Hersh reports that there was no proof Syria used sarin gas in attack

A German newspaper has published an interesting article written by famed investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. This article disputes the mainstream American consensus that Syrian had used chemical weapons against its own people on April 4. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the story was not published by a major American newspaper. But that doesn’t make it any less compelling. Here are a couple of the highlights, but the article is well worth reading in its entirety.

“This was not a chemical weapons strike,” the adviser said. “That’s a fairy tale. If so, everyone involved in transferring, loading and arming the weapon – you’ve got to make it appear like a regular 500-pound conventional bomb – would be wearing Hazmat protective clothing in case of a leak. There would be very little chance of survival without such gear. Military grade sarin includes additives designed to increase toxicity and lethality. Every batch that comes out is maximized for death. That is why it is made. It is odorless and invisible and death can come within a minute. No cloud. Why produce a weapon that people can run away from?”



The crisis slid into the background by the end of April, as Russia, Syria and the United States remained focused on annihilating ISIS and the militias of al-Qaida. Some of those who had worked through the crisis, however, were left with lingering concerns. “The Salafists and jihadists got everything they wanted out of their hyped-up Syrian nerve gas ploy,” the senior adviser to the U.S. intelligence community told me, referring to the flare up of tensions between Syria, Russia and America. “The issue is, what if there’s another false flag sarin attack credited to hated Syria? Trump has upped the ante and painted himself into a corner with his decision to bomb. And do not think these guys are not planning the next faked attack. Trump will have no choice but to bomb again, and harder. He’s incapable of saying he made a mistake.”

Several former U.S. intelligence officials not yet convinced Syria used chemical weapons on April 4

A group called “Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity” has issued an open letter to the American people in which it expresses doubts that the Syrian government was behind the alleged chemical attack on April 4.

The CIA, Pompeo said, was “in relatively short order able to deliver to [President Trump] a high-confidence assessment that, in fact, it was the Syrian regime that had launched chemical strikes against its own people in [Khan Shaykhun.]”

The speed in which this assessment was made is of some concern. Both Director Pompeo, during his CSIS remarks, and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, during comments to the press on April 6, 2017, note that President Trump turned to the intelligence community early on in the crisis to understand better “the circumstances of the attack and who was responsible.” McMaster indicated that the U.S. Intelligence Community, working with allied partners, was able to determine with “a very high degree of confidence” where the attack originated.



The danger of this rush toward an intelligence decision by Director Pompeo and National Security Advisor McMaster is that once the President and his top national security advisors have endorsed an intelligence-based conclusion, and authorized military action based upon that conclusion, it becomes virtually impossible for that conclusion to change. Intelligence assessments from that point forward will embrace facts that sustain this conclusion, and reject those that don’t; it is the definition of politicized intelligence, even if those involved disagree.



The intelligence data that has been used to back up the allegations of Syrian chemical weapons use has been far from conclusive. Allusions to intercepted Syrian communications have been offered as “proof”, but the Iraq experience – in particular former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s unfortunate experience before the U.N. Security Council – show how easily such intelligence can be misunderstood and misused.

Inconsistencies in the publicly available imagery which the White House (and CIA) have so heavily relied upon have raised legitimate questions about the veracity of any conclusions drawn from these sources (and begs the question as to where the CIA’s own Open Source Intelligence Center was in this episode.) The blood samples used to back up claims of the presence of nerve agent among the victims was collected void of any verifiable chain of custody, making their sourcing impossible to verify, and as such invalidates any conclusions based upon their analysis.

Nuclear ban treaty worth pondering, even if unlikely to be achieved soon

The U.S. and other major powers recently boycotted U.N. negotiations for a treat banning nuclear weapons.

With the levels of distrust among nuclear powers seemingly growing by the day, banning such weapons does seem highly unlikely. Still, it’s important for people to think about nuclear weapons, the threats they pose and how the worldwide threat of nuclear devastation might be lessened.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has published a pamphlet that covers the basics of the effort to outlaw such weapons in 2017. It’s a quick read, and well worth the time.

Case against Assad open and shut … or is it?

It seems the mainstream media is convinced that the alleged gas attack in Syria on April 4 was perpetrated by the Syrian government. However, not everyone has been persuaded that the case against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is air-tight.
Robert Parry of Consortium News wrote about his misgivings about the report released by the White House.

In similarly tense situations in the past, U.S. Presidents have released sensitive intelligence to buttress U.S. government assertions, including John F. Kennedy’s disclosure of U-2 spy flights in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and Ronald Reagan revealing electronic intercepts after the Soviet shoot-down of Korean Airlines Flight 007 in 1983.

Yet, in this current case, as U.S.-Russian relations spiral downward into what is potentially an extermination event for the human species, Trump’s White House insists that the world must trust it despite its record of consistently misstating facts.

In the case of the April 4 chemical-weapons incident in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, which reportedly killed scores of people including young children, I was told that initially the U.S. analysts couldn’t see any warplanes over the area in Idlib province at the suspected time of the poison gas attack but later they detected a drone that they thought might have delivered the bomb.

According to a source, the analysts struggled to identify whose drone it was and where it originated. Despite some technical difficulties in tracing its flight path, analysts eventually came to believe that the flight was launched in Jordan from a Saudi-Israeli special operations base for supporting Syrian rebels, the source said, adding that the suspected reason for the poison gas was to create an incident that would reverse the Trump administration’s announcement in late March that it was no longer seeking the removal of President Bashar al-Assad.

If indeed that was the motive — and if the source’s information is correct — the operation would have been successful, since the Trump administration has now reversed itself and is pressing Russia to join in ousting Assad who is getting blamed for the latest chemical-weapons incident.

Presumably, however, the “geospatial intelligence” cited in the four-page dossier could disprove this and other contentions if the Trump administration would only make its evidence publicly available.



[In a separate analysis of the four-page dossier, Theodore Postol, a national security specialist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, concluded that the White House claims were clearly bogus, writing:

“I have reviewed the document carefully, and I believe it can be shown, without doubt, that the document does not provide any evidence whatsoever that the US government has concrete knowledge that the government of Syria was the source of the chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria at roughly 6 to 7 a.m. on April 4, 2017. 

“In fact, a main piece of evidence that is cited in the document points to an attack that was executed by individuals on the ground, not from an aircraft, on the morning of April 4. This conclusion is based on an assumption made by the White House when it cited the source of the sarin release and the photographs of that source. My own assessment, is that the source was very likely tampered with or staged, so no serious conclusion could be made from the photographs cited by the White House.”]

Navy ships headed toward Korea

From the BBC:

The US military has ordered a navy strike group to move towards the Korean peninsula, amid growing concerns about North Korea’s missile programme.

The Carl Vinson Strike Group comprises an aircraft carrier and other warships.
US Pacific Command described the deployment – now heading towards the western Pacific – as a prudent measure to maintain readiness in the region.

President Trump has said the US is prepared to act alone to deal with the nuclear threat from North Korea.
“The number one threat in the region continues to be North Korea, due to its reckless, irresponsible and destabilising programme of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability,” US Pacific Command spokesman Dave Benham said.

Earlier in the week, NBC News reported that the National Security Council gave U.S. President Donald Trump several options for dealing with North Korea.

The first and most controversial course of action under consideration is placing U.S. nuclear weapons in South Korea. The U.S. withdrew all nuclear weapons from South Korea 25 years ago. Bringing back bombs — likely to Osan Air Base, less than 50 miles south of the capital of Seoul — would mark the first overseas nuclear deployment since the end of the Cold War, an unquestionably provocative move.



Another option is to target and kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and other senior leaders in charge of the country’s missiles and nuclear weapons and decision-making. Adopting such an objective has huge downsides, said Lippert, who also served as an assistant defense secretary under President Barack Obama.

“Discussions of regime change and decapitation…tend to cause the Chinese great pause of concern and tends to have them move in the opposite direction we would like them to move in terms of pressure,” he said.

Stavridis, a former NATO commander, said that “decapitation is always a tempting strategy when you’re faced with a highly unpredictable and highly dangerous leader.”

“The question you have to ask yourself,” he said, “is what happens the day after you decapitate? I think that in North Korea, it’s an enormous unknown.”



A third option is covert action, infiltrating U.S. and South Korean special forces into North Korea to sabotage or take out key infrastructure — for instance, blowing up bridges to block the movement of mobile missiles. The CIA, which would oversee such operations, told NBC News it could offer “no guidance” on this option. But Stavridis said that he felt it was the “best strategy” should the U.S. be forced to take military action. He described such action as: “some combination of special forces with South Korea and cyber.”

Don’t jump to conclusions about deaths in Syria

Robert Parry authored an excellent look at the alleged poison-gas attacks in Syria. Headlined “Another Dangerous Rush to Judgment in Syria”, Parry’s piece details how journalists and politicians were quick to blame the deaths on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Before a careful evaluation of the evidence about Tuesday’s tragedy was possible, The New York Times and other major U.S. news outlets had pinned the blame for the scores of dead on the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. That revived demands that the U.S. and other nations establish a “no-fly zone” over Syria, which would amount to launching another “regime change” war and would put America into a likely hot war with nuclear-armed Russia.

Even as basic facts were still being assembled about Tuesday’s incident, we, the public, were prepped to disbelieve the Syrian government’s response that the poison gas may have come from rebel stockpiles that could have been released either accidentally or intentionally causing the civilian deaths in a town in Idlib Province.

One possible scenario was that Syrian warplanes bombed a rebel weapons depot where the poison gas was stored, causing the containers to rupture. Another possibility was a staged event by increasingly desperate Al Qaeda jihadists who are known for their disregard for innocent human life.



None of this means that Assad’s forces are innocent, but a serious investigation ascertains the facts and then reaches a conclusion, not the other way around.

However, to suggest these other possibilities will, I suppose, draw the usual accusations about “Assad apologist,” but refusing to prejudge an investigation is what journalism is supposed to be about.

Update 4/6/17: Check out this short interview with Philip Giraldi.

Philip Giraldi, former CIA officer and Director of the Council for the National Interest, says that “military and intelligence personnel,” “intimately familiar” with the intelligence, say that the narrative that Assad or Russia did it is a “sham,” instead endorsing the Russian narrative that Assad’s forces had bombed a storage facility. Giraldi’s intelligence sources are “astonished” about the government and media narrative and are considering going public out of concern over the danger of worse war there. Giraldi also observes that the Assad regime had no motive to do such a thing at this time.

Muslims actually do condemn terrorism

This article in The Guardian profiles a project began by Heraa Hashmi, a 19-year-old Muslim college student who was tired of hearing that Muslims don’t object to terrorism. What began as a spreadsheet on Google Docs is now a full-fledged website at which people can submit their own examples of Muslims condemning terrorism.

Hashmi’s project isn’t just designed to prove that Muslims are constantly condemning terrorism; she made it to demonstrate how ridiculous it is that Muslims are constantly expected to offer apologies for terrorist acts. Muslims, notes Hashmi, are “held to a different standard than other minorities: 1.6 billion people are expected to apologise and condemn [terrorism] on behalf of a couple of dozen lunatics. It makes no sense.” After all, Hashmi, says, “I don’t view the KKK or the Westboro Baptist church or the Lord’s Resistance Army as accurate representations of Christianity. I know that they’re on the fringe. So it gets very frustrating having to defend myself and having to apologise on behalf of some crazy people.”

Are we in an evidence-free zone?

David Swanson wrote an excellent piece comparing the case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to the case for Russian hacking of Democratic party emails.

His point is that while the evidence for Iraq having WMD was suspect, the Bush administration at least felt compelled to produce some sort of evidence. That standard appears gone, and too many of us are eager to simply believe the CIA on faith when it says that Vladimir Putin was behind the hacking and release of information to WikiLeaks.

The conduct of the Obama administration illustrates how the expectations seem to have changed.

When Obama has made unproven and implausible claims about looming massacres in Libya or Iraq, or chemical weapons use in Syria, or airplanes shot down in Ukraine, or coups in Ukraine, or “moderate” terrorists, or Iranian nukes, or drone war success in Yemen, or the nature or legality of drone murders, there has been no general request for evidence. Even with the claims about Syrian chemical weapons in 2013, the public and Congress said no to escalating the war in a visible manner, but did not focus on demanding evidence for claims.

Swanson posits that impeaching George W Bush would have helped prevent the situation we’re in now.

The point of impeaching and removing Bush would not have been to make Dick Cheney president, any more than the point of studying history is that your school has assigned that class to the football coach.

The point of impeaching Bush would have been to create a President Cheney in fear of being impeached, followed by other presidents in fear of being impeached.

Why can basketball announcers grasp that Duke’s Allen Grayson might not be tripping opponents this year if he’d been suspended for a game or two when he did it last year, but political analysts can’t grasp that if Bush had been impeached, or even an effort made to impeach him, we might not now — like India — have a twitter-loving right-wing nationalist preparing to create Muslim registries and enforced flag worship?

So, here’s an idea. We can’t go back in time. But we can start now. Trump is going to violate the Constitutional bans on domestic and foreign presents and “emoluments” on day one, and likely begin piling up original as well as familiar impeachable offenses during his first week.

But just as the only conceivable way to get Trump into office was to nominate Hillary Clinton, the surest way to derail an impeachment campaign against Trump will be to load it down with dubious claims about Russia.

See if you can predict what the Democrats will do.