the home of online investigations

Will Get Fooled Again – Seymour Hersh, Welt, and the Khan Sheikhoun Chemical Attack

June 25, 2017

By Eliot Higgins

Translations: Русский

On June 25th 2017 the German newspaper, Welt, published the latest piece by Seymour Hersh, countering the “mainstream” narrative around the April 4th 2017 Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack in Syria. The attack, where Sarin was allegedly used against the local population, dropped in a bomb by the Syrian Air Force, resulted in President Trump taking the decision to launch cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase.

As with his other recent articles, Hersh presented another version of events, claiming the established narrative was wrong. And, as with those other recent articles, Hersh based his case on a tiny number of anonymous sources, presented no other evidence to support his case, and ignored or dismissed evidence that countered the alternative narrative he was trying to build.

This isn’t the first chemical attack in Syria which Hersh has presented a counter-narrative for, based on a handful of anonymous sources. In his lengthy articles for the London Review of Books, “Whose sarin?” and “The Red Line and the Rat Line”, Hersh made the case that the August 21st 2013 Sarin attack in Damascus was in fact a false flag attack intended to draw the US into the conflict with Syria. This claim fell apart under real scrutiny, and relied heavily on ignoring much of the evidence around the attacks, an ignorance of the complexities of producing and transporting Sarin, and a lack of understanding about facts firmly established about the attacks.

With Hersh’s latest article, this pattern of behaviour is repeated. The vast majority of the article appears to be based on an anonymous source, described as “a senior adviser to the American intelligence community, who has served in senior positions in the Defense Department and Central Intelligence Agency”. As with his earlier articles, details of the attack as described by his source flies in the face of all other evidence presented by a range of other sources.

So what scenario does Hersh’s source describe, and how does this contradict other claims? Hersh claims that “Syrians had targeted a jihadist meeting site on April 4 using a Russian-supplied guided bomb equipped with conventional explosives”, and this attack resulted in the release of chemicals, including chlorine, but not Sarin, that produced the mass casualty event seen on April 4th. Hersh’s source is able to provide a great deal of information about the target, claiming intel on the location was shared with the Americans ahead of the attack.

Hersh’s source describes the building as a “two-story cinder-block building in the northern part of town”, with a basement containing “rockets, weapons and ammunition, as well as products that could be distributed for free to the community, among them medicines and chlorine-based decontaminants for cleansing the bodies of the dead before burial”. According to Hersh’s source, the floor above was “an established meeting place” and “a long-time facility that would have had security, weapons, communications, files and a map center.”

The source goes on to claim that Russia had been watching the location carefully, establishing its use as a Jihadi meeting place, and watching the location with a “drone for days”, confirming its use and the activity around the building. According to the source the target was then hit at 6:55am on April 4th, and a Bomb Damage Assessment by the US military determined that a Syrian 500lb bomb “triggered  a series of secondary explosions that could have generated a huge toxic cloud that began to spread over the town, formed by the release of the fertilizers, disinfectants and other goods stored in the basement, its effect magnified by the dense morning air, which trapped the fumes close to the ground.”

At this point it’s worth taking a look at the claims the Syrian and Russian governments made in response to accusations that Syria had dropped Sarin on Khan Sheikhoun. Walid Muallem, Syria’s Foreign Minister, stated in a press conference two days after the attack that the first air raid was conducted at 11:30am local time, attacking “an arms depot belonging to al-Nusra Front chemical weapons”. It was noted by observers at the time the time of the claimed attack was hours after the first reports of casualties came in, and both contradicts the 6:55am stated by Hersh’s source, and the slightly earlier time provided by the Pentagon, approximately between 6:37am and 6:46am local time. Not only that, but the Syrian Foreign Minister also described the target as a chemical weapons arm depot, not a meeting place that stored other items in the basement.

The Pentagon’s map of the flight path of the aircraft that attacked Khan Sheikhoun

Russia also published their own claims about the attack. Sputnik reported the following:

“According to Konashenkov, on Tuesday “from 11.30 to 12.30, local time, [8.30 to 9.30 GMT] Syrian aircraft conducted an airstrike in the eastern outskirts of Khan Shaykhun on a large warehouse of ammunition of terrorists and the mass of military equipment”.

Konashenkov said that from this warehouse, chemical weapons’ ammunition was delivered to Iraq by militants.

Konashenkov added that there were workshops for manufacturing bombs, stuffed with poisonous substances, on the territory of this warehouse. He noted that these munitions with toxic substances were also used by militants in Syria’s Aleppo.”

These claims are consistent with the claims of their Syrian ally, but not the claims made by Hersh and his source. In the face of allegations of chemical weapon use neither Russia nor Syria mention targeting “a jihadist meeting site”, and described the location as a “large warehouse” on the “eastern outskirts of Khan Shaykhun”, not a “two-story cinder-block building in the northern part of town” with “security, weapons, communications, files and a map center.” In fact, the only thing Hersh’s account and the Russian and Syria account agrees on is it was a Syrian aircraft which conducted the attack.

In addition to this, neither Syria nor Russia presented any evidence to support their claim. If, as Hersh claims, Russia had been observing the site with a “drone for days” then they would not only have the precise location of the site, but footage of the site. However, both Syria and Russia have failed to make any imagery of the site public, nor have they provided any specific details about the location of the site. If they had, it would be possible to easily check if the location had been bombed on Terraserver, which has satellite imagery of Khan Sheikhoun before and after the date of attack. In common with Russia and Syria, Hersh’s source seems unable to provide the exact location of the attack, despite his apparent in depth knowledge of the attack.

Ignoring the fact that the version of events presented by Hersh runs counter to narratives produced by all sides, the claims around the chemical exposure are also worth examining. Hersh refers to “a Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) by the U.S. military” of the strike, which he provides no source for, which supposedly states “a series of secondary explosions that could have generated a huge toxic cloud that began to spread over the town, formed by the release of the fertilizers, disinfectants and other goods stored in the basement”. He describes the symptoms seen in victims as “consistent with the release of a mixture of chemicals, including chlorine and the organophosphates used in many fertilizers, which can cause neurotoxic effects similar to those of sarin.” Here it is worth pointing out that organophosphates are used as pesticides, not fertilizers, and it’s unclear if this error is from Hersh himself or his anonymous source. This is not the only factual error in the report, with Hersh stating an SU-24 was used in the attack, not an SU-22 as claimed by every other source, including the US government.

Despite Hersh’s apparent belief Sarin was not used in the attack, other sources disagree, not least the OPCW, tasked to investigate the attack. On April 19th 2017 the OPCW published a statement by Director-General, Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü describing the results of the analysis of samples taken from victims of the attack, both living and dead, stating:

“The results of these analyses from four OPCW designated laboratories indicate exposure to Sarin or a Sarin-like substance. While further details of the laboratory analyses will follow, the analytical results already obtained are incontrovertible.”

A later report from the OPCW, dated May 19th, provided further analysis of samples from the site, including dead animals recovered from the site, and environmental samples. Signs of Sarin or Sarin-like substances were detected in many samples, as well as Sarin degradation products, and at least two samples which state Sarin itself was detected.

Annex 3 of the May 19th OPCW report

These results are also consistent with intelligence published by the French government, which describes the following:

“The analyses carried out by French experts on the environmental samples collected at one of the impact points of the chemical attack at Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017 reveal the presence of sarin, of a specific secondary product (diisopropyl methylphosphonate – DIMP) formed during synthesis of sarin from isopropanol and DF (methylphosphonyl difluoride), and hexamine. Analysis of biomedical samples also shows that a victim of the Khan Sheikhoun attack, a sample of whose blood was taken in Syria on the very day of the attack, was exposed to sarin.”

Based on this and other reports, multiple sources state Sarin was used in the attack, despite Hersh’s narrative of an accidental chemical release. The fact Hersh does not refer to any of these reports seems to, at best, overlook key information about the nature of the attack, and at worst, purposely ignores information that contradicts the narrative he’s attempting to build.

Going back to the attack site, this ignoring or ignorance of contradictory information is also apparent. Open source material from the day of the attack, as well as satellite imagery analysis by various sources (including this excellent piece by the New York Times) consistently point to the same impact sites, one of which is the specific crater claimed to be the source of Sarin released on the day of the attack. None of these point to the structure described by Hersh, nor is there any evidence of a site as described by Hersh being attacked. Journalists visited the town soon after the attack, and made no mention of the site as described by Hersh.

One might argue that all the individuals and groups on the ground, all the doctors treating the victims, and every single person spoken to by the journalists visiting the site failed to mention the site described by Hersh, but there’s a very simple way to clear up this matter. Anyone can access satellite imagery of the town before and after the date of the attack thanks to the imagery available on Terraserver, all Hersh’s source has to do is provide the coordinates of the building attacked and anyone with an internet connection will be able to look at that exact location, and see the destroyed building. A simple way for both Hersh and Welt to preserve their reputations.

Eliot Higgins

Eliot Higgins is the founder of Bellingcat and the Brown Moses Blog. Eliot focuses on the weapons used in the conflict in Syria, and open source investigation tools and techniques.

Join the Bellingcat Mailing List:

Enter your email address to receive a weekly digest of Bellingcat posts, links to open source research articles, and more.

Support Bellingcat

You can support the work of Bellingcat by donating through the below link:

232 Comments

  1. Adam Larson

    “Syria’s Foreign Minister, stated in a press conference two days after the attack that the first air raid was conducted at 8:30am local time, attacking “an arms depot belonging to al-Nusra Front chemical weapons”.”

    This adds a third time to the mix. The Syrian claim otherwise is their first bombing of the day was around noon, not 8:30. I couldn’t easily find the spot in this long video, but in this condensed version I did:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIzOQubPQdg
    @ 2:40 he’s translated (by the same man, it sounds like) as saying the first strike was at 11:30 am, not 8:30, and he describes it the same way. I’m for leaving the counter-claim time as 11:30, with no alternate times given.

    This is even later and can’t explain events around 7am, so the point is the same; the Syrians are altering the time, or they’re talking about something else, and flatly deny any strikes at this time. And there were strikes or blasts captured on video around noon by sunlight, including at the White Helmets cave hospital (Al-Rahma?). That’s where poisoned people seem to have just appeared at earlier, with no rescue or in situ videos for any of them. Syria may be claiming it had chemical weapons on hand.

    Reply
    • Daniel

      11:30 is almost highnoon the sun directly over head, but the video of that day shows the shadows to be shortly after 08:30 do you concur?

      Reply
      • Adam Larson

        This video is filmed right around 6:45-7 am, the attack time. Syria denies any strikes then, and none of the plumes is from a facility east of town as described. The cave hospital is on the eastern outskirts, and has an airstike caught on video at about noon.
        Intact outbuilding near noon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9fWxtN6DQ8&list=PL5WYCTqm6QUGaL8lVAHpsNd3K-SEmizuf&index=11
        Strike and fresh damage there after: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yLmSJ_X6tk&index=14&list=PL5WYCTqm6QUGaL8lVAHpsNd3K-SEmizuf
        So that’s two scenes, one matching the Russia-Syria description, and it’s hours too late to explain the morning’s events. And it apparently didn’t release any toxic gas at noon either; videos are filmed from on-site and there’s no sign like people showing any effects.

        Possibly there’s another spot on the east edge of town also hit at noon that released a gas, but if so it’s totally unseen. So I’m taking the “Russian version” as a very bad guess by whoever, thinking the videos could’ve been filmed at noon, or some kind of blunder. Really, Syria denies any AM strike, and likely didn’t release any gas at any time that day, on purpose or accident, because someone else did instead.

        Reply
  2. Adam Larson

    Ok, my main comment: I have to agree Hersh’s source doesn’t have a coherent story that fits the evidence. It feels sort of guessed, or like limited hangout, with obvious limits on its coherency. The rest of his account could be accurate, but with this random accident at the wrong time story at its center… not so good.

    Russian version(s), Syrian version, Postol analysis, Hersh analysis: all inadequate to explain the events.

    A Closer Look On Syria analysis: also lacking in refinement, but on the best track.

    My theory if not the ACLOS one: There was a recon flight arcing around the town from 6:37 to 6:46. Somehow tipped off about this, terrorists launched three FAE rockets on the town (two came from the north) at the same time, and set some kind of smoke machines running in at least two spots, and perhaps 3 or 4 spots. This coated the town with a foul-smelling caustic gas to mimic dirty sarin,
    like Syrian forces allegedly used in Ghouta, etc. And they got their activists swearing it all came from the jet that flew right over the town and dropped a single sarin bomb straight down, and they gathered up perhaps 103 hostages they had gassed in probably a few different spots (perhaps including al-Rahma hospital). Sarin isn’t suggested with any of the seen victims, but we haven’t seen them all, and the Turks swear sarin turned among some brought there, so likely it was involved with some of the deaths. Hersh is right to point out the mix of signs that fits so poorly with a regime sarin attack claim.

    But the opposition version accepted in Washington, London, Riyadh, and here has its own problems. This is just one example, but my favorite:
    “Open source material from the day of the attack, as well as satellite imagery analysis by various sources … consistently point to the same impact sites, one of which is the specific crater claimed to be the source of Sarin released on the day of the attack.”

    There’s a big problem with this claim, as you probably know. The opposition cite the crater by the bakery as THE release point. They show us homes affected only a certain path to the southwest from there. And they show us a number of videos that consistently show a wind blowing to the northeast. So how can the sarin travel exactly upwind to kill in the reported area? This is their release point, their dead people area, and their wind, and it does the exact opposite of line-up. I suspect they got an accurate wind reading like what we observe, and then read it backwards (pulled a Postol), mapping their deaths perfectly upwind. Because this was a special case they wanted to get just right.

    wind direction – careful analysis explained here: http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2017/05/4-4-17-wind-direction-explainer.html
    What can be wrong with this? Timmi Allen’s effort to show a contrary wind at ground level is already addressed there. Can anyone else show how this all lines up?

    Reply
    • DDTea

      “Sarin isn’t suggested with any of the seen victims.”

      I beg to differ. Video footage of victims showed visible symptoms (miosis, hyperaemia, mouth foaming, labored/noisy breathing from bronchorrhea, flaccid paralysis, postictal states) that, when taken together, strongly suggest poisoning by an anticholinesterase. Further chemical analyses by the OPCW lab confirmed the presence of Sarin and its metabolites in the bodies of both living and deceased patients. You can’t just look at this evidence and, with the wave of a hand, dismiss it.

      Regarding wind direction, which do you suppose has a larger influence on the initial shape of a plume of ~60-100 kg of Sarin: a variable 2 mph wind at ground level, or the 10 kg TNT bursting charge? The locations of highest population density around the blast site will be most heavily affected–regardless of wind direction.

      The timing of chemical attacks is chosen such that meteorological conditions permit the chemical linger at the target site as long as possible (i.e.: low wind speeds, inversion layer at its lowest altitude). Some of the discussion of wind direction almost seems like a caricature.

      Reply
      • Mr White

        video is worthless (produced by White Helmets/terrorists), lab analysis is worthless (no chain of custody, lab is owned by a party to the conflict).

        Reply
        • DDTea

          The lab is NOT owned by party to the conflict. It is operated by the UN with an international team, based in the Netherlands as well as 24 other partner labs globally. The lab was established by consensus of all parties to the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention.

          You keep bleating about the lack of chain of custody. Do you even know what chain of custody is and what is important to establishing it? Because as far as I can tell–and I’ve called you out multiple times since April–you have literally no idea what you’re talking about.

          Reply
          • Mr White

            neither the Turkish nor the French nor the British lab are operated by the UN.

          • Mr White

            chain of custody? samples need to be collected and sealed by OPCW and remain in the custody of OPCW right to the lab. not complicated.

          • DDTea

            “chain of custody? samples need to be collected and sealed by OPCW and remain in the custody of OPCW right to the lab. not complicated.”

            Not necessarily. Samples can be collected by a third party, sealed, assigned a unique identification code, and attached to a description of the sample time, its location, and initialed/signed by the person who collected it. It must also include a timeline of all relevant handling. This chain of custody is valid unless it has obvious holes in its timing.

          • stranger

            Your “third party” is either terrorists or a country which is an immediate side of the conflict which have already invaded Syria in the violation of all international laws.
            And in anyway answering the question was it zarin or not would not answer the major question who is behind the attack. I believe there is a manipulative substitution of the topic of discussion here.

          • Adam Larson

            FWIW, it’s possible that politics can interfere with the OPCW’s findings, or not. I’m agnostic, but being probably unable to prove any charge of tampering, I start presuming they have valid findings, and the questions are likely elsewhere, like how did sarin actually get in that person, etc. I highly doubt the OPCW folks can really know or verify the story the bodies come in attached to. Maybe they don’t even want to find out.

          • stranger

            OPCW can hardly deal with tampering. Even though they definitely are pushed by the commonly imposed narrative of the Syria government responsibility for the attack, including the huge diplomatic pressure of US to their allies by coalition in UN.
            But OPCW just don’t have enough information as all of us, and they are limited in actions they can take for the investigation. They have no power for example to organize a visit of guarantee safety when visiting the site of the attack. They just tell/are told “nobody can guarantee safety” so nobody would organize their visit to the site even (IF) they wanted to. While the politicians on whom it might depend are not interested in the investigation, since the guilty side is already assigned and all rash actions based of that scenario taken, that’s a worked out material for them.

          • DPR

            Sorry but the lab is owned by a party to the conflict. It was set up by opposition activists 5-6 months before any mention of chemical weapons in Syria. And the first real alarms on CW in Syria was when terrorists poisoned rabbits in Turkey in late 2012 and threatened to do this to anyone in Syria who supported Assad.

            And I will tell you what your chain of custody is. It was putting an official OPCW seal onto bags containing hair of dead goat, provided by Nusra and White Helmets terrorists from the Khan Sheikhoun town that is so terrifying the inspectors dare not enter.

            Russia and Syria called for inspections of the town and of Sharyat airbase but surprise, surprise no one was forthcoming.

            To believe that an organisation can come up with conclusive evidence tainted by not visiting the site, receiving information and evidence from a party with a vested interest and with no forensic toxicology is a total joke.

            Only those in denial, weeping that the scam is being exposed can against all odds argue against the fact the crater was not from a bomb dropped from above and that a bomb carrying Sarin would be different to what the terrorists claimed. And just to get it straight, Al-Qaeda, Nour al-din al-Zenki and Ahrar al-Sham are terrorists.

            Besides our friend Bellingcat knows the terrorists have CW. Matthew Van Dyk told him that long ago. He probably wont like hearing that, but oh well, that’s how it is. And no serious analyst denies the opposition groups have CW as well. The only ones who will are lying because they are paid to lie.

            And finally, if Bellingcat wasn’t tripping over his pants desperate to debunk he would have seen that Die Welt said they know who the sources are. I quote, “The paper was thus able to speak independently to the central source in the U.S.” Oh deary me, more haste, less accuracy.

          • DDTea

            @Mr White: Turkish lab? French lab? What are you talking about? Read the OPCW report. No mention is made of the specific location of the labs after the samples were split/distributed by the OPCW lab (which is located in the Hague). Samples were simply analyzed at “Designated laboratories.”
            It could be any one of the labs listed here: https://www.opcw.org/fileadmin/OPCW/S_series/2016/en/s-1369-2016_e_.pdf

            http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/N1714412.pdf

            @Adam Larson: You said, “I highly doubt the OPCW folks can really know or verify the story the bodies come in attached to. ”

            Except in the case of survivors, they had first hand testimony to go with biomedical samples that they observed being taken. Faking this is hard. Faking this dozens of times is impossible.

            @DPR: “And the first real alarms on CW in Syria was when terrorists poisoned rabbits in Turkey in late 2012 and threatened to do this to anyone in Syria who supported Assad.”

            I’ve seen that series of videos, and I’m rather sure the rabbit died from cyanide. Notice the blue color of the flask when the two chemicals are combined: that “Prussian blue” color is a strong giveaway of cyanide solutions. Also notice how the rabbit became agitated before losing consciousness. Compare its symptoms to other videos from US Army tests of rabbits being poisoned by nerve agent. The latter shows characteristic arched back not seen in the Syrian videos. Sorry, but rebel groups being able to produce cyanide in a ~1 liter scale is not the same as deploying dozens of kilograms of Sarin. It’s analogous to the difference between throwing a firecracker and launching a cruise missile.

      • Adam Larson

        Cool, approved and replies! To Bellingcat’s credit. DDTea:
        visible symptoms (miosis: many causes from bright lights to other poisons – hyperaemia: all red, no blue like some would be with sarin – mouth foaming: overrated symptom, many causes including basic lung damage like with chloine, and the foam looks more like milk/fake in some cases – labored/noisy breathing from bronchorrhea: suggests lung damage where real, more than sarin (that’s a different kind of labor, more like total paralysis, so ne foam even produced, or it’s less likely) flaccid paralysis, postictal states: sure, in some cases.

        But a lack of SLUDGE syndrome, strongly contradicts that half-ass package deal. Lack of profuse tears in those miotic green eyes, for example.

        ” Further chemical analyses by the OPCW lab confirmed the presence of Sarin and its metabolites in the bodies of both living and deceased patients.”
        Not likely the same ones who don’t look like sarin victims. I suspect they would fail the test and were never given it, and this is a majority of hose killed. But I’ll grant, apparently, in some others who were trucked up to Turkey, really were killed with “sarin or a sarin-like substance,” due perhaps to voluntary test vagueness.

        Regarding wind direction, which do you suppose has a larger influence on the initial shape of a plume of ~60-100 kg of Sarin: a variable 2 mph wind at ground level, or the 10 kg TNT bursting charge?”
        The charge, but regardless of that, what matters most is what way that initial shape then drifts. As Alaa al-Yousef said, his family was lucky: the wind blew the other direction. But it blew opposite of what the video shows, in their stories.
        “You can’t just look at this evidence and, with the wave of a hand, dismiss it.”

        Reply
        • DDTea

          You can come up with alternative explanations for any one of those symptoms individually, but that’s a lot less plausible if all of them occur simultaneously in multiple patients in a mass casualty event. If you’re a physician in a hospital during such an incident and you don’t think “nerve agent,” you’re incompetent.

          Because nerve agent is a far more likely explanation than that these patients were all miotic from the bright lights/other drugs, while foaming from lung injury (but not coughing and without bloody sputum), spasming on cue, and hyperaemic because they’d just been exercising (by the way: hyperaemia is different from, and has different causes than, the blue cyanosis you’re referring to).

          And since you accept MSF’s report that some victims smelled like chlorine, you surely must accept their other statement in that very report that, “Eight patients showed symptoms – including constricted pupils, muscle spasms and involuntary defecation – which are consistent with exposure to a neurotoxic agent such as sarin gas or similar compounds.”

          So you’ve got your S (Salivation), D (defecation), E (Emesis: a few victims reported vomiting [2] ). The G is hard to observe from video. But even if the observed symptoms do not neatly fit into this mnemonic, you’re failing to consider the timing of the onset of these symptoms. They don’t all occur simultaneously, immediately, continuously, or indefinitely. If you do not know this, then you have no excuse for yourself: you need to do more reading about nerve agent casualties.

          [1] http://www.msf.org/en/article/syria-khan-sheikhoun-victims-have-symptoms-consistent-exposure-chemical-substances
          [2]http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/05/khan-sheikhoun-attack-survivors-recall-horror-170503130351120.html

          Reply
          • Adam Larson

            “… if all of them occur simultaneously in multiple patients” and often separately. You can’t just combine varied symptoms, likely from varied poisons, into some kind of sarin that hit everyone but split up some of its effects, and failed to create others entirely.

            “…nerve agent is a far more likely explanation than that these patients were all miotic from the bright lights/other drugs…” But their eyes don’t water, so not likely … “while foaming from lung injury (but not coughing and without bloody sputum),” and foaming isn’t even a sarin symptom, except on TV (Homeland) and in Jihadist turf. Most foam cases, true, have no blood and maybe no coughing. They also tend to look fake.

            “…spasming on cue,” and hyperaemic because they’d just been exercising”
            Mostly I see it from the cold: stripped down, hosed off, in air cold enough you can see peoples’ breath – that will cause flushing.
            “(by the way: hyperaemia is different from, and has different causes than, the blue cyanosis you’re referring to).”
            Of course the cold won’t cause cyanosis as well. Sarin would do that, if it were present – not uniformly, but frequently, and we see perhaps zero cases. That’s evidence against sarin.

            MSF reports sarin and chlorine signs in different patients: with a grain of salt I’ll accept that. If both of those are true, we still see a majority with no sarin or chlorine signs (suggesting some other poison(s), like maybe phosgene), we have some exposed to chlorine, and some exposed to sarin. The allegation is Syria dropped sarin, not sarin plus chlorine plus at least one other poison. Multiple poisons used on different batches of people paints a very different picture, doesn’t it?

            “So you’ve got your S (Salivation), D (defecation), E (Emesis: a few victims reported vomiting [2] ). The G is hard to observe from video.”

            S unclear, L still missing, U missing, D alleged, G who knows, E, One case of vomiting seen in Shajul Islam’s clinic, at least and some reported you say (many causes). And there’s miosis. But mainly, what makes it undeniable to many … the opposition said it was all sarin from Assad, and we all hate Assad.

            “But even if the observed symptoms do not neatly fit into this mnemonic, you’re failing to consider the timing of the onset of these symptoms. They don’t all occur simultaneously, immediately, continuously, or indefinitely. If you do not know this, then you have no excuse for yourself: you need to do more reading about nerve agent casualties.”
            If I read more I can learn how quickly the effects set in with those people? Where is that written down? If sarin, the signs would develop and also pass pretty quickly. If they set in slow or go on and on, it’s likely something slower-acting. I don’t know the exact numbers, have nothing to compare them with anyway, and don’t know how long everyone’s crisis lasted.

            And this all being, for me, a side-point at the moment…

          • Adam Larson

            Okay, I could stand to read more, that’s true. And you could stand to acknowledge there’s no good answer to the wind problem. The opposition’s story has a badly broken axle there. I don’t expect you will agree to that, or that it would even mean much if you did (it’s apparently not your specialty area, if you think the dispersal charge is the main factor in a sarin cloud’s spread ).

            Maybe someone else could have a try?

          • DDTea

            ” You can’t just combine varied symptoms, likely from varied poisons, into some kind of sarin that hit everyone but split up some of its effects, and failed to create others entirely.”

            I have seen no evidence that chlorine was used. And as MSF stated, some victims “smelled” like chlorine. This could also be explained by patients being washed with bleach solution, as is common practice in decontaminating victims of chemical agents. We simply do not know. But none of the victims showed symptoms consistent with chlorine poisoning. That, and there have been dozens of chlorine attacks in Syria. None has caused so many deaths; in fact, deaths seldom result from chlorine.

            Phosgene is not a plausible explanation. It has a characteristic grassy smell that nobody reported; and its effects take hours to manifest. It does not cause loss of consciousness or neurological effects. Death occurs by pulmonary edema.

            ” You can’t just combine varied symptoms, likely from varied poisons, into some kind of sarin that hit everyone but split up some of its effects, and failed to create others entirely.”

            This is entirely possible. From the 2013 OPCW report into the Ghouta incident [1], where Sarin was confirmed to be present, the major symptoms of surviving victims were as follows (N = 36): loss of consciousness (78%); blurred vision (42%); disorientation (39%); Labored breathing/dyspnea (36%); eye irritation (22%); vomiting (22%); excessive salivation (22%); convulsions (19%); miosis (14%); coughing (11%); excessive lacrimation/tearing (8%); nausea (3%).

            From the Tokyo subway attack, another useful case study, the following symptoms were reported [2,3]: “dimness of vision, headache, dyspnea, constricted visual field, rhinorrhea, cough, blurred vision, nausea, eye pain, generalized weakness, increased lacrimation, sore throat, dizziness, gait disturbance, insomnia, anorexia, subfever, double vision, difficulty
            standing, numbness of extremities, vomiting, increased sweating, sneezing, slurred speech, diarrhea or tenesumus, dysphagia, nasal speech, disturbed mouth movement, muscular twitching or cramps,muscle pain, abdominal pain, cutaneous sign, frequent or
            involuntary micturition, dysosmia, nasal bleeding, and increased salivation ”

            Not many of these are dramatic or even observable except by self-reporting of the patient. So don’t get too hung up on SLUDGE. As anyone who’s worked in drug discovery will tell you, humans show variable (and sometimes paradoxical) in their responses to drugs and poisons. Even in your own every day experience, you will not experience every single known side effect of a prescription drug should you take one.

            “If I read more I can learn how quickly the effects set in with those people? Where is that written down?”

            This is well-established from peer reviewed literature. Frederick Siddell, “The Medical Aspects of Chemical Warfare” chapter 5 on nerve agents is the place to begin. http://documents.theblackvault.com/documents/biological/MedicalAspectsofChemWarfare.pdf

            References:

            [1] http://www.webcitation.org/6Jjen7DOF

            [2] Seto, Yasuo. “The Sarin Gas Attack in Japan and the Related Forensic Investigation” June 1, 2001. https://www.opcw.org/news/article/the-sarin-gas-attack-in-japan-and-the-related-forensic-investigation/

            [3] Tu, Anthony. “Toxicological and chemical aspects of sarin terrorism in Japan in 1994 and 1995” Toxin Reviews, 26:231–274, 2007 DOI: 10.1080/15569540701496321

          • Woody

            DDTea, in other, previous threads you told us how Postol got it right. He placed wind as one factor yet you take no standing on the wind when Adam wrote about it. What is this?

            Did you already work out a plausible theory for the crater? Or do we go again along the French IS report?

            Now everybody here refers to a German article saying that “Syrian government is altering facts…” – I see no presence of Syrian government in German media- do you?

          • Adam Larson

            While it’s odd how half the signs don’t appear, it’s possible this is sarin after all. Real life examples won’t always be textbook cases, etc.
            I’m not opposed to that in principle, and it doesn’t in itself prove Syrian guilt.
            1) Both sides could have access to sarin. And if we’re dealing with just that, it reportedly smells foul, is caustic, and yellowish in color. That’s about like the sarin used in all attacks so far, blamed variously on both sides, so it can’t prove anything. (it still seems there’s been no match for the kind taken away on the USS Cape Ray – the kind used in 2013 matches the kind used in 2017, and it’s impure) [1]
            2) The opposition side still has a plausible motive; being eternally blameless for such things, they could only get Syria in trouble and maybe bombed. They might want to test Trump’s reaction compared to Obama’s. Syria might not be as keen to push that button, and how it turned out shows that logic is valid. But then, it’s believed Assad just loves killing babies so much he couldn’t resist, and we could argue all day about “breaking the will to resist” and yadda yadda.
            3) The radar track provided by the US still shows the jets only arcing around the town, never passing anywhere near above the bombed areas, as activists swore the jets did, at various conflicting angles and in different orders. So unless that track is wrong, air dropped bomb as alleged is out of the question. [2]
            4) And if they did somehow drop a bomb or fire a missile at that bakery crater, the sarin would have blown away from the affected area. [3]
            So if it’s sarin, which I still doubt but it’s possible, it may well have appeared some other way than dropped from the passing jet as alleged, and that would pretty obviously be done by the sandals on the ground there.
            [1] http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2017/04/the-sarin-evidence.html
            [2] https://twitter.com/CL4Syr/status/880028343243915265
            [3] http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2017/05/4-4-17-wind-direction-explainer.html
            (sorry there’s no one else to cite for these things)

    • Mad Dog

      Your synopsis fits right in with 9/11 conspiracy stories. Especially the 103 hostages part. Bravo for adding a bit more fantasy to this discussion. DDTea has a much better response than me, so I will go with that.

      Reply
      • Adam Larson

        Mad Dog:
        You say hostages is “fantasy.” Have you checked that all hostages are accounted for and okay? Reports have at least 120 civilians, mostly women and children, kidnapped from Khatab and Majdal just days before this incident, for example. You find it laughable that if there were a terrorist false-flag attack they would kill those hostages (probably all all infidels or government supporters to start with)? Who else would they use?

        But more importantly… as a non-conspiracy theorist based in the evidence, how do YOU think the sarin got from the jet to the designated crater and then to the reported homes? Dropped from a jet, drifted on the wind, logically. Right? Just consider two things in the primary evidence.
        1) The the US-provided radar track shows the jets just arcing around the town, passing over only, perhaps, the southern outskirts. Do you think this is wrong? How wrong? Just wrong enough for all the Al-Qaeda-types’ stories to be true?
        https://twitter.com/CL4Syr/status/880028343243915265
        2) The opposition and their boosters abroad only cite one sarin release point, and one area of serious exposure to the southwest of that. And they provide video of the event that shows wind blowing FROM the southwest, to the northeast. Do you think the videos they showed are from another day or what? It’s not a passing breeze, but prevails as the smoke plumes dissipate and drift northeast, and for 20 minutes or so of fog spread that’s visibly in just that direction. Still, I guess you’d say I read the wind wrong, about 180 degrees wrong. And of course you’ll not even be able to back that up with any coherent analysis of your own, nor even bother looking at the details, because most people blame Assad, and you’re happy with that, so you see no reason to rock the boat. Right or wrong guess?

        Again: http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2017/05/4-4-17-wind-direction-explainer.html

        Reply
        • Mad Dog

          Soooo, if any of those ‘hostages’ survived, did any of them say anything about being a hostage? Guess not. Your scenario is just too full of holes to be valid. Smoke dispensers, hostages (please not the distinct lack of evidence of being held hostage among all those victims), dispersal patterns, etc., but the major problem we have with the explanation from the Syrian side is no one has pointed out the warehouse supposedly the center of this release. Syrian/Russian explanations center on that warehouse which was supposedly under drone observation before the release, yet we have no evidence at all showing a before and after situation, despite the presence of drones. Wonder why. And, if your explanation had any credibility at all, why have the Russians/Syrians not taken that up. Hmmmm.

          Reply
          • Adam Larson

            Yeah you could raise questions about hostage evidence, I could counter, neither of is knows where those people wound up. So I’m trying to stick to more concrete points, and raised 2 (numbered). You didn’t respond to either of them, because you, and everyone here, has no good answer. The opposition story is not only untrue, but not even internally consistent like a well-faked event could be.

            Open-source evidence analysis Bellingcat never did proves this. I mean what’s the, or a, Bellingcat opinion of the wind direction? Anyone with any specific guess ever? What’s the take on that radar track? Did it seem unpleasant to analyze from minute one, or did it take a while to figure that out?

            For good measure I’ll answer your important point:
            “no one has pointed out the warehouse supposedly the center of this release. Syrian/Russian explanations center on that warehouse which was supposedly under drone observation before the release, yet we have no evidence at all showing a before and after situation, despite the presence of drones. Wonder why. ”
            If they mean the cave hospital, we have before and after videos I cited above. But true, no one has specified the exact spot. The Guardian decided it was the warehouse next to the grain silos that wasn’t bombed that day and call the Russians liars for saying it was, but they never did say what it was Syria bombed. Another spot of interest, not of the eastern outskirts nor in the north as Hersh heard: a possible 2-story brick house on the SW edge of town, destroyed sometime between Feb. 22 and Apr. 29 that’s just where some of the alleged sarin fog came from. It wasn’t bombed that we can see at 6:45, but was pouring fog just after that. I think it might have been bombed at noon, but there’s no video or anything to show that. http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2017/06/idlib-chemical-massacre-sw-fog-area.html

            Anyway, it’s an open and valid question to raise. But I don’t think the presence of a question mark does much to disprove the claims, especially considering the main issue is how it clashes with the inconsistent garbage story provided by the opposition.

  3. Mr White

    The chain of custody is absolutely not valid in this case. The samples were collected by parties to the conflict and no such procedure was agreed beforehand by the OPCW.

    Reply
  4. Mark

    The point of this article is dead on, until someone points out where the bombed arms depot/meeting place is on a satellite map, the Hersh/Russia/Syria stories should not be taken seriously. However, a couple of comments and an honest question.

    Comment 1: The environmental samples were received by the FFM on April 12 and 13 from an unknown “NGO”. We don’t know how they were transferred to the FFM. They do not have valid chain of custody. Videos of guys in the crater and dead animals do not count.

    Comment 2: That said, the biological samples were collected under observation of the FFM and are very very unlikely to have been staged. However, the source of the sarin or sarin-like substance is unknown for biological samples. At least until the FFM maps out where the victims say they were exposed. And we don’t know if the survivors’ stories all match because the FFM hasn’t shared any details from them yet.

    Honest question: Why do all mentions of sarin by the OPCW include “or sarin-like substance”? Do sarin-like substances produce IMPA and DIMP?

    Reply
    • DDTea

      “Sarin-like substances” can include sarin, cyclosarin, thiosarin, thiosoman, O-ethylsarin, soman, chlorosarin, and chlorosoman. After environmental degradation (principally by hydrolysis) and biological metabolism, they will produce some of the same molecules. Sarin and chlorosarin will produce IMPA and DIMP as a degradation product and reaction side product, respectively. O-Ethylsarin will produce IMPA, among other things. These “secondary products” are usually what are detected by chemical analysis rather than the intact agent itself. I think the phrase, “Sarin or sarin-like substances” has a bit of “C.Y.A.” wrapped into it: they’re trying to keep an open mind, taking into account the possibility that other agents may have been used along with Sarin, or that “GB” was not specifically what was used.

      Reply
      • Adam Larson

        I think the list could be bigger and include common pesticides, and even IMPA or other degradation products, which can be administered safely to fake some tests. As for why they say that, I suspect 1) they don’t like to outright lie, and 2) they might have tested specifically for sarin with the modern fluoride ion regeneration test and found a mismatch, so tested it again with the more vague and dated method that allows for a “maybe” answer that can work if one doesn’t know about the preceding “no” answer. That would be shady, and I have no proof. And as far as I know even the terrorists still have sarin stocks they could use, so why should a positive result be so hard to achieve? Or did they run out and fail to get re-supplied in time, and decided to use IMPA for their Turkey-bound special cases? Or is the OPCW just being extra open-minded because they’re so scientific? Mysteries.

        Reply
        • DDTea

          No, the list of Sarin-like substances cannot include organophosphate pesticides. NO commonly-used pesticide contains a direct carbon-phosphorus bond the way that sarin and sarin-like substances do. This is quite deliberate: phosphonate esters are orders of magnitude more toxic to humans than phosphate esters or thiophosphate esters, the latter of which are more common in pesticides. There is a single pesticide, whose name I do not recall, that had a P-C bond…but it was never widely marketed and is no longer marketed. No pesticide will produce IMPA.

          GC/MS was likely the first analytical method employed. It’s ideal for volatile samples, uses tiny sample amounts, and gives a lot of information about molecular structure–especially if there are reference materials available for comparison.

          You’re talking to someone who worked in an ecotoxicology lab and actually has direct experience with analyzing organophosphates in environmental samples..

          Reply
          • Adam Larson

            I wouldn’t try to argue it this deeply, and yield that point. I’m about at the limits of the bits I do know (about this aspect).

  5. Tom

    I think the evidence is that Sarin was present – it’s the source that is being questioned. The crater that we all saw in the road is clearly the source, as I believe you are suggesting here. But that looked to me like part of a Grad missile, and not one dropped from an aircraft. Postol (I believe) suggested it was most likely detonated in situ. Can you comment on that?

    There is another piece of circumstantial evidence I believe should be considered. In the week or two before the attack, I noticed rebel supporters building a social media campaign focusing ominously on a CW threat. This seems suspicious to me in hindsight. Did you notice it, by any chance? It should be possible to verify it.

    Dr Shajul Islam became prominent in this campaign, and his prominence grew further in documenting the attack. And I feel some sympathy for those who’d prefer to reject evidence from him and his associates. Apparently he was once charged with the kidnapping of two journalists, escaping trial only when the victims were unable to testify against him – one had been beheaded, the other recaptured by ISIS.

    Reply
    • RobTN

      This is wrong.

      ” Apparently he was once charged with the kidnapping of two journalists, escaping trial only when the victims were unable to testify against him – one had been beheaded, the other recaptured by ISIS.”

      Whatever the reason for Oerlemans not showing up at the trial (2013) he was alive and well until 2016 when he was shot by a sniper.

      Reply
        • RobTN

          He’s a terrorist because…..you say so?

          Not that your comment has much to do with the fact that the witness in question had not, in fact, been beheaded but was alive and well at the time of the trail.

          Reply
          • Mr White

            He’s a terrorist. No serious person aware of the facts disputes that.

    • Adam Larson

      Crater: not clearly a sarin release point, but clearly alleged and supported by unverified samples said to be from nearby, etc. Could be, or not. The damage looks to me a bit like a non-exploding rocket impact, or maybe a bomb. No big blast suggested, and in fact liquid all around. Maybe un-used fuel from a dud FAE, or sarin like they say.

      The media campaign had alleged chlorine attacks at the time to spur it. If it’s shady, then the attacks are too, giving them the reason. And oddly, the last had kidnapping not Dr. Shajul Islam reporting in a video that it was chlorine, and in his tweet that it was sarin (which hadn’t been used on civilians, even allegedly, for over three years). I think the attack was later upgraded to alleged sarin and/or chlorine, like a preview, though hardly anyone died. That was late March, just days before sarin and chlorine appeared at Khan Sheikhoun, with Shajul Islam helping with patients and making the loudest case for sarin with his flashlight exposing the telltale miosis. (details, sorry … they’re around – I should re-gather them soon)

      Reply
    • DDTea

      Do try to keep up. The “grad rocket” theory was discussed ad nauseum here since april. If you’re going to hock that nonsense on us again, you have to answer the following questions:

      1) What was the Sarin payload and is it enough to create a lethal concentration over a target area to kill 80-100 people?
      2) What size burster charge was used? You can calculate explosive yield based on crater size. Look it up, do it. How could such an explosion leave an intact piece of metal at the impact site, only lightly dented?
      3) How does the sarin payload:burster charge compare to known ordinance for delivering sarin? Does it seem reasonable?

      Reply
        • DDTea

          Not necessarily true. Not all Soviet bombs were air bursts. If they were filled with persistent agents (e.g. Mustard in KhAB-200 and KhAB-500), they had ground bursting fuses.

          This is irrelevant anyway. We don’t know that it was a Soviet/Russian bomb that dispersed the Sarin.

          Reply
      • Adam Larson

        The cited (by HRW) model, KhAB-500, was designed to disperse above ground. By the splash, it’s suggested the proximity fuze was burned our or malfunctioned, and that’s possible. (but it turns out the remnant is a much better match to a non-sarin ODAB-500 bomb (that could maybe be filled with sarin anyway?) And either could be welded onto a rocket tube and launched from a hell cannon, or have scraps simply set in the crater, so whatever can be made of it …)

        Reply
  6. Jim Miles

    Follow the ‘needs’ – the U.S. needs an excuse to go after Assad regardless of Russia’s presence. The U.S. is the single largest purveyor of violence and creator of terror in the world. Another country dismembered (after Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Libya) will greatly help its control of US fiat petrodollar hegemony as well as to contain and deconstruct both Russia and China. The U.S.’ wonderful democratic progressive government of Saudi Arabia is fully in on this deal, along with its sidekick, Israel.
    The U.S. also has a first strike nuclear policy and the crazies within the deep state – and its not all that deep – are willing to create a situation In which it could use those weapons.

    Reply
  7. Mr White

    @DDTea
    @Mr White: Turkish lab? French lab? What are you talking about? Read the OPCW report. No mention is made of the specific location of the labs after the samples were split/distributed by the OPCW lab (which is located in the Hague). Samples were simply analyzed at “Designated laboratories.”

    Samples were analysed at 3 labs, a Turkish, French and British one. None of them are OPCW facilities.

    The OPCW itself did not collect or analyse any samples.

    Reply
  8. Lennart

    Bellingcat paid for buy Us government, via NED, denies Hersh report. Not surprised. Do what the master tell and do not bite the hand that feeds You.

    Reply
  9. Mr White

    DDTea wrote:
    Trust me, I hate watching these videos. I’m no sadist. And I think the Assadists are sick f***s for watching videos of poisoned, unconscious people and saying, “Looks fake. The color of his skin is all wrong. The foam isn’t quite right.”

    So people who watch the videos and doubt them are evil or Assadists (evil) or both? (double evil)
    Your outlook is irrational and emotionally driven. You rely on juvenilie name calling. Congratulations, you fit the mould of a bellingcat fanboy.

    Reply
  10. Mr White

    In other news, CNN got busted in a sting operation admitting to putting out fake news about Trump/Russia for ratings. Enjoy.

    Reply
    • DDTea

      What does it mean that the title of this video is “American Pravda” ? Why would liars be compared to Russian/Soviet state-sponsored news media…

      Reply
      • stranger

        Because Americans are brainwashed about Russia by American/UK liars like CNN, Bellingcat and others who sell out own reputation for the sake of ratings and hence money. That’s the only reason.

        Reply
        • Mad Dog

          Sorry, you lose. In the US, when a media outlet makes a mistake, they usually own up to it. In Russia when someone makes a mistake, they are wiped out before they can own up to it. Again, please give us a list of dissenting/opposition media outlets in the USSR (damn, I keep forgetting that is long gone). Along with your list of opposition figures who have not been assassinated or jailed with trumped (apropos, don’t you think) charges. Major major difference when you start blathering about ‘brainwashing’.

          Reply
          • stranger

            We maybe believed in that fairytales like before 2013. The last three years, your disgusting presidential campaign and inability of your democrats to accept the loss with dignity showed clearly what your mass media is worth. Tell your fairytales to somebody else now.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)