NOTE FROM PUBLIUS TACITUS–Dr. Postol expressed his appreciation for those who noted his mis-reading of the French Intelligence Report. He is correcting the record and adding to the critique. I think you will find it worth your time to read and analyze.
French Intelligence Report of April 26, 2017 Is Based on False Citations To Evidence
THEODORE A. POSTOL
Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
In my effort to understand the exotic claims of the French Intelligence Report (FIR) I missed that the report was in fact focused on an event that occurred not on April 4, 2017 but instead on April 29, 2013. This completely negates my earlier finding that the FIR described the attack of April 4 as occurring at a different location from Khan Sheikhoun.
The French Intelligence Report can be found at http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/country- files/syria/events/article/chemical-attack-in-syria-national-evaluation-presented-by-jean-marc-ayrault on a webpage titled French Diplomacy (France Diplomatie). The description of the intelligence report and its appendix is under the subject heading Chemical Attack in Syria – National Evaluation presented by Jean- Marc Ayrault following the Defense Council Meeting (26 April 2017)
The FIR attempts to make its case that the Syrian government was the perpetrator of a possible nerve agent attack on April 4, 2017 in Khan Sheikhoun by citing evidence that is not supported by the known facts.
It does not report on the details of the attack on April 4 but instead focuses on past attacks which it alleges leads to a strong conclusion that the Syrian government was the perpetrator of the April 4 attack.
A short summary of the logic used in the FIR is that there is an unexplained attack, and without valid evidence the FIR concludes that a perpetrator who might have committed attacks in the past is with certainty the perpetrator of the unexplained attack.
The FIR starts out by focusing on the April 4, 2017 attack and then switches abruptly to an April 29, 2013 attack alleging false evidence that this and other earlier attacks implicate the Syrian government in the April 4 event. The FIR cites evidence from earlier investigations of the April 29, 2013 nerve agent attack in Saraqib, Syria and the August 21, 2013 nerve agent attack in Damascus, Syria as the foundation for concluding that the April 4 attack must have been done by the Syrian government. It claims that sarin samples taken at the locations of both the earlier attacks were unambiguously identified as having been produced by the Syrian government. The claims in the FIR also partly rest on the bogus identification of the chemical hexamine in residual materials that were also collected at these locations.
In fact, the characteristics of the sarin samples taken from both the Sarabiq and the Damascus attacks described by FIR as proof of Syrian government involvement were not identified by either the UN or US intelligence as unambiguously from the Syrian government
Hexamine is a ubiquitous product of military explosives and can be expected to be found anywhere where military explosives have been used extensively. In addition, a sarin dispersal device might use a small explosive internal charge to burst a vessel containing sarin. If the device is designed in this manner (which is a very common design) there will be hexamine mixed in with the sarin products. The FIR extensively discusses a device containing explosives for dispersing sarin as an example of Syrian government malicious use of sarin in an April 29, 2013 attack in Saraqib, Syria.
The FIR falsely implies that sarin samples collected following the August 21, 2013 nerve agent attack in Damascus were directly identified as products of the Syrian government by the UN and the US intelligence community. In fact, both the UN and the US intelligence community determined that sarin samples from that attack could not be unambiguously connected to sarin produced by the Syrian government. These UN and US intelligence findings are misrepresented by the FIR as having a clear connection between chemicals found in soil samples and Syrian government produced sarin at the attack sites.
In addition, the FIR focuses in detail on a sarin dispensing munition that it claims was connected with the April 29, 2013 attack. The FIR describes this munition as containing roughly 100 milliliters of 60% pure sarin. In the case of this munition, which is roughly the size of a hand grenade, the sarin was dispersed by an explosive charge within the grenade. Such a device guarantees that hexamine, a byproduct of military high explosives, would be found in any sarin samples collected from the site.
The description of how the nerve agent was delivered by helicopters in the Saraqib attack could connect the Syrian government to this event. However, only one person was killed by one of the three separate munitions and each of these munitions carry no more than 100 milliliters of partially decomposed sarin.
If the two out of the three grenades that worked contained this decomposed sarin, the attack would have resulted in the release of 120 milliliters (about 4 ounces or half of a small coffee cup) of sarin.
In contrast, in the Damascus attack of August 21, 2013, the amount of sarin released could have been as large as 500 liters of sarin – which is more than 4000 times more sarin than what was released at Saraqib.
In the case of the Damascus attack in 2013, it appears that the White House initially believed that the attack was perpetrated by the Syrian government but intelligence later provided to the president indicated that the evidence that the Syrian government was the perpetrator of that attack was ambiguous.
Shortly after that attack, my colleague, Dick Lloyd, and I identified the munition that was used in the Damascus attack and two weeks later the Independent UN team reported that our analysis of the munition was exactly correct. We later determined that the munitions used against the local population could not have been fired from Syrian government controlled areas as initially incorrectly asserted by the White House in an August 30, 2013 report. The munition simply did not have enough range.
These rock-solid technical facts do not prove that the attack was not executed by the Syrian government. However, they prove unambiguously that there could have been other perpetrators of the attack.
Hence, the FIR could not possibly claim that the Damascus attack was unambiguously a result of Syrian government actions.
It is also worth noting that French intelligence coordinates with US intelligence and is also fully aware of UN activities. This therefore suggests that the FIR may not have been written by informed professional intelligence analysts in French intelligence.
Evidence Used by FIR from the April 29, 2013 Attack in Saraqib.
Figure 1 shows a photograph of one of three sarin dispensing grenades that failed to explode in the April 29, 2013 attack in Saraqib. The FIR describes the munition as carrying 100 milliliters of sarin.
This information allows for an estimate of its approximate dimensions.
The overall length of this munition is somewhat smaller than the length of the average cell phone. The grenade could fit in the palm of an average sized adult and probably weighs about 6 to 8 ounces.
Figure 3 shows three different munitions alleged to have been used in the three different attacks of April 4, 2017, April 29, 2013 and August 21, 2013. All of these munitions are distinctly different. Although the FIR firmly claims that they all contained sarin made by the same Syrian government production systems, each of these munitions is totally distinct in size, design, and choice of dispersal technique. The munition that is alleged to have been the source of sarin dispersal on April 4, 2017 is shown in figure 4.
Note that it is completely different from the other two munitions used in earlier nerve agent attacks. The munition used in Saraqib has an internal explosive charge to rupture the container and spread the sarin. The device allegedly used (there is no evidence that this was actually a sarin dispersal device) to spread sarin in Khan Sheikhoun would have worked by being crushed from the outside by an explosive device of some kind. This particular device would not be airdropped but would be fabricated on the ground in the form of an improvised sarin dispersal device. The rocket propelled barrel-device used in the attack of August 21, 2013 was designed to hit the ground break open and create a pool of liquid sarin that would then slowly evaporate carrying a plume of lethal gas downwind.
Figures 5 and 6 and their included captions show how misleading information about the attack of August 21, 2013 was promulgated by the New York Times. The figures and their captions speak for themselves.
This completely wrong assessment of the location of the rocket launch points for the sarin attack on August 21, 2013 was published on the front page of the New York Times on September 17, 2013. By that time we had determined that the large improvised munition that delivered 10 times more sarin had a very short range and could not have been fired from Syrian government controlled areas. The New York Times leadership and staff were extremely resistant to publishing our results, which would have undermined the narrative that the New York Times was promoting – that the Syrian government was the perpetrator of the attack. When they finally published our findings, the article was buried on the back page of the paper and was never referred to again in the follow-on rhetoric the Times kept publishing claiming that it had uncovered evidence that showed the Syrian government was responsible for the attack.
Figure 7 presents the appendix from the FIR that lists the nerve agent attack of August 21, 2013 as proven to have been perpetrated by the Syrian government.
Inaccurate Assertions in the Appendix of the French Intelligence Report about Findings That the Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013 Had Been Connected by Intelligence Analysis to the Syrian Government
ALLEGATIONS OF USE OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS IN SYRIA SINCE 2012
The appendix starting contains a communication from Ålke Sellström that states that the presence of hexamine at a sarin release site is not be a reliable indicator that sarin at that site is a product of the Syrian government. Professor Sellström was the Head of the United Nations fact-finding mission that investigated allegations of reported chemical use in Syria.
An article published in The Atlantic in April 2016 authored by Jeffrey Goldberg clearly indicates that US intelligence agrees with the UN finding.
Mr. Goldberg reported that President Obama said that he was told by James Clapper, the then Director of National Intelligence, that it was not a “slamdunk” that the Syrian government was the perpetrator of the attack in Damascus on August 21, 2013. This conclusion is certain verification that the US intelligence community concluded that sarin remnants found at the Damascus site could not be connected with the Syrian government’s production of sarin.
It therefore seems that there are extremely serious discrepancies in multiple intelligence reports that, at a minimum, raise fundamental questions about the veracity of the White House Intelligence Report – and the French Intelligence Report as well. This in turn raises serious questions for American citizens and the Congress about how the White House produced an alleged intelligence report that has been shown to have inconsistencies that indicate it could not possibly have been produced and reviewed by the professional US intelligence community.
Email Exchanges between Ålke Sellström, the Head of the UN Team that Inspected the Site of the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013 andTed Postol about False Claims Being Made with Regard to that Attack
From: Åke Sellström
Sent: Monday, June 16, 2014 9:44 AM
Subject: SV: An Inquiry Into a Small Technical Matter
Dear Professor Postol,
The presence of hexamine may mean that this substance was used as scavanger for protons when producing sarin. It is a product simple to get hold of and in no way conclusively points to the government. In addition hexamin found in samples may be derived from other sources for example, explosives.
All the best
Från: firstname.lastname@example.org [email@example.com]
Skickat: den 10 juni 2014 02:48
Ämne: An Inquiry Into a Small Technical Matter
Sent: Monday, June 09, 2014 8:48 PM
Subject: An Inquiry Into a Small Technical Matter
Dear Professor Sellström:
As you may know, my colleague, Richard Lloyd, and I have been examining aspects of the nerve agent attack in Damascus of August 21, 2013. We have inadvertently found ourselves involved in discussions with a man, Dan Kaszeta, who represents himself as an expert on chemical munitions.
Mr. Kaszeta has widely made a claim that hexamine found in a UN sample taken from the Damascus attack site is, to use his words, a “Smoking Gun” that unambiguously points to the Syrian government as the perpetrator of the attack.
My colleague and I have no primary knowledge that would allow us to determine who might have been responsible for the attack, but we have not been able to establish any credible science that could support the claim that hexamine is unique to sarin manufactured by the Syrian government.
I am attaching below an email I sent recently to Mr. Kaszeta raising technical questions about his assertion that the presence of hexamine uniquely identifies the Syrian government as the culprit.
We have carefully reviewed all of the available technical and scientific literature we could find on the subject, and have determined from statements Mr. Kaszeta has made in his twitter conversations that he is claiming that you are the source of his information that hexamine is used by Syria as an acid scavenger in the production of sarin.
To be clear, the source of his claim is as follows:
Kaszeta states that in an interview with Gwyn Winfield, you told her that hexamine could be used as an acid scavenger in the production of sarin. Mr. Kaszeta claims that Ms. Winfield reported your comment in a draft of her article, but it was removed by her editor from the article because of space constraints. Thus, according to Mr. Kaszeta you are the source of a statement that he uses to claim that hexamine in a UN sample points a smoking gun at the Syrian government.
Mr. Lloyd and I have grown increasingly skeptical about the veracity of statements made by both Mr. Kaszeta and Mr. Higgins, both work together closely. To put it bluntly, we have not been able to verify the accuracy of any technical claims they have made.
I would appreciate it if you could treat this query as if it were from a reporter and answer the following question. Is there any evidence that hexamine is used as an acid scavenger in the production of sarin by the Syrian government?
I am attaching the email I sent to Mr. Kaszeta raising questions about his claim. As a matter of professional standard, I do not believe it is appropriate to cite a claim without technical evidence. I have an old friend from college who is a highly accomplished organic chemist and I am seeking additional information from him. My training is as a physicist, and I make no exalted claims to a background in organic chemistry. That is to say, my only interest is to know whether or not you have information that would indicate that hexamine has been used by the Syrian government to mass produce sarin.
As American citizens, Mr. Lloyd and I have been quite concerned about White House claims that could have led to US military involvement in Syria. This is mostly because we can now say for sure that the White House claims are not based on accurate intelligence. I understand that as a UN staff member you have significant constraints on what you can say. But I hope you will be able to answer my very simple technical question about whether or not you made such a statement to Ms. Winfield and if you have information that indicates hexamine has been used in the mass production of sarin by the Syrian government.
I would appreciate it if you would keep the email attached below confidential for the moment. My reason is simple, I want to give Mr. Kaszeta a chance to answer the questions I have raised in that email. If you are interested, I will be happy to share the entire exchange with you once it is completed.
With best regards, Ted Postol Professor of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Sent: Sunday, June 08, 2014 12:24 AM
To: Dan Kaszeta
Cc: Richard Lloyd
Subject: Questions About a Physics-based Analysis That Shows That Hexamine Could Not Possibly Be Used in the Production of Sarin
Dear Mr. Kaszeta
As you know, Dick and I have been looking at issues associated with the mixing, manufacture, and production of the nerve agent sarin. We have done quite a bit of work on this and have not been able to confirm the technical accuracy of your conclusion that a sample of hexamine that was found by the UN in the aftermath of the August 21, 2013 nerve agent attack in Damascus indicates a “smoking gun” that shows the sarin was manufactured by the Syrian government.
We have reviewed numerous documents and scientific papers that contain information about the fabrication of sarin and have found absolutely no references to the use of hexamine in the manufacture or maintenance of sarin: A short, and hardly complete, list of these documents is as follows:
- Handbook of Chemical and Biological Warfare Agents, D. Hank Ellison
- Compendium of the Iraq’s Proscribed Weapons Programs in the Chemical, Biological and Missile Areas, United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), June 2007
- Stability of Iraq’s CW stockpile, CIA, 071596_CIA_72569_72569_01.
Chemical Warfare Agents: Chemistry, Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Therapeutics, edited by James A. Romano, Brian J. Lukey and Harry Salem, CRC Press, (2008).
Monitoring Chemicals with Possible Chemical Weapons Applications, Fact Sheet 7, (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons)
Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq’s WMD, 30 September 2004, Charles Duelfer.
Chemical Weapons Technology, US Department Of Defense, Office of the under Secretary Of Defense for Acquisition and Technology, February 1998.
A Laboratory History of Chemical Warfare Agents, Jared Ledgard
Technical Aspects of Chemical Weapon Proliferation, from Technologies Underlying Weapons of Mass Destruction, OTA, 934408.
Because we were unable to find any references to use of hexamine in the production and storage of sarin we decided to do our own review of the plausibility that hexamine could be used as an acid scavenger in the manufacture of sarin.
Our conclusions is that it is physically impossible to dissolve enough hexamine, even if it were desirable, or chemically possible, to substitute hexamine for isopropylamine to scavenge the acid product of the reactants Methylphosphonyl difluoride and isopropyl alcohol. The only possible way this conclusion could be wrong is if it were possible to dissolve at least 37 percent by weight hexamine in isopropanol. The information we have suggests that the solubility of hexamine in isopropyl alcohol is likely between five and 50 times smaller than the required 37 percent by weight. If you can provide a technical reference that shows otherwise we would greatly appreciate the reference.
The analysis that leads to this very strong conclusion is outlined in the six slides below. We will briefly describe the contents of each of the slides and invite you to review them so you understand the basis for this strong conclusion.
Slide number one shows the two chemical reactions that are critical for the production of stable sarin. The chemical reaction shown at the top of the slide simply shows the products of the reaction between Methylphosphonyl difluoride and isopropyl alcohol. The products are sarin and hydrogen fluoride. As you well know, the hydrogen fluoride has a powerful effect on sarin causing it to be transformed into other far less lethal byproducts. As such, one of the very important additional reactions needed to produce military grade sarin is the use of a chemical that removes the hydrogen fluoride molecules.
This is achieved by adding 28 percent by weight isopropylamine in isopropanol. The chemistry reactions that occur with this substitution are shown in the second chemical equation in slide one.
Slide two shows the source that describes the amount of isopropylamine needed to adequately scavenge the resulting hydrogen fluoride from the sarin. The source is solid, as it is a US government document that is produced for individuals who handle and work with chemical agents.
Slide three shows how very elementary chemical reasoning leads to the conclusion that roughly 0.4 moles of isopropyl amine are required per mole of isopropanol in order to remove the HF that is produced along with the sarin. This indicates that each isopropylamine molecule is in reactions that lead to roughly 2.5 fluorine’s being removed from the bath of chemical products. This is an important result.
We have not been unable to find any papers that describe hexamine reacting with hydrogen fluoride or being dissolved in isopropanol in order to function as an acid scavenger. However, we have found one reference to a paper that was published in the Journal Of Canadian Research in 1950. The reference is described as reporting that between one and four fluorine’s can be picked up by a hexamine molecule. There is no information about under what conditions this occurs, but as you will see, this particular detail plays no role in determining that hexamine cannot possibly be an acid scavenger in the production of sarin.
Slide four shows a simple ansatz that shows the minimum amount of hexamine that would have to be dissolved in isopropanol for the hexamine to work as an adequate acid scavenger.
If one makes the heroic assumption that each hexamine can in fact remove four fluorine atoms from the product chain, then it would require 0.25 moles of hexamine for each mole of fluorine to be removed. The molecular weight of hexamine is quite high, roughly 140 grams per mole, which leads to the conclusion that any mixture of isopropanol and hexamine that can function as a scavenger must contain at least 35 grams of hexamine per mole of isopropanol. This leads to the conclusion that the hexamine would have to be 37 percent by weight soluble in isopropanol.
Slide five shows the only solubility data we have been able to obtain for hexamine in ethanol, methanol, and acetone. One of the industrial processes for manufacturing isopropanol is simply to hydrogenate acetone, which is chemically very close to isopropanol (see slide 6). The solubility of hexamine and acetone is roughly 6/10 of one percent by weight. Even if the hydrogenation of acetone drastically changed its solubility characteristics, the best case where there is information is methanol, which at best could dissolve seven percent by weight hexamine. I suspect that the solubility of hexamine in isopropanol has not been reported because the solubility is so low, but I would be surprised if there is not a source of solubility data somewhere.
If you think you can point me to a scientific paper that lists the solubility of hexamine in isopropanol, the matter would be completely settled that hexamine cannot possibly be used in the manufacture of sarin unless hexamine has a drastically higher solubility in isopropanol.
This is extremely unlikely to be the case.
As a result, our review of the technical literature, indicates that hexamine could not possibly be used in the manufacture of sarin, and as such, it could not possibly be a “smoking gun” indicating that the particular sarin at issue was produced by the Syrian government (or anyone else, for that matter).
If you have any technical information at all that raises questions about our conclusions, we would be very pleased to get it and to incorporate it into our ongoing analyses.
Best regards, Ted Postol and Richard Lloyd