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Thread: Gas! Gas! Gas! --- Intelligent Scrutiny of That Syrian Sarin Attack

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    Default Gas! Gas! Gas! --- Intelligent Scrutiny of That Syrian Sarin Attack

    Below are 4 reports/analyses of the alleged Syrian sarin gas attack. The first comes from the US organisation of former intelligence professionals VIPS. There then follows an "update" of the VIPS memo by former CIA analyst (and VIPS member) Elizabeth Murray. Following on from these is, what for me, a critical analysis of the White House "assessment" on the alleged Syrian sarin attack and finally a report by Scott Ritter, a former UN Weapons Inspector.

    Trump Should Rethink Syria Escalation
    April 11, 2017

    More than two dozen ex-U.S. intelligence officials urge President Trump to rethink his claims blaming the Syrian government for the chemical deaths in Idlib and to pull back from his dangerous escalation of tensions with Russia.




    MEMORANDUM FOR: The President


    FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)*


    SUBJECT: Syria: Was It Really “A Chemical Weapons Attack”?


    1 – We write to give you an unambiguous warning of the threat of armed hostilities with Russia – with the risk of escalation to nuclear war. The threat has grown after the cruise missile attack on Syria in retaliation for what you claimed was a “chemical weapons attack” on April 4 on Syrian civilians in southern Idlib Province.




    President Trump at a news conference with Jordan’s King Abdullah II on April 5, 2017, at which the President commented on crisis in Syria. (Screen shot from whitehouse.gov)
    2 – Our U.S. Army contacts in the area have told us this is not what happened. There was no Syrian “chemical weapons attack.” Instead, a Syrian aircraft bombed an al-Qaeda-in-Syria ammunition depot that turned out to be full of noxious chemicals and a strong wind blew the chemical-laden cloud over a nearby village where many consequently died.


    3 – This is what the Russians and Syrians have been saying and – more important –what they appear to believe happened.


    4 – Do we conclude that the White House has been giving our generals dictation; that they are mouthing what they have been told to say?


    5 – After Putin persuaded Assad in 2013 to give up his chemical weapons, the U.S. Army destroyed 600 metric tons of Syria’s CW stockpile in just six weeks. The mandate of the U.N.’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW-UN) was to ensure that all were destroyed – like the mandate for the U.N. inspectors for Iraq regarding WMD. The U.N. inspectors’ findings on WMD were the truth. Rumsfeld and his generals lied and this seems to be happening again. The stakes are even higher now; the importance of a relationship of trust with Russia’s leaders cannot be overstated.


    6 – In September 2013, after Putin persuaded Assad to relinquish his chemical weapons (giving Obama a way out of a tough dilemma), the Russian President wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which he said: “My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this.”


    Détente Nipped in the Bud


    7 – Three-plus years later, on April 4, 2017, Russian Prime Minister Medvedev spoke of “absolute mistrust,” which he characterized as “sad for our now completely ruined relations [but] good news for terrorists.” Not only sad, in our view, but totally unnecessary – worse still, dangerous.


    8 – With Moscow’s cancellation of the agreement to de-conflict flight activity over Syria, the clock has been turned back six months to the situation last September/October when 11 months of tough negotiation brought a ceasefire agreement. U.S. Air Force attacks on fixed Syrian army positions on Sept. 17, 2016, killing about 70 and wounding another 100, scuttled the fledgling ceasefire agreement approved by Obama and Putin a week before. Trust evaporated.




    The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017. (Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ford Williams)
    9 – On Sept 26, 2016, Foreign Minister Lavrov lamented: “My good friend John Kerry … is under fierce criticism from the US military machine, [which] apparently does not really listen to the Commander in Chief.” Lavrov criticized JCS Chairman Joseph Dunford for telling Congress that he opposed sharing intelligence with Russia on Syria, “after the [ceasefire] agreement, concluded on direct orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama, had stipulated that the two sides would share intelligence. … It is difficult to work with such partners. …”


    10 – On Oct. 1, 2016, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova warned, “If the US launches a direct aggression against Damascus and the Syrian Army, it would cause a terrible, tectonic shift not only in the country, but in the entire region.”


    11 – On Oct 6, 2016, Russian defense spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov cautioned that Russia was prepared to shoot down unidentified aircraft – including any stealth aircraft – over Syria. Konashenkov made a point of adding that Russian air defenses “will not have time to identify the origin” of the aircraft.


    12 – On Oct 27, 2016, Putin publicly lamented, “My personal agreements with the President of the United States have not produced results,” and complained about “people in Washington ready to do everything possible to prevent these agreements from being implemented in practice.” Referring to Syria, Putin decried the lack of a “common front against terrorism after such lengthy negotiations, enormous effort, and difficult compromises.”


    13 – Thus, the unnecessarily precarious state into which U.S.-Russian relations have now sunk – from “growing trust” to “absolute mistrust.” To be sure, many welcome the high tension, which – admittedly – is super for the arms business.


    14 – We believe it of transcendent importance to prevent relations with Russia from falling into a state of complete disrepair. Secretary Tillerson’s visit to Moscow this week offers an opportunity to stanch the damage, but there is also a danger that it could increase the acrimony – particularly if Secretary Tillerson is not familiar with the brief history set down above.


    15 – Surely it is time to deal with Russia on the basis of facts, not allegations based largely on dubious evidence – from “social media,” for example. While many would view this time of high tension as ruling out a summit, we suggest the opposite may be true. You might consider instructing Secretary Tillerson to begin arrangements for an early summit with President Putin.


    * Background on Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), a list of whose issuances can be found at https://consortiumnews.com/vips-memos/.


    A handful of CIA veterans established VIPS in January 2003 after concluding that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld had ordered our former colleagues to manufacture intelligence to “justify” an unnecessary war with Iraq. At the time we chose to assume that President George W. Bush was not fully aware of this.


    We issued our first Memorandum for the President on the afternoon of Feb. 5, 2003, after Colin Powell’s ill-begotten speech at the United Nations. Addressing President Bush, we closed with these words:


    No one has a corner on the truth; nor do we harbor illusions that our analysis is “irrefutable” or “undeniable” [adjectives Powell applied to his charges against Saddam Hussein]. But after watching Secretary Powell today, we are convinced that you would be well served if you widened the discussion … beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.


    Respectfully, we offer the same advice to you, President Trump.


    * * *


    For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity


    Eugene D. Betit, Intelligence Analyst, DIA, Soviet FAO, (US Army, ret.)


    William Binney, Technical Director, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)


    Marshall Carter-Tripp, Foreign Service Officer and former Office Director in the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research, (ret.)


    Thomas Drake, Senior Executive Service, NSA (former)


    Bogdan Dzakovic, Former Team Leader of Federal Air Marshals and Red Team, FAA Security, (ret.) (associate VIPS)


    Robert Furukawa, Capt, CEC, USN-R, (ret.)


    Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)


    Mike Gravel, former Adjutant, top secret control officer, Communications Intelligence Service; special agent of the Counter Intelligence Corps and former United States Senator


    Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq and Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)


    Larry C. Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)


    Michael S. Kearns, Captain, USAF (Ret.); ex-Master SERE Instructor for Strategic Reconnaissance Operations (NSA/DIA) and Special Mission Units (JSOC)


    John Brady Kiesling, Foreign Service Officer (ret.)


    John Kiriakou, former CIA analyst and counterterrorism officer, and former senior investigator, Senate Foreign Relations Committee


    Linda Lewis, WMD preparedness policy analyst, USDA (ret.) (associate VIPS)


    Lisa Ling, TSgt USAF (ret.) (associate VIPS)


    Edward Loomis, NSA, Cryptologic Computer Scientist (ret.)


    David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.)


    Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst (ret.)


    Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Near East, CIA and National Intelligence Council (ret.)


    Torin Nelson, former Intelligence Officer/Interrogator, Department of the Army


    Todd E. Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (Ret.)


    Coleen Rowley, FBI Special Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel (ret.)


    Scott Ritter, former MAJ., USMC, and former UN Weapon Inspector, Iraq


    Peter Van Buren, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) (associate VIPS)


    Kirk Wiebe, former Senior Analyst, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA


    Sarah G. Wilton, Commander, US Naval Reserve (ret), DIA (ret.)


    Robert Wing, former Foreign Service Officer (associate VIPS)


    Ann Wright, U.S. Army Reserve Colonel (ret) and former U.S. Diplomat
    Source
    The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.
    Carl Jung - Aion (1951). CW 9, Part II: P.14

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    Coleen Rowley, Contributor

    retired FBI Special Agent and former Minneapolis Division legal counsel of the FBI

    Update to VIPS Memo “Trump Should Rethink Syria Escalation”


    04/12/2017 10:24 pm ET


    President Trump at a news conference with Jordan’s King Abdullah II on April 5, 2017, at which the President commented on crisis in Syria. (Screen shot from whitehouse.gov)

    The following responses to questions are furnished by a colleague and co-member of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, retired CIA Analyst Elizabeth Murray (who retired as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the near East). The questions came as follow-up to our April 11th VIPS memo taking issue with the White House’s rush to judgement without providing adequate evidence to back up its claims used to justify its recent (illegal) bombing of Syria. In addition to Murray’s responses below, please see these excellent expert analyses challenging the White House: “Wag The Dog — How Al Qaeda Played Donald Trump And The American Media (Responsibility for the chemical event in Khan Sheikhoun is still very much in question)” by WMD expert Scott Ritter and “A Quick Turnaround Assessment of the White House Intelligence Report Issued on April 11, 2017 About the Nerve Agent Attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria” by Theodore A. Postol, Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


    1. Can you give me some background on your experience in the intelligence community?


    I was a career CIA officer for 27 years (I worked on the intelligence side, not on the “dark” or operational side). I specialized in Middle Eastern media and political analysis, living and working in the Middle East for several years. My last position was Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East at the National Intelligence Council. I retired in 2010. I am fluent in Arabic, German, and Spanish.


    2. The VIPS memo says that military sources say that the chemical agent that killed the people in Khan Shaikhun was the result of an airstrike hitting a Nusra weapons depot, which falls in line with Syrian and Russian narratives. However, the official US narrative is that chemical agents were dropped by a Russian or Syrian jet. What can you tell me about the Army sources VIPS has in Syria, and why VIPS trusts their info?


    Because of our intelligence backgrounds, several members of our organization have contacts with insider knowledge of our government’s operational activities abroad. We were informed by sources on April 5th - a day after the chemical incident in Idlib - that what took place was not, in fact, caused by any chemical bomb dropped by a Syrian plane, but that the events transpired in a manner better explained and much closer to that described by the Russian and Syrian governments. We outline the details in our Memorandum.


    We note that the official US narrative was put forth very quickly, in the absence of an impartial and independent investigation, and in the absence of credible evidence. In fact, the White House seems heavily reliant on opposition-based social media to make their case. Some of their videos actually contradict the US claims; for example, sarin toxin is lethal upon skin contact, but the videos show emergency workers using no protective gear handling victims — with no apparent consequences. This doesn’t make sense. I’m also wondering why the White House, not the National Intelligence Council, has issued an assessment. There should be a National Intelligence Estimate on this subject. The National Intelligence Council brings together the gravitas and expertise of all 16 US intelligence agencies. That is the norm for significant foreign policy matters.


    As for our own sources, they need to be protected so we cannot reveal them. We would be delighted if a whistleblower would come forward, although that individual would have to be prepared to face consequences similar to those faced by truth-tellers such Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning or Thomas Drake.


    3. The memo says “After Putin persuaded Assad in 2013 to give up his chemical weapons, the U.S. Army destroyed 600 metric tons of Syria’s CW stockpile in just six weeks,” but Reuters reported that US officials never believed it all had been destroyed. Do you think there’s any possibility that the Syrian government could have kept some chemical weapons?


    Look, there are people who still believe that Iraq has WMD, despite our own government’s admission that it was wrong! The Reuters article quotes an unnamed intelligence official as saying the US “suspects” Syria still retains chemical weapons; that is an incredibly weak statement for an intelligence official to make, since the official doesn’t provide his or her name or offer any facts or evidence to bolster the claim. I am surprised the Reuters item was simply published without any substantiation - is that journalism or stenography? Also, a New York Times article of August 18, 2014 citing the US Defense Department as stating that the Syria’s most deadly chemical weapons including sarin gas have been completely destroyed. This took place under US supervision. Why is there no talk of rebel possession of chemical weapons when this is an established fact?


    I think many Americans are well aware that there is a global media campaign under way to influence the public in the direction of war, much in the same way as the Iraq war was sold through the false allegations of WMD (long since proven false).


    We should recall that the PR campaign to whip up American support for launching the first Gulf war in 1991 was professionally managed by what was then the world’s largest PR firm, Hill & Knowlton - so we shouldn’t rule out what could happen with respect to Syria. The neocon elements within the US administration want to turn Syria into a failed state, just as was done to Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. It’s more of the same, and a human rights disaster.




    4. While Tillerson and Trump have kept up the harsh rhetoric, Gen. Mattis said today that things won’t spiral out of control because it’s not in Russia’s interest. The memo quotes Russian Prime Minister Medvedev when he mentioned “absolute mistrust” between Russia and the US, and even speaks of nuclear war. While I agree that nuclear war is a threat, do you think the situation in Syria is dire to the point that a full-on war between the US and Russia could happen?


    We should listen carefully to how Prime Minister Medvedev characterizes the state of the US-Russia relationship, since he is considered to be the most pro-Western person in the Putin administration. Not only did he mention mistrust—he said US-Russia relations have been “completely ruined.” Strong words! And if he is the most pro-Western of the Russian leadership, imagine what the rest of them think!


    We are already playing a game of dangerous brinksmanship with record numbers of US troops massed on the Russian border with Poland and the Baltic States, and with the largest-ever military maneuvers since World War II having taken place there in June of 2016 (“Operation Anaconda”). How would we feel about 30,000 Russian troops massed along our border with Mexico? Our government staged a coup in the Ukraine back in 2014. This is Russia’s backyard. We need to put ourselves in their shoes and consider their position.


    Right now, US and Russian aircraft are flying in close proximity in Syrian airspace. Channels of communication have been shut down since the US launched its 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Syrian airbase. There is hostile anti-Russian rhetoric coming from the US administration and from every major media outlet in the United States. Imagine what could happen if the US shot down a Russian jet (accidentally or otherwise) or bombed a Russian ground crew. Events could easily spiral out of control and could lead to the use of nuclear weapons on either side. I don’t think Russia wants war, but we are really pushing them to the edge. I don’t think we want to go there.


    5. Going forward, what should the US and the international community do to put the issues surrounding Khan Shaikhun, including the nature of chemical weapons and increased distrust between US & Russia, to rest?

    We need to bring diplomacy back and let cooler heads prevail. Both sides should convene immediately for a high-level summit to defuse tensions and restore a working relationship.
    Source
    The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.
    Carl Jung - Aion (1951). CW 9, Part II: P.14

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    A Quick Turnaround Assessment of the White House Intelligence Report Issued on April 11, 2017 About the Nerve Agent Attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria.
    Theodore A. Postol
    Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security PolicyMassachusetts Institute of Technology

    HERE
    The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.
    Carl Jung - Aion (1951). CW 9, Part II: P.14

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    Wag The Dog — How Al Qaeda Played Donald Trump And The American Media
    Responsibility for the chemical event in Khan Sheikhoun is still very much in question.
    04/09/2017 08:57 am ET | Updated 2 days ago


    YURI GRIPAS / REUTERS

    Once upon a time, Donald J. Trump, the New York City businessman-turned-president, berated then-President Barack Obama back in September 2013 about the fallacy of an American military strike against Syria. At that time, the United States was considering the use of force against Syria in response to allegations (since largely disproven) that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons against civilians in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. Trump, via tweet, declared “to our very foolish leader, do not attack Syria – if you do many very bad things will happen & from that fight the U.S. gets nothing!”


    President Obama, despite having publicly declaring the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime a “red line” which, if crossed, would demand American military action, ultimately declined to order an attack, largely on the basis of warnings by James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, that the intelligence linking the chemical attack on Ghouta was less than definitive.


    President Barack Obama, in a 2016 interview with The Atlantic, observed, “there’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses.” While the “Washington playbook,” Obama noted, could be useful during times of crisis, it could “also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions.”


    His “red line” on chemical weapons usage, combined with heated rhetoric coming from his closest advisors, including Secretary of State John Kerry, hinting at a military response, was such a trap. Ultimately, President Obama opted to back off, observing that “dropping bombs on someone to prove that you’re willing to drop bombs on someone is just about the worst reason to use force.” The media, Republicans and even members of his own party excoriated Obama for this decision.


    Yet, in November 2016, as president-elect, Donald Trump doubled down on Obama’s eschewing of the “Washington playbook.” The situation on the ground in Syria had fundamentally changed since 2013; the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had taken over large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, establishing a “capital” in the Syrian city of Raqqa and declaring the creation of an Islamic “Caliphate.” American efforts to remove Syrian President Assad from power had begun to bar fruit, forcing Russia to intervene in September 2015 in order to prop up the beleaguered Syrian president.


    Trump, breaking from the mainstream positions held by most American policy makers, Republican and Democrat alike, declared that the United States should focus on fighting and defeating the Islamic State (ISIS) and not pursuing regime change in Syria. “My attitude,” Trump noted, “was you’re fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS. Russia is now totally aligned with Syria, and now you have Iran, which is becoming powerful, because of us, is aligned with Syria... Now we’re backing rebels against Syria, and we have no idea who these people are.” Moreover, Trump observed, given the robust Russian presence inside Syria, if the United States attacked Assad, “we end up fighting Russia, fighting Syria.”


    For more than two months, the new Trump administration seemed to breathe life into the notion that Donald Trump had, like his predecessor before him, thrown the “Washington playbook” out the window when it came to Syrian policy. After ordering a series of new military deployments into Syria and Iraq specifically designed to confront ISIS, the Trump administration began to give public voice to a major shift in policy vis-à-vis the Syrian President.


    For the first time since President Obama, in August 2011, articulated regime change in Damascus as a precondition for the cessation of the civil conflict that had been raging since April 2011, American government officials articulated that this was no longer the case. “You pick and choose your battles,” the American Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, told reporters on March 30, 2017. “And when we’re looking at this, it’s about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit and focus on getting Assad out.” Haley’s words were echoed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who observed that same day, while on an official visit to Turkey, “I think the… longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”


    This new policy direction lasted barely five days. Sometime in the early afternoon of April 4, 2017, troubling images and video clips began to be transmitted out of the Syrian province of Idlib by anti-government activists, including members of the so-called “White Helmets,” a volunteer rescue team whose work was captured in an eponymously-named Academy Award-winning documentary film. These images showed victims in various stages of symptomatic distress, including death, from what the activists said was exposure to chemical weapons dropped by the Syrian air force on the town of Khan Sheikhoun that very morning.


    Images of these tragic deaths were immediately broadcast on American media outlets, with pundits decrying the horrific and heinous nature of the chemical attack, which was nearly unanimously attributed to the Syrian government, even though the only evidence provided was the imagery and testimony of the anti-Assad activists who, just days before, were decrying the shift in American policy regarding regime change in Syria. President Trump viewed these images, and was deeply troubled by what he saw, especially the depictions of dead and suffering children.






    DREW ANGERER VIA GETTY IMAGES
    The images were used as exhibits in a passionate speech by Haley during a speech at the Security Council on April 5, 2017, where she confronted Russia and threatened unilateral American military action if the Council failed to respond to the alleged Syrian chemical attack. “Yesterday morning, we awoke to pictures, to children foaming at the mouth, suffering convulsions, being carried in the arms of desperate parents,” Haley said, holding up two examples of the images provided by the anti-Assad activists. “We saw rows of lifeless bodies, some still in diapers…we cannot close our eyes to those pictures. We cannot close our minds of the responsibility to act.” If the Security Council refused to take action against the Syrian government, Haley said, then “there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action.”


    In 2013, President Barack Obama was confronted with images of dead and injured civilians, including numerous small children, from Syria that were every bit as heartbreaking as the ones displayed by Ambassador Haley. His Secretary of State, John Kerry, had made an impassioned speech that all but called for military force against Syria. President Obama asked for, and received, a wide-range of military options from his national security team targeting the regime of President Assad; only the intervention of James Clapper, and the doubts that existed about the veracity of the intelligence linking the Ghouta chemical attack to the Syrian government, held Obama back from giving the green light for the bombing to begin.


    Like President Obama before him, President Trump asked for his national security team to prepare options for military action. Unlike his predecessor, Donald Trump did not seek a pause in his decision making process to let his intelligence services investigate what had actually occurred in Khan Sheikhoun. Like Nikki Haley, Donald Trump was driven by his visceral reaction to the imagery being disseminated by anti-Assad activists. In the afternoon of April 6, as he prepared to depart the White House for a summit meeting with a delegation led by the Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump’s own cryptic words in response to a reporter’s question about any American response seem to hint that his mind was already made up. “You’ll see,” he said, before walking away.


    Within hours, a pair of U.S. Navy destroyers launched 59 advanced Block IV Tomahawk cruise missiles (at a cost of some $1.41 million each), targeting aircraft, hardened shelters, fuel storage, munitions supply, air defense and communications facilities at the Al Shayrat air base, located in central Syria. Al Shayrat was home to two squadrons of Russian-made SU-22 fighter-bombers operated by the Syrian air force, one of which was tracked by American radar as taking off from Al Sharyat on the morning of April 4, 2017, and was overhead Khan Sheikhoun around the time the alleged chemical attack occurred.


    The purpose of the American strike was two-fold; first, to send a message to the Syrian government and its allies that, according to Secretary of State Tillerson, “the president is willing to take decisive action when called for,” and in particular when confronted with evidence of a chemical attack from which the United States could not “turn away, turn a blind eye.” The other purpose, according to a U.S. military spokesperson, to “reduce the Syrian government’s ability to deliver chemical weapons.”


    Moreover, the policy honeymoon the Trump administration had only recently announced about regime change in Syria was over. “It’s very, very possible, and, I will tell you, it’s already happened, that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much,” President Trump told reporters before the missile strikes had commenced. Secretary Tillerson went further: “It would seem there would be no role for him [Assad] to govern the Syrian people.”


    Such a reversal in policy fundamentals and direction in such a short period of time is stunning; Donald Trump didn’t simply deviate slightly off course, but rather did a complete 180-degree turn. The previous policy of avoiding entanglement in the internal affairs of Syria in favor of defeating ISIS and improving relations with Russia had been replaced by a fervent embrace of regime change, direct military engagement with the Syrian armed forces, and a confrontational stance vis-à-vis the Russian military presence in Syria.


    Normally, such major policy change could only be explained by a new reality driven by verifiable facts. The alleged chemical weapons attack against Khan Sheikhoun was not a new reality; chemical attacks had been occurring inside Syria on a regular basis, despite the international effort to disarm Syria’s chemical weapons capability undertaken in 2013 that played a central role in forestalling American military action at that time. International investigations of these attacks produced mixed results, with some being attributed to the Syrian government (something the Syrian government vehemently denies), and the majority being attributed to anti-regime fighters, in particular those affiliated with Al Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda affiliate.


    Moreover, there exists a mixed provenance when it comes to chemical weapons usage inside Syria that would seem to foreclose any knee-jerk reaction that placed the blame for what happened at Khan Sheikhoun solely on the Syrian government void of any official investigation. Yet this is precisely what occurred. Some sort of chemical event took place in Khan Sheikhoun; what is very much in question is who is responsible for the release of the chemicals that caused the deaths of so many civilians.


    No one disputes the fact that a Syrian air force SU-22 fighter-bomber conducted a bombing mission against a target in Khan Sheikhoun on the morning of April 4, 2017. The anti-regime activists in Khan Sheikhoun, however, have painted a narrative that has the Syrian air force dropping chemical bombs on a sleeping civilian population.


    A critical piece of information that has largely escaped the reporting in the mainstream media is that Khan Sheikhoun is ground zero for the Islamic jihadists who have been at the center of the anti-Assad movement in Syria since 2011. Up until February 2017, Khan Sheikhoun was occupied by a pro-ISIS group known as Liwa al-Aqsa that was engaged in an oftentimes-violent struggle with its competitor organization, Al Nusra Front (which later morphed into Tahrir al-Sham, but under any name functioning as Al Qaeda’s arm in Syria) for resources and political influence among the local population.




    AMMAR ABDULLAH / REUTERS
    A man breathes through an oxygen mask as another one receives treatments, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017.
    The Russian Ministry of Defense has claimed that Liwa al-Aqsa was using facilities in and around Khan Sheikhoun to manufacture crude chemical shells and landmines intended for ISIS forces fighting in Iraq. According to the Russians the Khan Sheikhoun chemical weapons facility was mirrored on similar sites uncovered by Russian and Syrian forces following the reoccupation of rebel-controlled areas of Aleppo.


    In Aleppo, the Russians discovered crude weapons production laboratories that filled mortar shells and landmines with a mix of chlorine gas and white phosphorus; after a thorough forensic investigation was conducted by military specialists, the Russians turned over samples of these weapons, together with soil samples from areas struck by weapons produced in these laboratories, to investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons for further evaluation.


    Al Nusra has a long history of manufacturing and employing crude chemical weapons; the 2013 chemical attack on Ghouta made use of low-grade Sarin nerve agent locally synthesized, while attacks in and around Aleppo in 2016 made use of a chlorine/white phosphorous blend. If the Russians are correct, and the building bombed in Khan Sheikhoun on the morning of April 4, 2017 was producing and/or storing chemical weapons, the probability that viable agent and other toxic contaminants were dispersed into the surrounding neighborhood, and further disseminated by the prevailing wind, is high.


    The counter-narrative offered by the Russians and Syrians, however, has been minimized, mocked and ignored by both the American media and the Trump administration. So, too, has the very illogic of the premise being put forward to answer the question of why President Assad would risk everything by using chemical weapons against a target of zero military value, at a time when the strategic balance of power had shifted strongly in his favor. Likewise, why would Russia, which had invested considerable political capital in the disarmament of Syria’s chemical weapons capability after 2013, stand by idly while the Syrian air force carried out such an attack, especially when their was such a heavy Russian military presence at the base in question at the time of the attack?


    Such analysis seems beyond the scope and comprehension of the American fourth estate. Instead, media outlets like CNN embrace at face value anything they are told by official American sources, including a particularly preposterous insinuation that Russia actually colluded in the chemical weapons attack; the aforementioned presence of Russian officers at Al Shayrat air base has been cited as evidence that Russia had to have known about Syria’s chemical warfare capability, and yet did nothing to prevent the attack.


    To sustain this illogic, the American public and decision-makers make use of a sophisticated propaganda campaign involving video images and narratives provided by forces opposed to the regime of Bashar al-Assad, including organizations like the “White Helmets,” the Syrian-American Medical Society, the Aleppo Media Center, which have a history of providing slanted information designed to promote an anti-Assad message (Donald Trump has all but acknowledged that these images played a major role in his decision to reevaluate his opinion of Bashar al-Assad and order the cruise missile attack on Al Shayrat airbase.)


    Many of the fighters affiliated with Tahrir al-Sham are veterans of the battle for Aleppo, and as such are intimately familiar with the tools and trade of the extensive propaganda battle that was waged simultaneously with the actual fighting in an effort to sway western public opinion toward adopting a more aggressive stance in opposition to the Syrian government of Assad. These tools were brought to bear in promoting a counter-narrative about the Khan Sheikhoun chemical incident (ironically, many of the activists in question, including the “White Helmets,” were trained and equipped in social media manipulation tactics using money provided by the United States; that these techniques would end up being used to manipulate an American President into carrying out an act of war most likely never factored into the thinking of the State Department personnel who conceived and implemented the program).


    Even slick media training, however, cannot gloss over basic factual inconsistencies. Early on, the anti-Assad opposition media outlets were labeling the Khan Sheikhoun incident as a “Sarin nerve agent” attack; one doctor affiliated with Al Qaeda sent out images and commentary via social media that documented symptoms, such as dilated pupils, that he diagnosed as stemming from exposure to Sarin nerve agent. Sarin, however, is an odorless, colorless material, dispersed as either a liquid or vapor; eyewitnesses speak of a “pungent odor” and “blue-yellow” clouds, more indicative of chlorine gas.


    And while American media outlets, such as CNN, have spoken of munitions “filled to the brim” with Sarin nerve agent being used at Khan Sheikhoun, there is simply no evidence cited by any source that can sustain such an account. Heartbreaking images of victims being treated by “White Helmet” rescuers have been cited as proof of Sarin-like symptoms, the medical viability of these images is in question; there are no images taken of victims at the scene of the attack. Instead, the video provided by the “White Helmets” is of decontamination and treatment carried out at a “White Helmet” base after the victims, either dead or injured, were transported there.


    The lack of viable protective clothing worn by the “White Helmet” personnel while handling victims is another indication that the chemical in question was not military grade Sarin; if it were, the rescuers would themselves have become victims (some accounts speak of just this phenomena, but this occurred at the site of the attack, where the rescuers were overcome by a “pungent smelling” chemical – again, Sarin is odorless.)


    More than 20 victims of the Khan Sheikhoun incident were transported to Turkish hospitals for care; three subsequently died. According to the Turkish Justice Minister, autopsies conducted on the bodies confirm that the cause of death was exposure to chemical agents. The World Health Organization has indicated that the symptoms of the Khan Sheikhoun victims are consistent with both Sarin and Chlorine exposure. American media outlets have latched onto the Turkish and WHO statements as “proof” of Syrian government involvement; however, any exposure to the chlorine/white phosphorous blend associated with Al Nusra chemical weapons would produce similar symptoms.


    Moreover, if Al Nusra was replicating the type of low-grade Sarin it employed at Ghouta in 2013 at Khan Sheikhoun, it is highly likely that some of the victims in question would exhibit Sarin-like symptoms. Blood samples taken from the victims could provide a more precise readout of the specific chemical exposure involved; such samples have allegedly been collected by Al Nusra-affiliated personnel, and turned over to international investigators (the notion that any serious investigatory body would allow Al Nusra to provide forensic evidence in support of an investigation where it is one of only two potential culprits is mindboggling, but that is precisely what has happened). But the Trump administration chose to act before these samples could be processed, perhaps afraid that their results would not sustain the underlying allegation of the employment of Sarin by the Syrian air force.


    Mainstream American media outlets have willingly and openly embraced a narrative provided by Al Qaeda affiliates whose record of using chemical weapons in Syria and distorting and manufacturing “evidence” to promote anti-Assad policies in the west, including regime change, is well documented. These outlets have made a deliberate decision to endorse the view of Al Qaeda over a narrative provided by Russian and Syrian government authorities without any effort to fact check either position. These actions, however, do not seem to shock the conscience of the American public; when it comes to Syria, the mainstream American media and its audience has long ago ceded the narrative to Al Qaeda and other Islamist anti-regime elements.


    The real culprits here are the Trump administration, and President Trump himself. The president’s record of placing more weight on what he sees on television than the intelligence briefings he may or may not be getting, and his lack of intellectual curiosity and unfamiliarity with the nuances and complexities of both foreign and national security policy, created the conditions where the imagery of the Khan Sheikhoun victims that had been disseminated by pro-Al Nusra (i.e., Al Qaeda) outlets could influence critical life-or-death decisions.


    That President Trump could be susceptible to such obvious manipulation is not surprising, given his predilection for counter-punching on Twitter for any perceived slight; that his national security team allowed him to be manipulated thus, and did nothing to sway Trump’s opinion or forestall action pending a thorough review of the facts, is scandalous. History will show that Donald Trump, his advisors and the American media were little more than willing dupes for Al Qaeda and its affiliates, whose manipulation of the Syrian narrative resulted in a major policy shift that furthers their objectives.


    The other winner in this sorry story is ISIS, which took advantage of the American strike against Al Shayrat to launch a major offensive against Syrian government forces around the city of Palmyra (Al Shayrat had served as the principal air base for operations in the Palmyra region). The breakdown in relations between Russia and the United States means that, for the foreseeable future at least, the kind of coordination that had been taking place in the fight against ISIS is a thing of the past, a fact that can only bode well for the fighters of ISIS. For a man who placed so much emphasis on defeating ISIS, President Trump’s actions can only be viewed as a self-inflicted wound, a kind of circular firing squad that marks the actions of a Keystone Cop, and not the Commander in Chief of the most powerful nation in the world.


    But the person who might get the last laugh is President Assad himself. While the Pentagon has claimed that it significantly degraded the Al Shayrat air base, with 58 of 59 cruise missile hitting their targets, Russia has stated that only 23 cruise missiles impacted the facility, and these did only limited damage. The runway was undamaged; indeed, in the afternoon of April 7, 2017, a Syrian air force fighter-bomber took off from Al Shayrat, flew to Idlib Province, where it attacked Al Nusra positions near Khan Sheikhoun.
    Source
    The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.
    Carl Jung - Aion (1951). CW 9, Part II: P.14

  5. #5

    Default things are not looking good for the official version....

    A Critique of ‘False and Misleading’ White House Claims About Syria’s Use of Lethal Gas

    Posted on Apr 14, 2017

    By Theodore A. Postol

    A worker in Khan Shaykhun, Syria, shown in an April 5 video frame next to the crater where sarin supposedly was released. A White House Intelligence Report (WHR) asserts that it reviewed commercial video evidence and concluded that sarin came from the crater. Other video frames at the end of the article below show unprotected workers in the crater displaying no signs of sarin poisoning at the same time dead birds are being packaged. (SMART News Agency / YouTube)

    Theodore A. Postol is professor emeritus of science, technology and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a specialist in weapons issue. At the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, he advised on missile basing, and he later was a scientific consultant to the chief of naval operations at the Pentagon. He is a recipient of the Leo Szilard Prize from the American Physical Society and the Hilliard Roderick Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and he was awarded the Norbert Wiener Award from Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility for uncovering numerous and important false claims about missile defenses.
    This is my third report assessing the White House intelligence Report (WHR) of April 11. My first report was titled “A Quick Turnaround Assessment of the White House Intelligence Report Issued on April 11, 2017 About the Nerve Agent Attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria,” and my second report was an addendum to the first report.
    This report provides unambiguous evidence that the White House Intelligence Report contains false and misleading claims that could not possibly have been accepted in any professional review by impartial intelligence experts. The WHR was produced by the National Security Council under the oversight of national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.
    The evidence presented herein is from two selected videos that are part of a larger cache of videos that are available on YouTube. These videos were uploaded to YouTube by the SMART News Agency between April 5 and April 7. Analysis of the videos shows that all the scenes taken at the site the WHR claims was the location of a sarin release indicate significant tampering with the site. Since these videos were available roughly one week before the WHR was issued April 11, this indicates that the office of the WHR made no attempt to utilize the professional intelligence community to obtain accurate data in support of the findings in the report.The video evidence shows workers at the site roughly 30 hours after the alleged attack who were wearing clothing with the logo “Idlib Health Directorate.” These individuals were photographed putting dead birds from a birdcage into plastic bags. The implication of these actions was that the birds had died after being placed in the alleged sarin crater. However, the video also shows the same workers inside and around the same crater with no protection of any kind against sarin poisoning.
    These individuals were wearing honeycomb facemasks and medical exam gloves. They were otherwise dressed in normal streetwear and had no protective clothing of any kind.
    The honeycomb facemasks would provide absolutely no protection against either sarin vapors or sarin aerosols. The masks are only designed to filter small particles from the air. If sarin vapor was present, it would be inhaled without attenuation by these individuals. If sarin was present in an aerosol form, the aerosol would have condensed into the pores in the masks and evaporated into a highly lethal gas as the individuals inhaled through the masks. It is difficult to believe that health workers, if they were health workers, would be so ignorant of these basic facts.
    In addition, other people dressed as health workers were standing around the crater without any protection at all.
    As noted in my earlier reports, the assumption in the WHR that the site of the alleged sarin release had not been tampered with was totally unjustified, and no competent intelligence analyst would have agreed that this assumption was valid. The implication of this observation is clear—the WHR was not reviewed and released by any competent intelligence experts unless they were motivated by factors other than concerns about the accuracy of the report.
    The WHR also makes claims about “communications intercepts” that supposedly provide high confidence that the Syrian government was the source of the alleged attack. There is no reason to believe that the veracity of this claim is any different from the now-verified-false claim that there was unambiguous evidence of a sarin release at the cited crater.
    The relevant quotes [emphasis added] from the WHR are collected below for purposes of reference:
    The United States is confident that the Syrian regime conducted a chemical weapons attack, using the nerve agent sarin, against its own people in the town of Khan Shaykhun in southern Idlib Province on April 4, 2017.
    We have confidence in our assessment because we have signals intelligence and geospatial intelligence, laboratory analysis of physiological samples collected from multiple victims, as well as a significant body of credible open source reporting.
    We cannot publicly release all available intelligence on this attack due to the need to protect sources and methods, but the following includes an unclassified summary of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s analysis of this attack.
    By 12:15 PM [April 4, 2017] local time, broadcasted localvideos included images of dead children of varying ages.
    … at 1:10 PM [April 4, 2017] local … follow-on videos showing the bombing of a nearby hospital. …
    Commercial satellite imagery from April 6 showed impact craters around the hospital that are consistent with open source reports of a conventional attack on the hospital after the chemical attack.
    Moscow has since claimed that the release of chemicals was caused by a regime airstrike on a terrorist ammunition depot in the eastern suburbs of Khan Shaykhun.
    An open source video also shows where we believe the chemical munition landed—not on a facility filled with weapons, but in the middle of a street in the northern section of Khan Shaykhun. Commercial satellite imagery of that site from April 6, after the allegation, shows a crater in the road that corresponds to the open source video.
    Observed munition remnants at the crater and staining around the impact point are consistent with a munition that functioned, but structures nearest to the impact crater did not sustain damage that would be expected from a conventional high-explosive payload. Instead, the damage is more consistent with a chemical munition.
    Russia’s allegations fit with a pattern of deflecting blame from the regime and attempting to undermine the credibility of its opponents.
    Summary and Conclusions
    It is now clear from video evidence that the WHR report was fabricated without input from the professional intelligence community.
    The press reported April 4 that a nerve agent attack had occurred in Khan Shaykhun, Syria, during the early morning hours locally on that day. On April 7, the United States carried out a cruise missile attack on Syria ordered by President Trump. It now appears that the president ordered this cruise missile attack without any valid intelligence to support it.
    In order to cover up the lack of intelligence to support the president’s action, the National Security Council produced a fraudulent intelligence report on April 11, four days later. The individual responsible for this report was Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser. The McMaster report is completely undermined by a significant body of video evidence taken after the alleged sarin attack and before the U.S. cruise missile attack, which unambiguously shows the claims in the WHR could not possibly be true. This cannot be explained as a simple error.

    The National Security Council Intelligence Report clearly refers to evidence that it claims was obtained from commercial and open sources shortly after the alleged nerve agent attack (on April 5 and April 6). If such a collection of commercial evidence was done, it would have surely uncovered the videos contained herein.
    This unambiguously indicates a dedicated attempt to manufacture a false claim that intelligence actually supported the president’s decision to attack Syria, and of far more importance, to accuse Russia of being either complicit or a participant in an alleged atrocity.
    The attack on the Syrian government threatened to undermine the relationship between Russia and the United States. Cooperation between Russia and the United States is critical to the defeat of Islamic State. In addition, the false accusation that Russia knowingly engaged in an atrocity raises the most serious questions about a willful attempt to do damage to relations with Russia for domestic political purposes.
    We repeat here a quote from the WHR:
    An open source video also shows where we believe the chemical munition landed—not on a facility filled with weapons, but in the middle of a street in the northern section of Khan Shaykhun [emphasis added]. Commercial satellite imagery of that site from April 6, after the allegation, shows a crater in the road that corresponds to the open source video.
    The data provided in these videos make it clear that the WHR made no good-faith attempt to collect data that could have supported its “confident assessment” that the Syrian government executed a sarin attack as indicated by the location and characteristics of the crater.
    This very disturbing event is not a unique situation. President George W. Bush argued that he was misinformed about unambiguous evidence that Iraq was hiding a substantial store of weapons of mass destruction. This false intelligence led to a U.S. attack on Iraq that started a process that ultimately led to the political disintegration in the Middle East, which through a series of unpredicted events then led to the rise of the Islamic State.
    On Aug. 30, 2013, the White House produced a similarly false report about the nerve agent attack on Aug. 21, 2013, in Damascus. This report also contained numerous intelligence claims that could not be true. An interview with President Barack Obama published in The Atlantic in April 2016 indicates that Obama was initially told that there was solid intelligence that the Syrian government was responsible for the nerve agent attack of Aug. 21, 2013, in Ghouta, Syria. Obama reported that he was later told that the intelligence was not solid by the then-director of national intelligence, James Clapper.
    Equally serious questions are raised about the abuse of intelligence findings by the incident in 2013. Questions that have not been answered about that incident is how the White House produced a false intelligence report with false claims that could obviously be identified by experts outside the White House and without access to classified information. There also needs to be an explanation of why this 2013 false report was not corrected. Secretary of State John Kerry emphatically testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee repeating information in this so-called unequivocating report.
    On Aug. 30, 2013, Kerry made the following statement from the Treaty Room in the State Department:
    Our intelligence community has carefully reviewed and re-reviewed information regarding this attack [emphasis added], and I will tell you it has done so more than mindful of the Iraq experience. We will not repeat that moment. Accordingly, we have taken unprecedented steps to declassify and make facts available to people who can judge for themselves.
    It is now obvious that this incident produced by the WHR, while just as serious in terms of the dangers it created for U.S. security, was a clumsy and outright fabrication of a report that was certainly not supported by the intelligence community.
    In this case, the president, supported by his staff, made a decision to launch 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase. This action was accompanied by serious risks of creating a confrontation with Russia, and also undermining cooperative efforts to win the war against the Islamic State.
    I therefore conclude that there needs to be a comprehensive investigation of these events that have either misled people in the White House, or worse yet, been perpetrated by people to protect themselves from domestic political criticisms for uninformed and ill-considered actions.
    Here is the video evidence that reveals the White House Intelligence Report issued on April 11 contains demonstrably false claims about a sarin dispersal crater allegedly created in the April 4 attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria.
    Video 1: Dead Birds







    Video 2: Idlib Health Directorate Tampering with Alleged Sarin Dispersal Site






    Theodore A. Postol can be reached at postol@mit.edu.



    If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” - Frederick Douglass
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    "Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn

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