by Willy B
The Pentagon, on at least two occasions, has rejected going along with the chemical weapons hype against the Syrian government in Damascus, despite its dubious policies, such as the military occupation of eastern Syriam otherwise. Secretary of Defense James Mattis admitted to reporters on Feb. 2 that the U.S. doesn't actually have any evidence that the Syrian government has been using sarin gas. The framework underlying Mattis' remarks remains the assumption that if chemical weapons are being used in Syria it must be Assad's responsibility. Therefore, all we need to do then is find that evidence.
"We are more — even more concerned about the possibility of sarin use, the likelihood of sarin use, and we're looking for the evidence," Mattis said when asked about the latest accusations against Assad on Feb 2. His assumptions emerged when he was asked to clarify later in the press conference. "We think that they did not carry out what they said they would do back when — in the previous administration, when they were caught using it," he said, referring to the August 2013 attack in East Ghouta which Obama wanted to use to attack Syrian government forces. "And that gives us a lot of reason to suspect them. And now we have other reports from the battlefield from people who claim it's been used," Mattis went on. "We do not have evidence of it. But we're not refuting them; we're looking for evidence of it." Later on, he said again that he didn't have evidence of government use of sarin gas. "What I'm saying is that other — that groups on the ground, NGOs, fighters on the ground have said that sarin has been used. So we are looking for evidence. I don't have evidence, credible or uncredible."
The U.S. military has vast intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets in the region to develop a pretty extensive picture of what's going on on the ground in Syria, but the Pentagon is still reporting no evidence of such chemical weapons use. On Monday of this week, Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning told reporters at the Pentagon that "We don't have any evidence right now that chemical weapons are being used," when he was asked to comment on a statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that that Russia expects new disinformation campaigns regarding alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria to derail existing ceasefire agreements. "We've seen the reports," Manning said. "We'll closely watch that, and condemn any use of chemical weapons on the Syrian people."
It would seem, therefore, that the U.S. military doesn't trust the claims of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the so-called White Helmets, who remain the go-to sources for the MSM, for "reports" of Syrian and Russian use of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta. There's probably no reason for me to cite any particular of those reports, as you can find them everywhere from Reuters to the New York Times to Al Jazeera. They all cite those two sources uncritically without ever doing any investigation on their own, to paint a picture of the Syrian government and its Russian backers waging a war against civilians in Eastern Ghouta, as they did in Aleppo in 2016.
Meanwhile CENTCOM Gen. Votel is blowing smoke: http://www.newsweek.com/general-joseph-votel-us-allies-actively-seeking-cheaper-weapons-russia-and-823325
This will get ugly.
You forgot to include the North Korea connection as documented by the super secret United Nations investigators who won’t publish their report, but they will leak to the newspapers strictly on condition that nothing is in any way verifiable. There were these shipments of “acid-resistant tiles” which are quite unlike the regular domestic tiles in your bathroom (the tiles in my shower just wash away with soap and water, which is annoying, so I’m buying replacements from Kim who sells the good stuff).
I’m wondering what sort of “assets” the anti-Assad groups have on the ground in East Ghouta. Anything like the embarrassments found in Aleppo? Really, did the “west” learn anything from the Aleppo debacle and remove potential hostages to fortune from East Ghouta beforehand this time? Or is Hubris still riding high?
Tiles, valves and thermometers I heard – must be chemical weapons. Either that or the Assads are building a new pool.
I read that once again a gas incident was auto-blamed on Assad. It was from what I read a use of chlorine gas. That’s interesting.
Since ‘moderate jihadis’ have used chlorine to ‘gas up’ their IEDs in Iraq and Syria that sort of use of chlorine isn’t something new, and for people who can read and think it also isn’t something one can automatically connect with Assad. To the contrary:
“Chlorine bombings in Iraq began as early as October 2004 , when insurgents in Al Anbar province started using chlorine gas in conjunction with conventional vehicle-borne explosive devices.
The inaugural chlorine attacks in Iraq were described as poorly executed, probably because much of the chemical agent was rendered nontoxic by the heat of the accompanying explosives. Subsequent, more refined, attacks resulted in hundreds of injuries, but have proven not to be a viable means of inflicting massive loss of life. Their primary impact has therefore been to cause widespread panic, with large numbers of civilians suffering non life-threatening, but nonetheless highly traumatic, injuries.
Chlorine was used as a poison gas in World War I, but was delivered by artillery shell, unlike the modern stationary or car bombs. Still, its function as a weapon in both instances is similar. Low level exposure results in burning sensations to the eyes, nose and throat, usually accompanied by dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Higher levels of exposure can cause fatal lung damage; but because the gas is heavier than air it will not dissipate until well after an explosion, it is generally considered ineffective as an improvised chemical weapon.
Western media linking chlorine attacks to ‘al Qaeda’
In February 2007, a U.S. military spokesman said that ‘al Qaeda propaganda material’ had been found at a factory for chlorine chemical weapons in Karma, east of Fallujah, which led press agency Reuters to the conclusion that that “chlorine bomb factory was al Qaeda’s”.”
“Islamic State ‘using chlorine gas’ in Iraq roadside bombs
Iraqi officials have shown the BBC footage, which they say proves Islamic State militants are using chlorine gas in roadside bomb attacks.
The videos show bomb disposal teams carrying out controlled explosions, which send plumes of orange smoke into the air.
The bombs contain small concentrations of a chemical agent and in open ground are unlikely to be lethal.
Experts say they are designed to create fear rather than harm.
There have been multiple reports that IS has been deploying chlorine gas since late last year, but Iraqi officials say their footage confirms its use.
Haider Taher, from the Iraq Bomb Disposal Team, said troops have defused dozens of devices containing chlorine as part of the offensive against the militants.
“They have resorted to this new method,” he told the BBC. “They’re putting chlorine inside these homemade roadside bombs, which is toxic for those that inhale it.” ”
Chlorine bomb attacks by jihadists are growing threat to the UK, warns chemical warfare expert Col. de Bretton-Gordon said gas is used on ‘industrial scale’ in Syria and Iraq
Britain faces a growing threat from a homemade chemical weapons attack, it has been reported.
The growing use of bombs containing chlorine by jihadists in Iraq and Syria are a threat to the UK, according to one of the country’s leading chemical warfare experts.
Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon warned the threat came from UK-born jihadists trained in bomb-making techniques returning to this country.
“As more jihadists return to this country there is a growing chance (of a chlorine bomb attack). That to me puts it through the threshold where we should look into this seriously,” he reportedly warned.
A former commander of the Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regiment, he told The Times newspaper there was an urgent need for more stringent controls on the chemicals such as chlorine in Britain.
The retired head of chemical and biological weapons for the Army believes Isis terrorists returning to the UK are “highly likely” to use the gas, because it is easier to get hold of than weapons like guns and explosives.
He warns the growing use of the bombs in Iraq and Syria has increased the likelihood of their use in Britain.
So the use of chlorine suggests Assad is to blame? That is so even though the use of chlorine with IED is known to be a jihadi style atrocity to anybody who can read, think and google?
Macron of France has said that France will attack directly if gas incidents in Syria happen – which are of course all done by Assad.
It seems to me that there is a goal chased with it:
The “blaming any gas incident on Assad” story stinks like a part of eventually creating a case for direct intervention, since the aproach of trying that “not so indirect” intervention hasn’t worked.
What has not changed, however, is that incurable desire for regime change in Syria, and the gas blaming game serves that goal.
With respect, I am obliged to disagree with the claimed analysis of what Secretary Mattis said during the Press Availability on February 2.
In making his comment about not having evidence of sarin gas use, the Secretary was not referencing the attack on Khan Shaykhun on 4 April, 2017 but rather reports from the battlefield of subsequent use.
(Yes, there have been reports of subsequent use, but the claimed usage did not get a lot of media coverage. Why? Not sure, but I do know that no images emerged of dramatic scenes of death and injury.)
Why do I make this point? Near the end of the transcript we find the following series of questions and answers:
“Q: Can I ask a quick follow up, just a clarification on what you’d said earlier about Syria and sarin gas?
SEC. MATTIS: Yeah.
Q: Just make sure I heard you correctly, you’re saying you think it’s likely they have used it and you’re looking for the evidence? Is that what you said?
SEC. MATTIS: That’s — we think that they did not carry out what they said they would do back when — in the previous administration, when they were caught using it. Obviously they didn’t, cause they used it again during our administration.
And that gives us a lot of reason to suspect them. And now we have other reports from the battlefield from people who claim it’s been used.
We do not have evidence of it. But we’re not refuting them; we’re looking for evidence of it. Since clearly we are using — we are dealing with the Assad regime that has used denial and deceit to hide their outlaw actions, okay?
Q: So the likelihood was not what your — you’re not characterizing it as a likelihood? I thought I used — you used that word; I guess I misunderstood you.
SEC. MATTIS: Well, there’s certainly groups that say they’ve used it. And so they think there’s a likelihood, so we’re looking for the evidence.
Q: Is there evidence of chlorine gas weapons used — evidence of chlorine gas weapons?
SEC. MATTIS: I think that’s, yes —
Q: No, I know, I heard you.
SEC. MATTIS: I think it’s been used repeatedly. And that’s, as you know, a somewhat separate category, which is why I broke out the sarin as another — yeah.
Q: So there’s credible evidence out there that both sarin and chlorine —
SEC. MATTIS: No, I have not got the evidence, not specifically. I don’t have the evidence.
What I’m saying is that other — that groups on the ground, NGOs, fighters on the ground have said that sarin has been used. So we are looking for evidence. I don’t have evidence, credible or uncredible.”
[As an aside, it is not surprising that the Russians are pushing the position that when the Secretary said he had no evidence he was referencing the sarin gas attack on Khan Shaykhun and not the alleged subsequent attacks, despite what he said during the Press Conference. Why? The Russian Government wants the UN Security Council – OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism to redo their report on the attack on Khan Shaykhun, being unhappy with the original conclusion.]
Fast forward to the White House Press Briefing on February 26:
“Q And on the Syrian ceasefire, is the President concerned about the continuing violence, despite the fact that there’s been a ceasefire brokered for the region?
MS. SANDERS: Look, Syria is terrorizing hundreds of thousands of civilians with airstrikes, artillery, rockets, and a looming ground attack. The regime’s use of chlorine gas is — as a weapon — only intensifies this. The United States calls for an immediate end to offensive operation, and urgent access for humanitarian workers and badly needed humanitarian aid.”
Then, this morning State Dept Spokeswoman Heather Nauer during an interview with Bill Hemmer of America Newsroom reinforced what she has been saying recently from the State Dept Press Podium and on twitter.
In my @AmericaNewsroom interview with @BillHemmer, I emphasized that #Russia and #Syria will be held responsible for its chemical weapons attacks on innocent civilians in Eastern Ghouta. https://twitter.com/AmericaNewsroom/status/968854704548704259
WATCH: @BillHemmer @statedeptspox talks chemical weapons in Syria and more
Meanwhile, on Monday Foreign Minister Lavarov denied there had been a chemical weapons attack in Eastern Ghouta on Sunday. Then, yesterday a spokesperson for the Russian Military warned that jihadists in Eastern Ghouta were planning to launch a chemical weapons attack.
My take away from all of this? The US believes that the Syrian Arab Army is using chlorine to carry out limited chemical weapons attacks, but is unclear as to whether the Syrian Arab Army has been using sarin gas in any fresh attacks since Khan Shaykhun, however they are looking for evidence to verify claims being made by people on the ground.
It is unlikely that Pres. Trump will authorize a military strike on Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack, unless the number of people killed and injured is so severe that he is left with no choice due to the public hue and cry that he is compelled to act; and that would most likely happen if the attack involved the use of sarin gas.
At the same time, between the Press Statements from the State Department and the White House, along with the recent leak of UN Security Council committee report stating that North Korea is helping Syria with its chemical weapons program, the public is being prepared for the possibility that the President does authorize another military strike on Syria if there is a chemical weapons attack that does result in a significant number of people being killed and injured.
Both the White House and State Department are now publicly saying the Trump administration will hold the Russian Government and the Syrian Government responsible for any further chemical weapons attacks in Eastern Ghoutta while not stating what if anything the administration will do in response.
My reaction when I heard (again) about “chlorine” was, “What’s next? Assad is using Sopwith Camel to attack his enemies? Dastardly!” The contempt that the agitators for military intervention are showing for the intelligence of the audiences for news around the world is astonishing, and if the people in the West really fall for stories like this, that’d be, well, sad.
Update to my earlier post:
On February 17, during a Press Gaggle by Secretary Mattis En Route to Washington, D.C. he was asked a series of questions concerning chlorine gas use:
“Q: And then if I may just follow-up.
SEC. MATTIS: Yes.
Q: Secretary Tillerson also on Syria said that chlorine use by the regime could bring a U.S. military retaliatory response.
SEC. MATTIS: What kind of use?
Q: Chlorine gas use.
Is that the policy right now. Would chlorine use…
SEC. MATTIS: No.
Q: … risk a U.S. military retaliation.
SEC. MATTIS: I would stand with the Secretary of State.”
Then during a Department of Defense Press Briefing by Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White in the Pentagon Briefing Room on February 22 we had the following question and answer concerning chemical weapons use in Syria:
Q: (Inaudible) any evidence that the Syrian regime is using or has used chemical weapons in the — in the attacks against the eastern Ghouta — Ghouta in Damascus, some of — some of — in the suburbs of Damascus?
MS. WHITE: We have seen the reports from various people on the ground, to include NGOs. We haven’t concluded or seen the evidence of that ourselves. However, we are looking for it.”
Put it all together and what can we conclude?
Following the sarin gas attack on Khan Shaykhun which resulted in a military response from the United States, the Defense Department believes the Syrian Arab Army has been using chemical weapons, but is seeking additional evidence from that being provided by people on the ground, including NGO’s to verify usage.
If the Defense Department does obtain that evidence, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State are prepared to make a recommendation to the President.
For the life of him, CENTCOM General Votel is at a loss why: “some of our partners [ie Turkey and Saudi Arabia] are seeking alternate sources of military equipment from near-peer competitors like Russia and China”.
General Votel goes on to say that the purchase of such rival equipment jeopardizes “interoperability” of our allies to “accomplish common objectives.” The good general apparently attributes these purchases to penny-wise-pound-foolish cost / availability considerations.
The weaponry in question involves missiles designed to bring down sophisticated fighter aircraft, such as our F-16.
Were General Votel to review the US track record over the last 20 years he might notice that the US has a tendency of turning on former allies (e.g. Iraq’s Hussein, Libya’s Gaddafi and, yes, Syria’s Assad family) at the drop of some apparent oil advantage. When that happens the skies are alive with the sound of fighter aircraft and the fields are alive with the sound of bombs.
It sure looks like Turkish and Saudi Arabian purchases of sophisticated Russian missiles are in the nature of an insurance policy. Without a doubt the US can overwhelm just about any nation with bombs. But missiles cost $1-2 million and the aircraft hit cost more than 100 x as much.
Reports out of Israel suggest that the downed F-16 telemetry never registered that multiple missiles had locked on the plane. The failure of such “interoperability” was so shocking, that Bibi Netanyahu was immediately on the phone to Putin — who offered to negotiate a truce with Syria on condition that Israel steer clear of the friendly, spring skies over Palmyra.
(VNN, Alastair Crooke, Putin’s Grand Bargain 2.24.18)
Will any aide to the good general and his superiors within the Pentagon advise these that 1) The US needs to acquire a more reliable track record 2) acquire weapons that are more than corporate welfare.
Yes, the new water soluble tiles are annoying. The tiles in my bathroom are thirty years old, so I was able to scrub the mildew off of them with acid wash last month with no problem. Should I be taking them off the wall and selling them to Syria?
I was thinking he made that mistake, and the text isn’t uniformly clear, but if you check that part is included in the article, so he acknowledges it. Therefore, the skepticism is regarding accusations since KS last year. Sarin’s been reported, but the evidence remains sketchy, and maybe that means the intel community is being more cautious or even disbelieving now. (I wouldn’t put much money on that being true, or mattering much, but maybe).
On previous signs of intel reluctance to rubber stamp CW findings, see this on Pompeio’s changing statements on how the Khan Sheikhoun decision was made. The team of 200 analysts kind of disappears and he’s left saying he decided … did some of those 200 insist they be let off the hook? Speculative, but maybe. https://gosint.wordpress.com/ 2017/07/18/cia-director-mike- pompeo-we-must-steal-secrets- with-audacity-update-cia- official-transcript-posted- and-modified/
…in fact, in the title it says they refuse to endorse “the Chemical Weapons Hoax In Eastern Ghouta,” not in Khan Sheikhoun (and not in Ghouta, 2013, but recently). They would be totally right to challenge those decisions, but they apparently aren’t doing so.
In response to John_Frank, comments 9, 11.
Certainly Mattis was not referring to Khan Sheikhoun, but to claims about later incidents. It is not clear to me that ‘Willy B’ meant to suggest he was.
As it happens, there is overwhelming evidence that Khan Sheikhoun, like Ghouta, was a ‘false flag.’
In relation to Ghouta, I would refer anybody interested to my discussion entitled ‘Sentence First – Verdict Afterwards?’, which by coincidence was posted on SST shortly after the Khan Sheikhoun story broke. Both that, and two ‘open letters’ I wrote at that time to the members of the House of Commons Defence and Foreign Affairs Committees, can be accessed by clicking the tab ‘Habakkuk’ on the right hand side.
The ‘open letters’ pointed to the urgent need for clarification as to precisely what it was being claimed that the ‘chemical forensics’ proved, both in relation to Khan Sheikhoun and earlier incidents, and ‘the critical importance of getting the significant stock of test results we know to exist into the public domain as soon as possible.’
As regards Khan Sheikhoun, what I take to be a devastating demolition of the report of the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism published last October was posted in December by Professor Paul McKeigue on the blog of his Edinburgh University colleague Tim Hayward.
(See https://timhayward.wordpress.com/2017/12/22/khan-sheikhoun-chemical-attack-guest-blog-featuring-paul-mckeigues-reassessment/ .)
The argument of McKeigue’s post reflects the fact that his chair is in ‘Genetic Epidemiology and Statistical Genetics.’ In simple English, this involves using modern statistical methods to isolate inherited factors in disease, which can have very major public health benefits.
In relation to the investigation of chemical weapons incidents, this background means that, although in his piece he makes clear that he is not expert in chemistry, McKeigue is far better equipped to deal with the ‘chemical forensics’ issues than almost all of the rest of us who take an interest in these matters.
A central tool of his trade is a methodology called ‘Bayesian inference’. Its modern development owes a very great deal to the work of Alan Turing’s statistical assistant, Jack Good, at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, and his development of this in his later career.
At its most basic, ‘Bayesian inference’ involves evaluating competing hypotheses by assessing how well they predict a range of different pieces of evidence. Starting with an initial estimate of their relative probability, often termed the ‘prior odds’, one then assesses how probable a given piece of evidence would be under the different hypothesis, the relative probability being termed the ‘likelihood ratio.’
Modifying the ‘prior odds’ by this gives one the ‘posterior odds’, which one can then successively modify further by evaluating how well further pieces of evidence are predicted. Among the strengths of this method is that, if one is prepared to play the game honestly, one can very rapidly find that one’s initial assumptions about what is or is not likely to be the case are clearly untenable.
(At Bletchley, ‘Bayesian inference’ was used to make it possible for machines to keep up with the modifications introduced by the Germans to make Enigma more secure. In ‘statistical genetics’, it is used to isolate genetic factors from the mass of other factors affecting disease.)
In earlier posts on Hayward’s blog, to which his latest one linked, McKeigue used this method to argue that the hypothesis which most successfully predicted the available evidence about Khan Sheikhoun was that of ‘a managed massacre of captives intended to bring about a US military intervention, using small quantities of sarin to generate a forensic trail.’ A similar hypothesis, he argued, best predicts the evidence about Ghouta.
As he notes in the December post, the hypothesis of a ‘managed massacre’ was not even considered in the Joint Investigative Mechanism report.
Discussing this, McKeigue points to a range of different pieces of evidence which are, in his view, far more probable under the ‘managed massacre’ hypothesis that under that, adopted by the JIM, according to which ‘sarin had been released through an aerial bomb.’
However, he also notes that the authors of the report had access both to the Pentagon’s map of the flight track of the aircraft supposedly responsible, and to ‘another aerial map’ which ‘indicated that the closest to Khan Shaykhun that the aircraft had flown had been approximately 5 km away.’
And McKeigue goes on to suggest that unless the flight track evidence is wrong, which the JIM authors do not claim, ‘the hypothesis of a chemical attack by the Syrian air force can be excluded as having zero likelihood.’
If correct, this argument has some extremely disturbing implications. The Pentagon, quite clearly, has analysts who are extremely well-equipped to assess the evidence about flight paths and draw the relevant conclusions. If McKeigue’ argument is right, then either material exonerating the Syrian government has not been made available to the Secretary of Defense, or he is aware of it and has colluded in suppressing it.
Here, however, another key argument which McKeigue makes is relevant. Put briefly, both the analytical methods and the technologies available for doing ‘chemical forensics’ on incidents such as Ghouta and Khan Sheikhoun have improved by leaps and bounds in recent years.
Of the laboratories certified by the OPCW for competence in this kind of analysis, one is the U.S. Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Maryland. It was this facility which was given the task of designing and equipping the MV ‘Cape Ray’, on which the Syrian government’s declared stocks of the sarin precursor methylphosphonyl difluoride – known as DF – were destroyed in the Mediterranean in the summer of 2014.
It seems abundantly clear that detailed tests were carried out on samples from these, both by scientists from the OPCW and by those from Edgewood CBC facility. The 2011 paper to which McKeigue links in discussing the implications of this, entitled ‘Impurity Profiling to Match a Nerve Agent to Its Precursor Source for Chemical Forensics Applications’, by Carlos G. Fraga of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and colleagues, is behind a paywall.
However, a very lucid piece summarising developments in the field in terms accessible to scientific illiterates like myself was published by Bethany Halford under the title ‘Tracing A Threat’ in ‘Chemical & Engineering News’, a journal of the ‘American Chemical Society’, in February 2012.
(See https://cen.acs.org/articles/90/i6/Tracing-Threat.html .)
As well as interviewing Fraga, Halford quotes an expert called Joseph Chipuk, from a consultancy called ‘Signature Science’ in Austin.
He explains in detail how the ‘spectra’ – different wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation associated with different ‘impurities’ in samples, including ‘environmental’ ones, such as soil, fragments of weapons, and clothing – can be matched with reconstructions of possible ‘synthetic pathways’. The levels of sophistication of which this kind of analysis was already capable in 2012, he made clear, are close to breathtaking:
‘To figure out signatures based on various synthetic routes and conditions, Chipuk says that the synthetic chemists on his team will make the same chemical threat agent as many as 2,000 times in an “almost robotic manner,” following a database that tells them exactly what conditions to use. They then hand off the product to the analytical chemists, who look at all the tiny impurities that turn up along with the toxic chemical – “the stuff that’s down in the weeds,” as Chipuk describes it. From there, the hundreds or, in some cases, thousands of spectra that are collected go to statisticians and computer scientists who work their magic to tease out the unique attribution signatures.’
One implication is that the suggestion that a single chemical, or small number of chemicals, can be treated as a ‘smoking gun’ is patently ludicrous. Moreover, it will be known to be so by any of the many scientists working for the OPCW or the laboratories it certifies, which include besides the Edgewood CBC facility the British laboratory at Porton Down, the French at Le Bouchet, and the Russian in Moscow. Likewise, officials or journalists who have taken the trouble to familiarise themselves with rather basic information about ‘chemical forensics’ will know it is ludicrous.
However, precisely this suggestion forms the basis of the notorious ‘hexamine hypothesis’ originally put forward by Dan Kaszeta, and carried onwards in the ‘National Evaluation’ published by the French government not long after the incident, and – in a somewhat more sophisticated form – into the JIM Report.
It is very difficult to see any coherent ‘sources and methods’ reasons why the kind of detailed analyses of the tests carried out by the Edgewood CBC – and specifically, the charts of the ‘spectra’ – on the Syrian government stocks should not be made public.
Likewise, it is not clear why the detailed results of tests on ‘environmental’ samples from a range of incidents, including as well as Khan Sheikhoun and Ghouta the earlier ones at Saraqeb and Khan Al-Asal, which we know to have been carried out by various of these laboratories, should not be made public.
This basic point, which was central to my ‘open letters’ last April, has not been addressed. If Secretary Mattis has the courage of his convictions, he should organise for these materials to be put in the public domain. If he continues to claim that Khan Sheikhoun was, in essence, a ‘slam dunk’, without doing so, then one is back to the question of whether crucial evidence has been kept from him or he is colluding in suppressing it.
As both McKeigue and Hayward are involved with the ‘Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media’ which has recently been set up over here, more material on the ‘chemical forensics’ and related matters should be appearing on that site in due course – see http://syriapropagandamedia.org .
David, just a quick note – I’m analyzing the flight track graphic and think I can say these things (more detail and maybe more findings soon)
1) the graphic provided has the map and the flight track stretched horizontally several percentage points – seemingly all the same distortion between flight path and map, so no apparent effect how they line up, and easily corrected
2) there’s a starting offset where first radar returns start west of the airfield rather than a bit east as they should, taking off e-se. Offset seems app. 6 km west and 1 km north, possibly more depending where they should first appear (unclear).
3) IF this is the only issue, and the same offset applies at the end near Khan Sheikhoun (uncertain but presumed for now), the effect is fairly slight considering the angle of the apparent nearest pass south of town. The offset would put it maybe 1 km further south, which seems closer than even I thought – nearest pass is app. 2.5-3 km from sarin crater on the graphic, and adjusted, is about 3.5 km. Hardly seems worth the effort or risk to fudge it just for that small difference. Possibly just an error of imprecision, bust still it could be more than that.
If the distance is really 5 km like the JIM says, there must be another issue. Unclear what else they’d measure from, but nothing further north than the crater makes much sense. Maybe they were just rounding up.
It’s still a roughly e-w path with no north-south trajectory to explain a gravity-driven bomb drifting 3.5 km north of the point it would be dropped. The likelihood remains at about zero.
one more update – apologies, I did that just now and did part of it backwards. Different results later when I’m less tired.
That is fine but why are in this situation where state policy, which is supposed to be amoral and uphold the supreme interests of the state, could be so easily subject to pathetic middle-class emotionalism?
The King and the Government were both aware of the death camps all throughout World War II but those facts were neither advertised for cheap schmaltzy sentimentality nor effected the conduct of the war.
Dear David Habakkuk,
You are right to point out that honesty is necessary in a Bayesian approach. Let me add a second quantification from Rumsfeld: those pesky “unknown unknowns.” The Bayesian approach almost never reveals something one does not anticipate or know to anticipate.
So either by omission of ignorance or deliberately, a Bayesian approach can deceive. In honest understood systems, they are excellent at attributing likelihood to various possibilities.
I am going to pull deposition training on you and remind you that one never knows what someone else believes, just what they tell you they believe.
So General Mattis is telling us a story and one can infer from it that the Pentagon desires certain policy outcomes wrt public opinion (he was briefing the press, not his subordinates!), but this in no way tells us what the real policy is.
It is far better to infer policy from actions as they are evidence of actual facts on the ground – not ideas implied by words, although even there, imperfect implementation and intervening factors from other actors, will muddy the interpretation.
Thus, Willy B’s point is that Mattis at the Pentagon has decided to change the policy wrt to public opinion, which could indicate a change in actual policy, or could indicate shifting balance between factions in the US govt. Given our commander in chiefs tendency to tweet whatever policy he came up with two minutes ago, it likely did not originate from Trump.
In response to Adam, comment 19.
I look forward to your reworking with interest. Often the most economical explanations of small puzzles like this are ‘errors of imprecision’, but then sometimes they are not, and can hold the key to solving intractable puzzles.
The oddness of the ‘sarin or sarin-like’ formulation, clarification of which was one of the things I was looking for in the initial ‘open letter’ I sent to the Commons’ Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee members last April, is another puzzle which may merit more exploration.
Particularly given the delays in clarifying the crucial issue of whether ‘environmental’ or ‘physiological’ samples were at issue, it now seems to me that this may have been a deliberate trap.
If people could be encouraged to suggest that sarin might not actually have been found in the samples, then they could be set off chasing red herrings – such as the suggestion that the strike we know to have happened significantly later than the supposed time of the attack accidentally struck a store of chemicals.
Among the materials which one could have imagined might be stored could be ‘organophosphates’, found in pesticides and fertilisers, which could if exploded be assumed to leave some traces in ‘environmental’ samples similar to those left by sarin.
And this was both the line taken in the early responses by those who were convinced that this had to be another ‘false flag’, on the lines of Ghouta, and that taken later by both Seymour Hersh and Gareth Porter.
Such claims could then be wrong-footed when it emerged that the test results had actually shown sarin.
Such a strategy could have had another advantage, which is actually implicit in McKeigue’s argument.
If one accepts both that sarin was genuinely found in the samples, and that the scenario of the munition delivered by air does not stand up, then one is pushed, logically, to the hypothesis of a staged incident – in which case, even leaving aside the analysis of the videos, the hypothesis of a ‘massacre of captives’ becomes practically inescapable. (The more deaths, the larger the massacre one needs to explain them.)
As regards the blood test results, moreover, it then becomes material that modern ‘chemical forensics’ can trace levels of sarin in blood which could come from doses which would not come remotely close to being lethal. So it would be possible to make people think it inconceivable that any ‘live’ victims could have been part of a ‘staged incident’, when in fact it might not be inconceivable at all.
However, the ‘massacre of captives’ hypothesis is one of those which will be regarded by most people as so extreme that those putting it forward are automatically to be dismissed as ‘conspiracy theorists.’
Accordingly, it is not difficult to see reasons why even people who think the evidence does point that way might be reluctant to say so publicly.
It could be that, at the outset, people genuinely fell into the trap that had been laid, and then later, did not feel in a position to seek to demolish the ‘narrative’ which had been constructed by saying what they had come to realise was likely to have happened.
Thank you for that.
This is the first time I realised that Thomas Bayes obscure eighteenth century equations on probability were not dug up and applied first for the benefit and profit of Google Search’s algorithms but were of interest and use to the far less venal Alan Turing.
The physicist Dr Jim al-Khalili did a series on BBC4 several years ago entitled “The Secret Life of Chaos.” It included this statement:
“This film is the story of a series of bizarre and interconnected discoveries that revealed a hidden face of Nature. That woven into its simplest and most basic laws is a power to the unpredictable. Its about how inanimate matter with no purpose or design can spontaneously create exquisite beauty. Its about how the same laws that make the universe chaotic and unpredictable can turn simple dust into human beings. It is about the discovery that there is a strange and unexpected relationship between order and chaos.”
Part of the film was about Turing’s later work where, taking specifically cows’ hides, he investigated how basic mathematical patterns could be duplicated again and again in Nature, seemingly randomly. I was unaware until reading your post that Turing employed a Bayesian, Jack Good, at Bletchley Park.
I find the religious dimensions of this fascinating.
The film of al-Khalili = who describes himself as a muslim-aetheist – can be found at:
“If McKeigue’ argument is right, then either material exonerating the Syrian government has not been made available to the Secretary of Defense, or he is aware of it and has colluded in suppressing it.”
Do we even need to ask which is the most likely situation?
Actually, both are possible simultaneously. The CIA/DIA/whoever could be manipulating the investigation in any number of ways and thus feeding hogwash to the Secretary who in turn is totally happy to receive what he might suspect is bogus intel as long as it keeps him in his job. After all, it’s just another bunch of brown people getting killed. How does that compare to him keeping his job as “Secretary of War.”
Frankly, I’ve given up any notion decades ago that any of these people are in any way honest, honorable, or anything more than scum.
I recall a news show some years ago when Donald Rumsfeld was asked why he said he knew where the Iraq WMDs were when clearly there weren’t any. He replied that he never said that. The news team instantly brought out the famous statement where he said the WMDs were “north, south, east and west” of Baghdad. Rumsfeld was so stunned that the news team had sandbagged him in this way that he (and the news team) remained silent for a good twenty seconds of “dead air”. It was amazing. Probably the one time in history where a straight up high government official liar was exposed on television.