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What We Know About Hexamine and Syria’s Sarin

June 21, 2018

By Eliot Higgins

Translations: Русский

After 6 years of chemical attacks in Syria, many details have been gathered about the nature of chemical weapon use in Syria, including the munitions and chemical agents used. With frequent accusations by defenders of the Syrian government that Sarin attacks have been false flags or other attempts at deception by Syrian opposition groups and NGOs, the chemical composition of the Sarin used in these attacks has been of great interest and a subject of heated debate. Since the August 21st 2013 Sarin attacks the use of one chemical in particular, hexamine, has been hotly debated by those focused on the use of Sarin as a chemical weapon in Syria. Thanks to reports published by the OPCW and others, we now have a much better idea of hexamine’s role in Sarin attacks, and the implications of that use.

Hexamine first became a topic of debate after it was identified in samples gathered by the United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic in their report on the August 21st 2013 Sarin attacks in Damascus. In October 2013 the Syrian government had declared details of their chemical weapons program to the OPCW, including 80 tonnes of hexamine, a vast amount of a substance not typically linked to chemical weapon programs. In a military context, hexamine was associated with the manufacturing of explosives, not the manufacturing of chemical weapons.

With hexamine declared as part of Syria’s chemical weapon program, and hexamine identified in multiple samples from the August 21st 2013 Sarin attacks in Damascus, some chemical weapon specialists, in particular Dan Kazseta, proposed that the presence of hexamine in the samples gathered from those attacks indicated it could be used by the Syrian government as part of their Sarin manufacturing process, and the declaration of hexamine as part of Syria’s chemical weapon program further supported that theory.

In a detailed examination of why hexamine would be used in the Sarin manufacturing process, Dan Kaszeta explained that in the various documented Sarin manufacturing processes “all of the production paths end with either hydrogen chloride (HCl) or hydrogen fluoride (HF) as a by-product”. Those by-products are particularly problematic, in particular hydrogen fluoride (HF), as they are highly corrosive and reduces the shelf life of Sarin produced by the chemical process dramatically. To counter this, what’s known as an acid scavenger is added to the mixture, reducing the amount of acid in the final product, increasing the shelf life, and prevent it from eating through the munition or storage container it has been placed in. The most widely used acid scavengers in Sarin production are part of the amine chemical family, to which hexamine belongs.

Kaszeta states that while amines have been used as acid scavengers by various nations, the use of hexamine as an acid scavenger had not been documented, therefore making the apparent use of hexamine in the Syrian government’s Sarin manufacturing process unique. This meant the presence of hexamine in Sarin used in Syria pointed to the source of the Sarin being the Syrian government’s Sarin manufacturing process, acting like a chemical fingerprint linking Sarin attacks to the government.

This theory was supported in an interview with Ake Sellstrom, the head of the United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, in CBRNe World magazine:

Winfield– Why was hexamine on the list of chemical scheduled to be destroyed – it has many other battlefield uses as well as Sarin? Did you request to put it on the list or had the Syrian’s claimed that they were using it?

Sellstrom– It is in their formula, it is their acid scavenger.

In addition, Sellstrom stated he had asked the Syrian government how the rebels could have got hold of chemical weapons:

“They have quite poor theories: they talk about smuggling through Turkey, labs in Iraq and I asked them, pointedly, what about your own stores, have your own stores being stripped of anything, have you dropped a bomb that has been claimed, bombs that can be recovered by the opposition? They denied that.

To me it is strange. If they really want to blame the opposition they should have a good story as to how they got hold of the munitions, and they didn’t take the chance to deliver that story.”

However, there were those who attacked the idea of hexamine being used as an acid scavenger. Following his earlier reports on the range of the rockets used in the August 21st 2013 Sarin attack on Eastern Ghouta (one of two areas of Damascus attacked with Sarin on August 21st 2013), Ted Postol, professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), published a report attacking the work of Dan Kaszeta, titled “A Brief Assessment of the Veracity of Published Statements in the Press and Elsewhere Made by Dan Kaszeta, A Self-Described Expert on the Science and Technology of Chemical Weapons“.

Ted Postol on RT discussing the Khan Sheikhoun Sarin attack (source)

The report relied heavily on Postol’s consultations with Maram Susli, aka Mimi al-Laham/PartisanGirl/Syrian Girl/Syrian Sister, an Australian chemistry student and pro-Assad YouTube blogger, now a contributor to Alex Jones’ InfoWars conspiracy website, and her advice on chemical weapons, in particular regarding the solubility of hexamine in a Sarin precursor, isopropanol.

Mimi Al Laham discussing Syria with Alex Jones on InfoWars (source)

The issue of the solubility of hexamine in isopropanol was presented by Postol as evidence that hexamine could not be possibly used as an acid scavenger, but this made assumptions about the exact process used to mix the precursors used to produce the Sarin used in the August 21st 2013 attacks. Dan Kaszeta countered this claim by stating that it wouldn’t necessarily be required that hexamine is dissolved in the isopropanol as this is only really necessary in binary Sarin munitions that mix in flight, and there was no indication that the munitions used on August 21st 2013 were mix in flight munitions. However, Postol rejected this theory, and published his 44 page report attacking Dan Kaszeta and his work, even going as far as describing claims by Dan Kaszeta’s reported in a New York Times article on the August 21st 2013 attacks as “fraudulent”.

Since Kaszeta’s original claims and Postol’s report, many more facts have entered the public domain about Syria’s Sarin, mostly thanks to OPCW investigations into Sarin attacks that took place in 2017, but it was a French National Evaluation about the Khan Sheikhoun chemical in April 2017 that provided the first significant piece of information on the use of hexamine, nearly 4 years after the August 21st 2013 Sarin attacks.

The French National Evaluation includes analyses carried out by French experts on samples gathered from the site of the April 4th 2017 Khan Sheikhoun Sarin attack, revealing “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”, adding:

“According to the intelligence obtained by the French services, the process of synthesizing sarin, developed by the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) and employed by the Syrian armed forces and security services, involves the use of hexamine as a stabilizer. DIMP is also known as a by-product generated by this process.”

In an attempt to explain the presence of hexamine in samples gathered from the August 21st 2013 Sarin attacks, some had attempted to claim hexamine could be present in the environment for a whole range of reason, as it’s used in a number of manufacturing processes. The French National Evaluation included a key piece of information that undermined that claim; test results from a Sarin attack that took place in Saraqib, Idlib, on April 29th 2013.

Remains of the unexploded munition from the French National Evaluation

During that attack a helicopter had flown across the town, dropping packages that included grenades containing Sarin. The use of Sarin had been confirmed by an earlier OPCW Fact Finding Mission (FFM) investigation, and the French National Evaluation revealed that one of the grenades had not exploded, and it contained “a solid and liquid mix of approximately 100ml of sarin at an estimated purity of 60%” along with “Hexamine, DF and a secondary product, DIMP”. This confirmed that hexamine was present inside the Sarin mixture, strong evidence that it was being used as an acid scavenger.

The French National Evaluation was followed by the OPCW Fact Finding Mission report on Khan Sheikhoun, which included multiple samples taken from the impact site and surrounding area, that revealed hexamine along with Sarin and Sarin by-products.

The OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mission (JIM) report on Khan Sheikhoun published in October 2017 revealed even more details about the presence of hexamine in the samples taken from Khan Sheikhoun. The report stated

“According to information obtained by the Mechanism, the filler cap, with two closure plugs, is uniquely consistent with Syrian chemical aerial bombs. The Mechanism was provided with an assessment of the filler cap and with chemical analysis showing sarin and a reaction product of sarin with hexamine that can be formed only under very high heat. Information was also received that additional metal fragments collected from the crater might correspond to parts of Syrian aerial chemical munitions.”

It went on to state:

“The results of the analysis carried out by OPCW- designated laboratories confirm the presence of sarin and some of its known degradation products. Moreover, the results confirm that sarin was produced by the binary route, in which DF is combined with isopropanol (iPrOH) in the presence of hexamine.”

The report then stated that other chemicals present in the Sarin acted as marker chemicals that indicated the Sarin was very likely to have originated from the Syrian Arab Republic, and they indicated “a high degree of competence and sophistication in the production of DF [a Sarin precursor] and points to a chemical-plant-type production method.”

In addition, the report stated that:

 “An initial screening of the reports concerning previous incidents of the release of sarin in the Syrian Arab Republic showed that some marker chemicals appeared to be present in environmental samples. This would warrant further study.”

In fact, some of these marker chemicals, along with hexamine, were present in samples taken from the August 21st 2013 Sarin attacks, and a report from Reuterspublished at the start of 2018 quoted OPCW sources who stated the same marker chemicals were found in samples taken from the Khan Sheikhoun attack, August 21st 2013 attacks, and an earlier Sarin attack in the town of Khan al-Assal in March 2013.

Khan al-Assal was significant as it was the first confirmed major Sarin attack, and the Russian government had shared a dossier of evidence with the UN that it claimed showed a rebel group was responsible, using homemade rockets, the specific type of which the Russians named, and claimed could be tied to a specific rebel group. The report has never been made public, and considering the complexity of the Sarin used in the Sarin attacks, the Syrian government’s insistence it had not lost control of its chemical weapons, and the Russian government’s refusal to publish the report it shared with the UN, it seems unlikely the Russian government was truthful about its claims.

Following Khan Sheikhoun, more OPCW Fact Finding Mission reports were published on Sarin attacks in Syria. Two lesser known attacks in the town of Al-Lataminah on March 24th and March 30th 2017, just before the Khan Sheikhoun attack, were investigated by the Fact Finding Mission, confirming the use of Sarin. In both attacks, hexamine was detected alongside other marker chemicals previously highlighted by the OPCW-UN JIM as connecting the Sarin used to the Syrian government, indicating the Sarin used in both attacks came from the Syrian government. In fact, the OPCW-FFM report explicitly highlighted the similarities between the Sarin and Sarin by-products found in samples from the two Al-Lataminah attacks and the Khan Sheikhoun attack.

Table from the OPCW FFM report on the March 24th 2017 Sarin attack in Al-Lataminah comparing samples taken from other Sarin attacks

In addition, debris recovered from the March 30th 2017 Sarin attack in Al-Lataminah matched to the filling cap recovered from the April 4th Sarin attack, which the OPCW-UN JIM state was “uniquely consistent with Syrian chemical aerial bombs”. Additional debris recovered from the March 30th 2017 attack site matched the design and dimensions of a M4000 Syrian chemical bomb. A diagram of the bomb was published by the Russian government during a press conference on the Khan Sheikhoun attack which revealed details about the construction of the bomb.

Debris recovered from the site of the March 30th 2017 Al-Lataminah Sarin attack compared to a diagram of a M4000 chemical bomb

Based on the diagram and debris recovered from the March 30th 2017 attack, it could be seen that the bomb had two filling caps, and two sections with a filling cap each separated by a barrier. A mixing arm inserted into the rear of the bomb was also visible. This was consistent with a description in an article published by Mediapart in June 2017 about the Syrian chemical weapons program, which detailed the process used to fill Syrian Sarin bombs:

“It also meant that engineers from the SSRC also had to design bombs that were specific for sarin, and which were quite different to ordinary munitions. “On the outside, they resemble conventional bombs of 250 and 500 kilos of TNT,” explained one of them. “But inside they were totally different, divided into two compartments. The first, at the front, carried the DF. The second, at the rear, [contained] the isopropyl and hexamine. This mixture is stirred together by a stirring rod that can be activated by sort of crank at the rear of the bomb. When the two compartments are filled up, a technician winds the crank which advances the stirring rod to the point it breaks the wall of mica. The sarin synthesis reaction is set off inside the bomb, placed under a cold shower and maintained within a very precise temperature range which is controlled by a laser thermometer,” continued the former SSRC source. “After which, all that’s left is to introduce, in the allocated hold at the point of the bomb, the explosive charge and detonator – altimetric, chronometric or other – and to place the bomb under the wing of the plane. The load must be very precisely measured. If it is too big, the heat given off can cause the decomposition of the product, or the formation of a cloud of gas too far from the ground, which would render it ineffective. In principle, a 250-kilo bomb contains 133 litres of sarin, a few kilos of TNT and a ballast to preserve the aerodynamic characteristics of the weapon. A 500-kilo bomb contains 266 litres of sarin. The ideal altitude for the explosion of the bomb is about 60 metres.””

This matches perfectly with the design visible in the diagram published by Russia, and the debris recovered from the Al-Lataminah March 30th 2017 attack site and shows how hexamine was used at the point of mixing. It shows that despite the claims of Ted Postol and Maram Susli about hexamine needing to be absorbed by the isopropanol, the actual process used by the Syrian government to fill its chemical bombs does not require that step. The presence of hexamine at every confirmed Sarin attack shows the hexamine is part of the Syrian government’s manufacturing process, and far from Dan Kaszeta’s claims being “fraudulent”, as Ted Postol claimed, he was in fact right all along.

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.

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  1. Adrian Kent

    In the first paragraph you have taken from the JIM’s Khan Sheikhoun report they give us no indication whatsoever what the information they had ‘obtained’ was that led them to conclude that the filler cap was ‘uniquely consistent with Syrian chemical aerial bombs’. We’ve no idea where this information came from or what it was.

    More worryingly, in the next sentence, the JIM state “The Mechanism was provided with an assessment of the filler cap and with chemical analysis showing sarin and a reaction product of sarin with hexamine that can be formed only under very high heat.”

    There is no indication at all that these two analyses are linked – we are supposed to infer that the sarin analysis referred to samples taken from the fragments in some way, but there is no reason to assume that it was – it’s certainly a very strange wording.

    Elsewhere in the JIM report ALL the discussion of the filler cap and other fragments describe analyses of their IMAGES – not a single one refers to the actual physical fragments themselves – why is this? This is very important as the FFM had been assured that the fragments had been ‘secured’, but there is no indication whatsoever that the JIM actually received them – a reasonable (and unbiased) mechanism might have made this clear and concluded that the evidence provided by those who had provided the assurances may be suspect, but instead the JIM have decided to disguise and obfustcate here.

    Have you any proof that the JIM ever received the fragments Elliot?

    If so, why have no metallurgical analyses been conducted on them?

  2. Rob Heusdens

    All these articles about the chemical weapons issue are simply paying tribute to the principle of “guilt by assocation” (by referencing again and again that the usage of chemical weapons in Syria is “probably” linked to the Syrian Arab army, and provide “evidence” for such accusations) without there ever being real indisputable proof.
    Never ever is the (quite realistic) alternative explenation that rebels use these chemical weapons, and make accusations to the Syrian govt. for having used these weapons, researched, as the western govt. and groups like Bellingcat have no interest in accusing the rebels of using chemical weapons, while there is loads of evidence they have produced chemical weapons and also used them.

    Also this article, that examines some of these cases, only examines those cases in which the Syrian govt. can be accused and refuses to examine alternative explenations or other cases, that would put blame on rebels using chemical weapons.

    Analyzing from the motives involved, it is far more likely that rebels used chemical weapons then Syrian army, as there is no benefit for the Syrian army to kill its citizins, and in most of the reported cases, the chemical weapons killed civilians, not armed fighters. If, as some suggested, the Syrian army used chemical weapons to target armed fighters that hide in basements of buildings and can not be targeted with conventional weapons, we would have seen mostly dead bodies of armed fighters, not civilians!

    For the armed fighters, there is no reason they would leave the citizins of Syria unharmed as it is well known they repeately target Syrian citizins on purpose (and not part of a military tactic or so, because in the military perspective, that does not make any sense) and the Syrian rebels are not active in Syria to “protect the lives of civilians” (they use citizins as human shields, target and torture them) their only goal is to topple Assad and harm the country and its citizins wherever they can. Using chemical weapons and target civilians, and get away with it by accusing Assad is the most likely motive involved in these chemical weapons attack cases. Western media outlets, Bellingcat and western governments support these rebels unconditionally, no matter how many lives it takes! Shame on them!

    • DDTea

      “while there is loads of evidence they have produced chemical weapons and also used them.”

      You’ve had 5 years to show that the rebels are producing sarin. Where’s your evidence?

      The analysis of motives you just presented is totally asinine. Syrian government has gained tactical and strategic advantages from its use of chemical weapons. They have no qualms about targeting their own citizens, and proudly display videos of indiscriminate artillery bombardment. Govt is responsible for over 90% of Syria’s dead.

      • Rob Heusdens

        The evidence of rebels having access to chemical used for chemical warfare and the equipment to make chemical weapons and use them as weapons have been found al over the place in former rebel held territories liberated by SAA. The evidence is there for anyone that makes the effort examining the facts. I have seen numerous articles and pictures exposing these findings. I would recommend you do your own research and study the facts presented. You won’t find mention of it in western media though, they seem not to be interested in the truth.

        “They have no qualms about targeting their own citizens, and proudly display videos of indiscriminate artillery bombardment. Govt is responsible for over 90% of Syria’s dead.”

        That are just propaganda statements not backed up by factual evidence.
        In any case, civilians are always victims in any war. The liberation of europe by the red army and other allied forces also caused killing of civilians, so are you suggesting the coalition against nazi-germany should not have defeated nazism in order to prevent any such killing (while nazis kept on killing and mass murdering civilians)?

        The accusation of the Syrian govt. explicitly and on purpose targeting its own citizins makes no sense, since majority of citizins still support the Assad government. SAA always takes measures to prevent innocent citizins being killed, providing corridors for citizins to escape the war zone, and negotiating armistices with rebels in order to bring medical and food support, but often those efforts are sabotaged by rebel groups, who are known to take civilians as hostage to serve as “human shields”.

        The bombing and liberating of places like Raqqa and Mosul (done by US coalition) has caused numerous victims, yet no one seems interested in blaming US for these killings on enormous scales, these facts are always dealt with as forms of “collateral damage”.

        So it is quite obvious which side protects the life of innocent civilians, and which sides is accountable for mass killing civilians…

        • DDTea

          “The evidence of rebels having access to chemical used for chemical warfare and the equipment to make chemical weapons and use them as weapons have been found al over the place in former rebel held territories liberated by SAA. ”

          I’ve seen the videos and photos you talk about. In no case could I identify any equipment or chemicals unambiguously associated with chemical warfare. Instead, the government appears to be misrepresenting any and all laboratory equipment as “rebel chemical warfare labs.”

          They call liquid carboys “gas canisters.” They show open Erlenmeyer Flasks as evidence of chlorine gas manufacture. It’s comical. This is the hollywood depiction of chemical weapons production, and it only fools ignoramuses like yourself.

    • Mad Dog

      This is just too funny: as there is no benefit for the Syrian army to kill its citizins, and in most of the reported cases, the chemical weapons killed civilians, not armed fighters. Then why the hell did they fire on unarmed civilians in the first place? Why did Assad and his father terrorize the citizens for years, just like Saddam did. No benefit? Please tell Assad that as he really doesn’t care and besides, this is basically not a good reason to discredit the article above…Yeah, the SAF should get an award for their humanitarianism…maybe even a Nobel.

      • Rob Heusdens

        @Mad Dog
        There is no benefit in the military sense. That is correct. The allegations make no sense. And there is no proof that the army used chemical weapons.
        The incidents in 2011 in Daraa, where security forces targeted protestors – is often taken out of context. These were isolated incidents, and they happened shortly after during mass demonstrations violence was used from within the demonstrators, gunmen on rooftops shooting at both protestors and security forces. There is were violence began. Your comments suggest that after that, security forces were ordered by the government to shoot at innocent and peacefull demonstrators. I don’t think this us true, and the most probable explenation is that the violence used on previous occasions has lead to violent reaction by a local security officers (perhaps out of fear of again becoming a taget themselves). And although I did not folow up on the complete story, it is quite likely that this officer was punished for the illigitemate targeting of innocent civilians. Also due to protests of the people, the government ended martial law and did not target peacefull protests, and started political reform talks.
        The point is however that such occasions in which government forces misused their power in certain cases – and such errors occur in many countries around the world – has been used to legitimize the violent take over of rebel groups to grab military hold of the country, and to start a military campaign aimed at toppling the government. If I am not mistaken, this were the same groups that started the violence and were merely provoking a violent reaction from security forces, in order to execute their already prepared plan for starting a civil war in Syria. I don’t see these kind of arguments as a valid reason or excuse for the violence of rebels, which have commited many attrocities themselves against civilians (beheadings, using civilians as human shields, etc.). Are you really intending to excuse these cruelties because “Assad killed innocent civilians”? Its a very weak and very bad excuse I think. It is only an argument for those that already had the intention to kill many civilians. In any case, it is the civilian population that suffers the most, and the war should end as soon as possible and with as little casualties as possible.

  3. DDTea

    I’m having trouble finding the document, but in one of Postol’s more recent reports, he actually concedes that hexamine can be used as an acid scavenger. Postol 2017 thus contradicts Postol 2013, while never admitting he was ever wrong.

    It’s also worth reemphasizing that while hexamine is a precursor to some high explosives, it is emphatically *not* a common impurity in them nor is it a detonation product of them.

    • Adrian Kent

      @DDTea. The problem that you (and Kazseta and Higgins) have is the flimsiness of the evidence that there has ever been a large-scale release of sarin anywhere in Syria.

      All the talk of hexamine and precursors by the gallon is rendered completely irrelevant if all that was needed to confirm the (frankly preposterous) stories is enough to contaminate a few soil and tissue samples.

      The 2017 ‘sarin-like’ positive autopsy victims could have been killed by a sarin or sarin like substance, but equally they could easily have been exposed prior to death by another method whether it killed them or not.

      That SAMS managed to produce 2 ‘impossible’ sets of samples from their half a dozen KS ‘victims’ and (IIRC) at least 4 of the ‘victims’ showed no signs of sarin exposure at all strongly suggests that something dodgy was going on with the samples and victims.

      The harrowing videos of the ‘victims’ prove nothing about whether sarin caused their demise – in fact they often suggest causes other than sarin and, as the JIM themselves note, an active disregard for them by their alleged rescuers. The witness statements are self-contradictory and, in the case of Khan Sheikhoun, contradicted by the video evidence of the wind, the radar tracks of the aircraft and the times of the hospital records and we have to believe that the never-usually-camera-shy White Helmets didn’t bother to film any of the immediate search and rescue for ANY of these events despite the massive incentives and opportunities for them to do so (at least if we believe their stories about having time to return to base to collect equipment etc).

      The names and numbers of the alleged victims have, to date, not been supported by any physical or on-line evidence that these people existed in the first place and, as we all know, what evidence there has been has always come from areas controlled by jihadis.

      • DDTea

        “All the talk of hexamine and precursors by the gallon is rendered completely irrelevant if all that was needed to confirm the (frankly preposterous) stories is enough to contaminate a few soil and tissue samples.”

        Frankly, this “sarin faery hypothesis” is the dumbest of them all. I could go into why this is technically unfeasible.

        “the JIM themselves note, an active disregard for them by their alleged rescuers.”
        [Citation needed]. JIM noted unprofessionalism, as one would expect from volunteer rescuees. Never noted “disregard.”

        Are you talking about wind again? After months of discussion on this topic, the conclusion from the MIT professor emeritus is that wind direction is irrelevany (since whichever direction it blows, based on his own misinterpetation, the conclusion is unaffected). The JIM agreed. The wind was essentially static on the morning of April 4.

        The radar tracks did not contradict anything. Do some kinematic calculations and it’s quite obvious that the plane was on a viable attack course. But this all requires interpolating 3D time dependent flight paths on 2D time independent data. Only conclusion: a government aircraft was over Khan Sheikhoun at the attack time, and could reasonably have fired on it. This was corroborated by eyewitnesses and video. In fact, the government admitted dropping conventional bombs on KS (seen on video too)–so wherever the plane was, it could clearly hit the city.

        Hospital records do not disprove anything at all, given the chaos of war, poor record management, and *multiple chemical incidents* in the days preceding the KS attack.

        • Adrian Kent

          @DDtea: Do please go into why it is technically unfeasable for small amounts of a sarin like substance to have produced the JIM’s results – or point me to a link where this has been discussed.

          To deal with your other points:

          You may call hosing for extended periods and (amongst other things) CPR on a face-down ‘victim’ unprofessional, I call it disregard for their health. The JIM certainly noted a number of alleged victims ‘not being attended to’ which supports my ‘active disregard’ claim [p 31, para 75}

          What Postol may or may not have decided on the wind direction is neither here nor there – the fact is that the video evidence shows that the JIM’s assertion about the ‘essentially static’ wind conditions is false.

          Can you point me to your kinematic analyses of the radar traces? The JIM state explicitly that their trace showed a circular pattern with no plane coming within about 5km of the town (so further still from the alleged crater site) [p24, 28]. They relied on a single, hugely vague assertion about a bomb being able to travel such distances being ‘possible’ depending on altitude etc. That the JIM failed to test this ‘possibility’ in the context of their (single) expert’s 4,000-10,000m altitude air-dropped bomb assertion, the distribution of the alleged impacts or with the UN CoI’s witness statements that said that the plane was low enough to identify is just par for their shoddy course. The fact that these two points are mutually contradictory didn’t bother them either. The Russians have stated that such trajectories are impossible – where is your analysis to prove otherwise?

          If hospital records are incapable of disproving anything, perhaps you could explain how they are able to positively prove anything? It is these records that form much of the evidence for the number of victims being large. Random, ‘fog-of-war’ ‘errors’ in the record keeping is of course a possibility, but the fact is that these ‘errors’ were shown across multiple sites and in the same (early) direction. As the JIM note, this could have been due to a staging scenario, but (as usual) they blithely decided not to bother investigating this possibility further.

          Oh, and as Higgins isn’t answering (see my first comment here) – do you know if the FFM ever received the physical bomb fragments that they had been assured were ‘secure’?

  4. Rob

    Brilliant analysis. Thanks, Eliot, for putting another piece of the Syrian chemical attacks puzzle in place. And once again, it points to Assad’s government as the culprit.

  5. Rob Heusdens

    MOSCOW, June 22. /TASS/. The OPCW’s missions in Syria violate the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention, Major-General Igor Kirillov, Chief of the Russian Armed Forces’ Radiological, Chemical and Biological Defense Troops, said on Friday.

    “The remote nature of investigations as well as the collection, analysis and use of the documents obtained without specialists’ trips to the alleged sites of chemical weapons use, is in direct contradiction to the Convention’s provisions,” Kirillov told reporters at a joint press briefing of the Russian Foreign Ministry and Russia’s Defense Ministry.

    He noted that the West seeks to grant the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) the right to issue guilty verdicts against certain countries and their leaders.

    “The United States, the UK, France and their allies are once again trying to mislead the global community and seek confrontation,” he said. “Taking advantage of staged chemical weapons attacks, they accuse Syria of violating the Chemical Weapons Convention and Russia of complicity in that. At the same time, a campaign has been launched to turn the OPCW into a politicized institution with the right to issue guilty verdicts against certain countries and their leaders,” Kirillov said.

    He added that the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, which conducts its investigations relying on the US and its allies, plays an unsavory role.


    • Mad Dog

      Yeah, we can really trust Major-General Igor Kirillov, and TASS because as we know from MH11, the Russians never change their story….LOL.

  6. Jeroen

    Let us see why some people are already so nervous about tuesdays OPCW report on Douma.

  7. muchandr

    Again, dubious tracing of common-as-dirt household items. You gonna end up having them prohibit a few useful pure chemicals left.

    Isopropanol (IPA) is not as much a “sarin precursor” as much as “rubbing alcohol” and the main components in various wipes for computer screens and such, because it is not miscible with water and evaporates cleanly without leaving spots. As an added benefit, it is similar in its solvent properties to ethyl alcohol, but is not taxed as much as booze is.

    It makes no sense to look for IPA, because the other half of the binary is methylphosphonyl difluoride Now that is something quite difficult to procure, so why don’t you look for that instead of something common as dirt. I suspect IPA simply makes the stuff more volatile, ie methylphosphonyl difluoride is already a nasty nerve agent, but too hard boiling (55 degC) to be of any direct use for that. Nothing that cannot be helped by whacking it with a few Tomahawks. Should this be the case, is IPA non-essential and easily substituted by great many a similar solvent.

    H examine is rarer, but found pure in those camp fire starting cubes

    It also happens to be the precursor for RDX, still one of the most powerful explosives (found in C-4 for example, just add nitric acid to make) Isn’t it to valuable an asset in war zone to waste on something else? Yet again, procurable as OTC chemical, so finding some technically proves nothing.

    • DDTea

      Your chemistry knowledge is lacking.

      Anhydrous isopropanol–not household 70-90% grade–is key to sarin manufacture. It introduces the isopropoxy moiety to the molecule. It is not a solvent in this context.

      Hexamine is not found either as an impurity or a detonation product in C4 or RDX. It is necessarily removed during the preparation of RDX when the product is filtered and washed with water.

      It’s remarkable that you didn’t explain 2 points: 1) why Syria declared hexamine as part of its chemical warfare program, 2) why it was found loaded into a captured Sarin grenade from Saraqeb.

      • muchandr

        Look, I am not exactly cooking sarin, so i have no idea how anhydrous it really needs to be. I have OTC IPA that just says Isopropanol, nothing else. It likely means, short of giving you an analytical certificate making it reagent grade, as far they can tell it is pretty pure. I use it for most of my re-crystallizations and indeed it is gone instantaneously with application of vacuum. If there was any water, it won’t dry like that. I figure it is not really rare, as 10% water would defeat the purpose for all kinds of wipes that are supposed to leave no stains. Water would dry only tediously and stain. If that’s not enough, it is easier than most to dry. Heck, you can even distill it to 100% if you’ve got too much time, as it does not form azeotropes with water (like ethanol does at 96%)

        Yes, Wiki article on Sarin now explains how it works. Looks like they are aminating that isopropanol, giving isopropylamine? It does not matter whether it is a solvent or not though. What matters is that it is very easy to get and dry. The solvent properties are highly temperature dependent, making it rather good recrystallisation solvent rather than general reaction solvent anyway.

        If the intent of this investigation were to catch the actual perps / impede copycats, they’d be a focus on more exotic precursors especially if there are some deliberately restricted to distribution for that reason, like they are here. Paying such undue attention to common household items instead, on the other hand, only serves to encourage more fraudulent accusations.

  8. muchandr

    This guy who invented the hexamine story a moron. This is a part of contraption known as “sour gas scrubber” that is dirt common in petrochemical to clean off HS blamed on producing “acid rain” Any amine at all does this

    This is because amines are a) oily, ie dissolve in common petrochemical solvents b) basic, attracting acids.

    BTW, this works with amphetamines too, why didn’t they combine fun and profit?

    • DDTea

      This doesn’t explain why hexamine has been found at the site of every sarin attack.

      Also noteworthy: hexamine has never been found at any chlorine attack site. The ground in Syria isn’t just covered in hexamine.

      IPA does form an azeotrope with water at about 88 mass %. But discussions of OTC sources of chemicals are totally irrelevant to industrial scale chemical weapon production. Remember: 400 – 600 kg of Sarin was used on eastern ghouta in 2013.

  9. Jeroen

    OPCW, 27 June 2018


    “Condemns the use of chemical weapons as reported by the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism in its reports of 24 August 2016, 21 October 2016 and 26 October 2017, which concluded that there was sufficient information to determine that the Syrian Arab Armed Forces were responsible for three chemical weapons attacks in 2014 and 2015, and that the Syrian Arab Republic was responsible for the use of the chemical weapon sarin on 4 April 2017 in Khan Shaykhun, the Syrian Arab Republic;”


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