since we can see only darkly thu the media lens.

    2. > I don’t understand why Assad would do this. It doesn’t add up.

      So my view would be this. Assad is already up shit creek from a war crimes perspective. He has absolutely nothing to lose. The Russians will continue to back him and obfuscate anything he does, because he’s currently the means to their wider goal of political influence in the region and they don’t care who get trodden on in the process.

      If you ignore the utterly unexpected Trump reaction everything seems to add up pretty well.

      What Assad would have *expected* based on previous performance would have been general condemnation, a fuss diplomatically, UN motions vetoed by Russia and China, mutterings about war crimes and trials and, after a couple of weeks, f**k all else because the world will have moved on. We got all of that.

      It was a toe in the water to see what could be got away with. After all, better to gas the opposition than to have to send in ground troops, and it’s clear that time is of the essence if he’s not to risk parts of Syria being annexed. The barrel bombs and chlorine have worked well, and he clearly has absolutely no regard for anyone in areas that have tried to resist him. The US are the only power capable of raining on his parade and they’ve shown no willingness to do anything post 2013 (regardless of what really happened).

      Really, on that basis, how could he lose. Trump, cruise missiles, who knew?

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