Bellingcat

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

A Chemical Weapons Expert Responds To The Article "Questions Plague UN Report on Syria"

Earlier this week an article was published by Al Akhbar, Questions Plague UN Report on Syria, making a number of claims about the UN report, including "There is not a single environmental sample in Moadamiyah that tested positive for Sarin." and "It is scientifically improbable that survivors would test that highly for exposure to Sarin without a single trace of environmental evidence testing positive for the chemical agent.".  This is then used to claim that the 140mm artillery rockets fired at Moadamiyah were not carrying Sarin, as widely reported, and that the trajectory of these rockets, as per the UN report, which crosses over with the trajectory of other rockets fired at Eastern Ghouta over the Syrian army’s Republican Guard 104th Brigade base, is indicative of nothing, as the munitions did not contain Sarin.

One of the chemical weapon experts quoted in the article is Dan Kaszeta, who has responded to the article with a FAQ he's published online.

Q: The article claims "not a single environmental sample in Moadamiyah that tested positive for Sarin." - What is your reaction to this?

I consider this statement to be a misleading half-truth that “cherry picks” from the UN report. It is true in respect to the fact that no actual Sarin was found in the 13 environmental samples taken from Moadamiyah. But the samples show DIMP, IMPA, and MPA, all of which are strong indicators of Sarin. The environmental samples are clear indicators that Sarin was used because of the clear presence of chemicals that are clearly decomposition products (IMPA, MPA) and impurities (DIMP), all of which persist longer in the environment than Sarin itself.

There are several plausible reasons why the UN team did not collect a sample of actual Sarin at the Moadamiyah. Any or all of the following explanatory or contributory factors may have applied to this circumstance:
  • The 140mm rocket alleged to have been used in Moadamiyah is patently smaller than the devices used elsewhere. Therefore, there it would carry far less chemical agent than larger devices. There may have been less Sarin to find at each individual site where the 140mm rocket was used.
  • The UN report states that they did not find the actual warhead. Their photos are of the rocket section, not the agent-carrying portion of the rocket.
  • The lack of a payload-carrying section indicates to me that the explosive bursting charge of the rocket functioned as intended. The US Army used approximately a 3.3:1 ratio by weight of Sarin to conventional explosive in the US’s closest analogue to the 140mm rocket, the M55 115mm rocket. As a Soviet-designed 140mm rocket carried approx. 2.2 kg of Sarin, a comparable ratio would indicate an explosive charge of 650-700 grams of explosive. From my own direct experience with explosives in my military and law enforcement training, such a quantity would shred the rocket’s warhead section into small fragments. As metal fragments are a likely place to collect a Sarin sample, the fragments at Moadamiyah may have been too small to locate or indeed too small to contain an effective sample of the agent.
  • A fully effective and efficient explosive dissemination of a 140mm rocket carrying Sarin would create an aerosol of finely divided droplets, with little or no pooling or puddles of Sarin, making it harder to find a trace of actual Sarin. This factor presumes that the munition efficiency (the percentage of Sarin dispensed as an aerosol to create rapid effects) of the 140mm rocket is higher than that of the larger system used elsewhere. Based on my knowledge of chemical weapons design, I believe this to be the case.
  • If the location in Moadamiyah under investigation had been exposure to more ventilation, more moisture, or both, the evaporation and degradation of Sarin would have been increased relative to other locations. With the information available to me, I cannot know whether this was the case or not.

Q: The same article claims "It is scientifically improbable that survivors would test that highly for exposure to Sarin without a single trace of environmental evidence testing positive for the chemical agent." How do you answer this question?

This is an untrue statement unsupported by the facts. The statement appears to betray an ignorance of the relationship of Sarin to its degradation products. As I state above Sarin degrades into IMPA and/or MPFA. IMPA is a direct daughter compound of Sarin.

Q: The article also states that sarin can last "for months, sometimes years in the environment." Could you clarify the situation where that would be the case?

The persistence (or not) of Sarin in the environment depends on numerous variables.  The fate of Sarin in the environment is effected by evaporation, hydrolysis, and thermal decomposition. I will address each in turn:
  • Evaporation. Sarin has a non-trivial vapor pressure and a relatively low “latent heat of vaporization” (the energy required to go from liquid state to vapor state) at normal temperatures. Therefore, Sarin is a volatile liquid, and it will evaporate into the air if given the chance to do so. In open contact with the air, Sarin liquid cannot be expected to last for more than a few hours. 30 minutes at 15º C is stated by one German authority. In situation where the liquid Sarin is trapped and not exposed to air, it may persist for some time. 
  • Hydrolyis. Sarin will decompose into IMPA or MPFA in contact with moisture.  Sarin not in contact with moisture, such as humidity in the air or soil, will last longer.
  • Thermal decomposition. Sarin thermally decomposes rapidly above 150º C.
Sarin without direct contact with air or water or extreme heat simply has less means to evaporate or degrade. Sarin trapped in a way where it has no access to air or water will significantly increase its persistence in the environment. In addition, liquid Sarin absorbs into some surfaces. I find samples 27 and 28 particularly revealing, as they are from window seals/gaskets. This is exactly where I would look for Sarin.

Q: Would you agree with the UN's claim on page 5 of the report that "The environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide clear and compelling evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent Sarin were used in Ein Tarma, Moadamiyah and Zamalka in the Ghouta area of Damascus."?

Yes. I believe that the environmental samples are conclusive. The medical evidence is somewhat less conclusive in my mind, but only because the methodology by which the samples were analyzed is not clearly stated.

Q: Considering the evidence in the UN report, do you agree with the articles conclusion that the 140mm artillery rockets fired at Moadamiyah did not contain Sarin?

I do not agree with this conclusion. I can think of no other reason to account for the presence of DIMP and IMPA at the scene.

Q: The article quotes you as saying "environmental and medical evidence cannot conceivably be considered a scientifically or statistically accurate sample of the population of affected victims. It would be considered scientifically unsound to draw widespread conclusions based simply on this sample." Could you expand on what you mean here?

The only point I am making with that statement is that the sample population of 36 individuals is too small to be considered statistically adequate to represent the entire population of thousands of people affected by the attacks. It is just too small a slice of the theoretical data set to allow one to draw widespread conclusions about the whole incident. A statistician could shed more light on the science behind this, as it has been over 20 years since my last statistics class.

My statement should not be taken to mean that we cannot learn from the data collected on the 36 people. Nor should my original statement be taken as a statement that I do not believe Sarin was used. As I state in my earlier report, I firmly believe Sarin was used, based on the evidence of the UN Report. My statement just means we can’t apply those particular findings based on 36 people to the broader population of many thousands with any expectation of accuracy.

Q: The same article also highlights you're concerns over the mixture of symptoms not matching that of past sarin attacks; "Is it possible that we are looking at exposure to multiple causes of injury? Were some of the examined victims exposed to other things in addition to Sarin? I am not stating that Sarin was not used. It clearly was. My point is that it is either not behaving as we have understood it in the past or that other factors were at work in addition to Sarin" Could you expand on that point?

The point I was trying to make is as follows: One logical explanation behind the diverse and variegated signs and symptoms noted in the report may be the fact that we are looking at exposure to more than one thing. In simpler terms, did other chemicals cause injury in addition to Sarin.

There are numerous ways in which this could be the case. One possibility is widespread presence of smoke and other respiratory irritants. One theory I would like to explore is binary chemical weapons.

A binary chemical weapon is one that combines several components to create the chemical agent desired, generally by mixing the two chemicals in flight on the way to the target. Both the US and Soviet Union developed this technique during the Cold War.  For example, a binary weapon could create Sarin. One excellent example of this was  the M687 artillery shell developed by the US Army.  The M687 was designed to  combine two canisters mid flight after being fired from a 155mm howitzer. One canister  contained DF (Methylphosphonic difluoride – see above) while the other canister contained a mix of isopropyl alcohol and isopropyl amine. The two canisters would mix  to create Sarin. The actual success of inflight mixing was very difficult to achieve and was the result of much research, development, and test firing both with simulant chemicals and live agents.

My theory is that the larger 330-360mm rocket may have been designed as a binary agent to combine chemicals to create Sarin. However, the ‘dark art’ of perfecting the inflight mixing may not have been learned by its designers. In such a case, the device would disseminate a mix of chemicals upon impact or detonation. Some Sarin would be created, but an awful lot of precursors would be present. None of these precursors are pleasant substances and their general proclivity to cause respiratory and eye irritation could explain the relatively ubiquitous but generic respiratory and eye symptoms. In addition, the presence of MPFA at the locations tied to the larger rocket, but not the smaller rocket, could support this theory. This is because MPFA is a direct decomposition product of DF, the Sarin binary component.

Q: Wouldn’t the attackers just mix up the chemicals, THEN pour them into the rocket?

There’s no theoretical reason why that couldn’t happen. It’s just that it seems a dim idea to do it that way. Taking dangerous chemicals and mixing them in open air to create an even more dangerous chemical, which would evaporate and cause a downwind hazard seems like a difficult thing to get soldiers to do, and that’s speaking in my capacity as a former Chemical Corps Officer. Anyone forced to do do would probably rush and make mistakes or do a poor job of it. Mixing binary components before putting them both in the weapon would negate all of the advantages of having a binary weapon in the first place. Using pure, unitary agent would achieve much higher efficiency at the same or lower (non-trivial) level of danger to the troops handling the agent. I see little point in a binary system that isn’t an in-flight mixing technique.

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All these questions and more can be found on Dan Kaszeta's FAQ.

More posted on the subject of the August 21st attacks can be found here, and other posts on chemical weapons and Syria, including extremely informative interviews with chemical weapon specialists, can be found here.

You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at brownmoses@gmail.com.

61 comments:

  1. Employing MSM's perception management method of repeating an UNCONTESTED assertion that "sarin was used" to indirectly and subconsciously affirm the UNPROVEN claim that SAA were responsible.

    4/10 of effort
    Deducting 10 for insulting my intelligence
    Mark: -4

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    1. Of all the apologetics, this made me laugh the hardest: "I do not agree with this conclusion [that the rockets about which Brown Moses has gone on endlessly did not deliver chemical weapons]. I can think of no other reason to account for the presence of DIMP and IMPA at the scene."

      Here's a translation: "because of bunch of moderate cannibals showed me a rocket that could have never been used to fire a munition that was not detected, it must therefore follow that Assad used Sarin on babies and then stacked them up in neat piles, uploaded them to YouTube, and generated an international campaign hellbent on bombing the country in whose name he governs."

      This guy flunks any remedial class in logic.

      Additionally, this guy confirms that in spite of the 1400 dead babies (invoked over and over again by Agent Claiborne) being on the scene, and in spite of the heart-eaters having complete control over the victims, the 3 dozen people tested for Sarin all came back negative.

      Why weren't more bodies tested for Sarin? Did Brown Moses's alCIAda buddies eat the rest of them? Was there a gigantic barbecue (beer, babies, and bratwurst) to celebrate the eventual invasion of the Whites?

      For just a minute, I'll become Kaszeta: "I agree that there was a gigantic barbecue of babies to celebrate the effective carrying out of this PsyOp. I can think of no other reason to account for the presence of ashes and used charcoal at the scene."

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    2. Correction: the 3 dozen people out of 1400 tested positive for Sarin, but nothing was found in the environs controlled by alCIAda.

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    3. Good post.....one quibble....doesn't that make -6?

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    4. Hey man, don't insult his intelligence with your math.

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    5. Man? Math? Why are you pretending to be American?

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    6. Hello Shawn Redden .... formerly of Washington University, prone to throwing temper tantrums, banned from publishing in the student newspaper and widely regarded as being an absolute nutcase because of your over the top conspiracy ridden anti western and anti Israeli views.

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    7. Hi Cal: good use of a basic search engine.

      For a calendar year I wrote column after column attacking the core justifications for the war in Iraq. The flat-out lie that I got banned is hilarious considering my last column was submitted a couple days before graduating--an open letter to the students I taught and activists with whom I worked.

      I hardly find it surprising that someone acting as a propagandist for the next war in the Middle East would find the columns I wrote a decade ago deeply unsettling.

      Once a warmonger, always a warmonger I suppose.

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    8. Sure Shawn... Wars start because of "warmongers" like the Syrian people. Every war is Iraq and every leader is George W. Bush. You aren't living in an anti-war fantasy...

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    9. Contra-man supports "Syrians" like Abu Sakkar and John Kerry.

      Doesn't Ahmed Chalabi have a Syrian uncle or something that we can make president in the new "democratic" Syria?

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    10. Shawn Redden, if you are unwilling to accept that millions of Syrians revolted, why are you even talking about the war? It's not like anyone will be able to have an advanced discussion with you.

      It's like being obsessed with commenting on the 2014 World Cup while refusing to acknowledge that football/soccer exists.

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    11. I'm talking about your desire for world war. In Syria now, there is a proxy attack underway against the state itself, orchestrated by Horseface and Bandar, fought with alCIAda cannibals.

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    12. Contratrarian, could you please translate, what seems to me to be, Shawn's needlessly obtuse wording? I'd like to get an understanding of what is being alleged, but don't want to put in the time to trawl through pages of comments in order to work out what "Horseface", "alCIAda" and constant allusions to cannibals are referring to.

      BTW: Sorry if this seems offensive Shawn but after years of dealing with deliberate obscurists (and i feel you are being one), i find it easier just to ask someone who i've seen can write in comprehensible sentences rather than ask for clarification from someone who would write:

      "Additionally, this guy confirms that in spite of the 1400 dead babies (invoked over and over again by Agent Claiborne) being on the scene, and in spite of the heart-eaters having complete control over the victims, the 3 dozen people tested for Sarin all came back negative"

      If you would be so good as to write in easily comprehensible English, that would be a great help to understanding the arguments that you are presenting. In which case i would clearly have to apologize for suggesting that you're being deliberately obscure by your use of language.

      BTW - on a CW point. I am assuming that the section I quoted above is referring to the report to the UN about the 21st August CW attack. From my reading of the report, 34 people consented to having biological samples taken; 30 +/-1 of those are noted in the report as having biomarkers of sarin exposure. Anyone who would suggest that not actually finding sarin in the body of a potential victim around a week after exposure is either deeply disingenuous or has no understanding of what makes nerve agents such potent weapons.

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    13. Boot,

      Shawn is a contrarian, which is a popular American character played by psuedo-intellectuals who try to earn style points for their undeveloped political views by endorsing anti-mainstream narratives. If you are talking about a problem in the middle east, they will give you some pull-string response about Noam Chomsky. If you are talking about economics, they will start on about alternative currencies and the end of central banking. It's tiresome and childish behavior, but it plays an extremely large role in American political discussion. There is no comparable contra-trarian movement or voice to oppose this phenomenon, and you can see that people like Shawn become extremely confident with no real cause or substance behind them. This stems out of the American practice wherein it is not acceptable to label any ideas as being retarded.

      Shawn's view on Syria is that there was no genuine revolution involving millions of normal, non-extremist Sunnis. He refuses to acknowledge or even discuss the origins of the conflict. For example, I gave him a quick litmus test wherein he refused to acknowledge the following prompt:

      "There is a very small minority group in Syria that has ruled for many years since the original undemocratic takeover of the Assad family. During this time they have consolidated their power, shut out dissent, obstructed political challenges and transformed the military into a tool for keeping their minority group in charge. (This was actually an acceptable status quo across the Middle East at the time). Syria's recent government held power without a reasonable democratic process. Massive public protests and calls for regime change occurred. The foreign fighters number in the thousands but are among millions of genuine Syrian citizens."

      I've prompted him several times to acknowledge this basic background and he completely avoids the topic.

      alCIAda = This is how Shawn expresses his conflicting ideas that Al Qaeda is both present in Syria and is controlled by the CIA. This is funny because the CIA, if they had such control, would probably not have guided Al Qaeda in a way that so stymied the goal of American intervention. It is also funny because Shawn's current perception of a massive Al Qaeda presence is completely incompatible with his previous Bush-era position on the size of the threat posed by Al Qaeda. That's what happens when someone keeps arbitrarily adopting contrarian position while the mainstream evolves. He's arguing against his old ideas.

      Shawn repeats "alCIAda" whenever he is talking about the rebels, presumably because repeating simplistic negative talking points about the rebels strengthens his own belief and provides psychological comfort.

      "Horseface" has something to do with John Kerry. Shawn conflates Kerry's presence with illuminati involvement.

      "Cannibals" is how Shawn refers to the rebels, again for propaganda purposes.

      As I said before to Shawn: If you are unwilling to accept that millions of Syrians revolted, why are you even talking about the war? It's not like anyone will be able to have an advanced discussion with you. It's like being obsessed with commenting on the 2014 World Cup while refusing to acknowledge that football/soccer exists.

      It's best to just mock him, let him discredit himself, and otherwise help Higgins deal with these ridiculous attacks.

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    14. Ta Contratrarian,

      short version - he's a crank magnet just as i thought.

      Thanks for explaining the background of his jargon. Getting something clear and non-recursive (more non-mainstream jargon) from a crank is something i've had problems with in the past. Hence asking for your translation.

      To be fair, if you are wrong about something, you should change your mind and argue that your former self was wrong. However, having met a few British contrarians I've found that they "weren't wrong then and am not wrong now" without being able to tell any consistent story of how things changed.

      I loved the comment about the World Cup.

      I'll probably be sticking to commenting on the chemistry, with hopefully some opportunities for some good quality snark (and help casual readers understand the subtleties involved)

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    15. "Contrarian": 99.99% of human beings on the planet who oppose NATO carpet-bombing of Syria.

      NON-Contrarians: 01% of White crazies hankering for world war and calling for NATO carpet-bombing in the name of "self-determination".

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    16. Cont - i see what you mean

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    17. Boot: I understand your concern. Propagandizing for a world war is serious business. You've got a job to do.

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    18. Shawn - if you can point to any statement that i have made advocating or "Propagandizing for a world war" i would like you to quote it back to me.

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    19. Perhaps I was a bit presumptuous, Boot. Seeing the strong manner in which you affiliated yourself with the Contra, and since the Contra routinely begs for NATO to launch a humanitarian bombing for self determination, I inferred that you wanted the same.

      Forgive me if I was in error. Furthermore, if I was wrong I join you in the campaign to stop Uncle Sam and his proxies from continuing to pay, transport, provision, arm, train, and deploy alCIAda.

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  2. I feel a strong anti Syrian bias here. The 140mm system was long out of service in Syrian army, but probably accessible to terrorists at some army junk yard they seize. Why would an army use antiquated system that can misfire when they have modern better system? Why would the army use dangerous antique system from its base? In the capital? Few hours before the UN inspectors arrive a few miles away from where they will stay? Why did the US resist UN mission to investigate other attacks, i.e. Aleppo March 19, but agreed to send inspectors few days before this one? Isn't it because the show staged to justify aggression was prepared? Why pictures and videos of packaged bodies appear in partially Saudi owned mass media 3 hours after the attack? Attack happened at 3am. Who collected and packaged the bodies recorded videos, sent them to the media and posted online by 6 am?

    On the other hand, the 140mm system is a perfect choice for terrorists. It is small, light, remote controlled, easily towed around by any vehicle or even by hands. They don't need to worry about misfiring old system because they don't fire it from their base. They do it for a show, so using it in a capital in front of the UN inspectors makes perfect sense. Pictures of terrorists towing around similar launchers you dismiss because it is not the same very system. Are the terrorists required to document every system they use? Does an absence of a picture with 140mm system on the web "prove" they didn't use it? The question is if such a system might be obtained, operated and lugged around in modern Syria. If they can use 122mm and 107mm launchers, the answer for all these questions is "yes". Why they can not use analogous 140mm? They were physically present in Syria, at some point and might still be available in some depot. Taliban is known to use 140mm system, why the same professional terrorists can not operate it in Syria? The same goes for sarin. "It is not known to be used by" terrorists. A sect in Japan made at least 10 liters of sarin. And Syrian terrorists generously sponsored by Saudis and the West can not do it? Previous incidents like Aleppo March 19 are dismissed because the US blocked sending inspectors at Syrian request and Russian inspectors are "not trustworthy"? Of course the UN inspectors guided by terrorists are.

    Presence of a sarin precursor and contaminants in the sample is interpreted as lousy binary weapon, whereas it is way more logical to assume it is a lousy synthesis in some garage. Discrepancy between high levels of Sarin in environment and human samples is desperately explained away. Human body is pretty moist environment and sarin is known to be hydrolised. Blood has high pH known to destroy sarin. What is the reason diminutive quantities of sarin inhaled should persist better in the body than in environment?

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    1. The blog doesn't exactly take sides unless pushed there by piles of evidence rather than self-serving supposition.

      The people being killed by the Syrian regime, often with the help of Lebanese and Iranian mercenaries, are Syrians too, so how can it be "anti-Syrian" unless you think that anyone not loyal to Assad instantly becomes a non-Syrian?

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    2. Tradicionalist:

      Aum Shinrikyo had a state of the art facility and production plant. Their Research program is estimated to have cost $30 million USD. It included 80 technical staff, led by a Ph.D. chemist. They bribed Soviet chemical weapons scientists for information. And yet they only produced 10 L (10 kg) of Sarin of mediocre quality and failed to deploy it in any effective manner.

      The Damascus attack on Aug 21 would have required, somewhere between 100-1000 kg. 600 kg is a reasonable estimate.

      Sorry, but if you believe Sarin can be cooked up in your garage on that sort of scale--without poisoning the neighborhood--you're living in a fantasy world. Not only that, the reagents and chemical processes require specialty equipment. Simply handling large quantities of Hydrogen Fluoride is a serious undertaking. White Phosphorus, Phosphorus Trichloride, Chlorine Gas, Thionyl Chloride (and the resulting sulfur dioxide)--these require inert atmospheres, very dry equipment, corrosion-resistant steel (i.e., nickel-plated).

      If terrorists are interested in chemical weapons, there are a whole lot of others that could be prepared far more cheaply, easily, and clandestinely than Sarin. So why would they just jump to Sarin and not, say, Chloropicrin, Phosgene, Cyanide? That's illogical. In fact, we have video evidence of rebel groups poisoning rabbits with cyanide gas--but not with Sarin. Interesting, isn't that?

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    3. According to the US secretary of state, Saudi offered $200 millions for the US air strikes against Syria. One could only guess how much Saudi spent on terrorists that are on Saudi payroll from day one, on lobbying in Washington, on anti Syrian propaganda in western mass media. With all this investments in terrorist war against Syria, additional $30 millions for sarin production facility doesn't look unreasonable. And Ph.D. don't cost much more than pilots for 9/11.

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    4. Medwar

      The terrorists blowing up buses and shooting mortars and high caliber machine guns in settlements are not all Syrians. Thousands were recruited by Saudi, Qatar and possibly Western money all around the world. There were reports that Saudi sent death row inmates to fight war on Syria. It is reminiscent of Hitler's use of units made of criminals for ethnic cleansing of Byelorussia during WWII. Leader of so called Free Syrian army Ahmad Assi Jarba served a prison term for drug trafficking in Saudi Arabia and Saudi have both FSA and jihadists on their payroll from day one.

      We have all seen what Saudi sponsored terrorists supported by Saudi sponsored NATO strikes did in Libya. All talk about "democracy" and "tyrants" is utter hypocrisy on this background. Saudi and the West want to turn Syria in another gangland like Libya or Kosovo. Former British foreign minister Robert Cooper in his book "Breaking of nations" openly declared the goal of destroying all modern nonwestern nations and turning then into gangland.

      Assad won't let the West to do it in Syria. Gangsters are not allowed to kill Syrians freely in broad daylight like they do in Libya. That is a duty of any honest national leader. And yes, gangsters restrained by army tanks and air force are better than unrestrained gangsters. Surprise - neither Russia, nor Iran, nor China or India are excited by bright ideas of Robert Cooper, and I find it hard to imagine they will ever support breaking non-western countries and turning them in ganglands like Libya.

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    5. Now I'm confused, tradicionalist:

      "With all this investments in terrorist war against Syria, additional $30 millions for sarin production facility doesn't look unreasonable. And Ph.D. don't cost much more than pilots for 9/11."

      "Presence of a sarin precursor and contaminants in the sample is interpreted as lousy binary weapon, whereas it is way more logical to assume it is a lousy synthesis in some garage. "

      So did the terrorists produce their Sarin in a garage or in a Saudi-built $30 million production plant/research center led by a Ph.D Chemist? If the rebels have such limitless funds, resources, and sophistication to start their own chemical weapons program, then why would their nerve agents be of such lousy quality?

      Something isn't adding up in your statements. Could it be that you're making bad assumptions? Maybe you should stick to commenting on available evidence presented by Higgins.

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    6. What is confusing you? Yes, terrorists do have eager sponsor with unlimited funds. Yes, sarin can be produced in the garage. If it can be produced in a fired artillery shell, producing it in a garage is even easier. Yes, PhD might work both in the garage and in $30 million facility. Yes, it is cheaper to pay $200 millions to the US and invest $30 millions more in provocation than develop and mass produce cruise missiles, bombers, warships etc. Yes, there are plenty of specialists in chemical weapons in the region, Iraq, for instance. Yes, needed expertise can be obtained in the US, as 9/11 pilots demonstrate. Yes, terrorists need sarin, in order to blame Syria. If they used chlorine, for instance, everyone would laugh at them and nobody would believe Assad did it. If Syria didn't have sarin in its arsenal, terrorists and their sponsors would have to invest in VX gases. While Saudi are building their caliphate, the West openly declared intention to destroy all independent non-western nations and turn them into gangland, because modern nation can design effective weapons for self defense, while gangsters, drug lords, jihadists can not. Neither gangland will be able to use its natural resources, that will be seized and exploited by the West. We observe this strategy implemented in Iraq, Chechnya, Kosovo, Libya and now Syria. It has nothing to do with democracy and human rights. As soon as modern state is destroyed by combined efforts of terrorists and NATO war machine, gangsters are free to kill left and right. It doesn't bother West to the slightest extent. What does bother the West is when in non western countries children go to schools, adolescent attend universities, adult develop modern technology and work in high tech industries. That is the main target of Tomahawks, B1s, B2, and private terrorist armies of Saudi princes. Hope it helps.

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    7. I'm confused because you're contradicting yourself. You're saying this Sarin conspiracy was such a sophisticated operation, led by regional experts and Ph.D. chemists, funded by millions of dollars, yet they only produced garage-quality Sarin. Yet somehow, this was designed to look JUST LIKE the Syrian Government's Sarin--which, presumably, is purer. So if all these people go through such great pains even to produce Sarin, why wouldn't they go through a few more pains to purify it? Nothing you're saying makes sense.

      Saying Sarin can be "produced in a fired artillery shell" is a serious mischaracterization. Only the last step of production can be done in an artillery shell in flight. The rest of the production (synthesis of DF) has to be done in a chemical plant using toxic, corrosive, and moisture/air-sensitive chemicals. It isn't bucket chemistry. And to produce it on the scale (HUNDREDS OF GALLONS) required for the August 21 attack would simply be impossible in a garage.
      If Sarin production were so easy, then we'd hear about Sarin attacks every day rather than shootings or car-bombings. It's not as easy as you make it sound. This is exactly the sort of "fantasy world" I'm talking about when I say Assad's supporters are disconnected from reality.

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    8. I never said it is sophisticated. You said it. Germans synthesized sarin before WWII. So there is nothing impossible now, 80 years later, including inert gases, light protection, corrosion resistant containers, platinum catalysts, ventilation/neutralization etc. Most of it you can rip off seized chemical plant. The rest might be purchased with Saudi money or brought over from Iraq.

      I brought to your attention that even if it were sophisticated, Saudi sponsors of Syrian terrorists can afford anything, and given the sums they offered Obama for the strikes, they are willing to pay.

      Whether compound was "just like" Syrian is your guess. It remains to be seen when army stockpiles become available for analysis. Author of this blog said huge amounts of DF and its decomposition products were found near larger munition. Which obviously doesn't look too sophisticated or advanced. To make this lousy product look "advanced", he invents "binary weapon" theory.

      Amount of sarin used for this provocation is unknown. They don't need to know the amount to start the bombing. If gas chromatoghy can detect it - it is enough for their purposes. Estimate based on guesswork is one hundred gallons, which is just 30 times more than used in one of two Japanese attack.

      If we don't see sarin used more often, it is solely because there are more effective and less tedious means for terrorist attacks. 12 people were killed by sarin in Tokyo subway. 3000 were killed in New York on 9/11. People were indeed just a collateral damage. Terrorists targeted the landmark buildings. Syrian terrorists killed about 100 000 people so far using conventional weapons. But random mortar shelling of civilians and blowing up buses could not provoke the US aggression, so terrorists went for way less deadly but more exciting sarin, just because Obama promised air strikes if they do.

      As a side note, it might have changed overnight if not for Russian decisive actions. The US strikes would hand huge chemical weapon stockpiles to jihadists, and they would use these weapons left and right in Europe and the US. That is why Obama had to say goodbye to Saudi $200 millions. If he attacks now, when there is a real opportunity to destroy the weapons, he would be directly responsible for every death.

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    9. "And Ph.D. don't cost much more than pilots for 9/11."

      you're looking at US$100,000/year per PhD. I'd expect there to be a significant loading on top of that because the scientist is going to need to explain what the were doing for a couple of years during their career (rocking up to BASF and telling them you spent five years on a secret Saudi chemical weapons program isn't likely to get you employed!)

      Materials and particularly equipment can be tracked because there are only so many places that can make them. Getting hold of a few Kg of most things would be possible (FFS i could order cocaine hydrochloride from Sigma in the UK) - hundreds of Kg are a totally different matter. And... that only works if you're getting the closest precursors, if you have to synthesize from basic chemicals, your synthetic losses are going to ramp up pretty quickly, meaning that you had better be able to find a clandestine source for 10 tonnes of HF

      By the sound of things, the Syrian army's own sarin may have been something that could be knocked together from kit parts by squaddies, so finding that the material hadn't been through an industrial HPLC could indicate that it WAS from the government (and if these Saudi PhD's are all they are cracked up to be, extremely pure sarin would indicate that the rebels released it...)

      Delete
    10. According to the US Secretary of state, Saudi offered the US $200 000 000 for air strikes against Syria. If they need to add $100 000 on top of that, it would be 0.05% If you take into account billions Saudi spent on hiring, training and arming Syrian terrorists, lobbying in Washington and Paris, anti-Syrian propaganda in western mass media, the cost of hiring a PhD is nothing.

      I would expect the offer to be generous enough though for PhD to not worry about future employment. I mean look at Hillary Clinton. She was covering up for the same Saudi sponsored terrorists that burned American Ambassador in Libya. She played it down, denied any connection with anniversary of al Qaeda attack in New York. Her political carer is effectively over, and she knew it when she did it. PhDs are usually more modest in their expectations. Plus there are plenty of employment opportunities in Saudi Arabia for industrial chemist, and even more opportunities for cover up. Obama, on the other hand, needs to justify sale of the US national security:

      "The Central Intelligence Agency's second-in-command warned that Syria's volatile mix of al Qaeda extremism and civil war now poses the greatest threat to U.S. national security. Michael Morell says the risk is that the Syrian government, which possesses chemical and other advanced weapons, collapses and the country becomes al Qaeda's new haven, supplanting Pakistan." Wall Street Journal

      Fall of Assad is considered the greatest threat to the US national security. And for mere $200 millions Obama is eager to help terrorists to overthrow Assad. He better have a good excuse. Sarin is a nice excuse: "I gave Al Qaeda terrorists 1000 tons of chemical weapons because that poisoned baby in their fake video made me so emotional..."

      What components you need from Sigma? There was a big fuss about sodium fluoride sold to Syria. But if you open wikipedia it is easy to see that "Many fluoride minerals are known, but of paramount commercial importance is fluorite. It is composed of calcium fluoride, with small impurities. The soft, colorful mineral is found worldwide and is common." Who will track you showeling a truck load of common mineral?

      Your little mind games don't sound reasonable. Army needs long shelf life and impurities according to CIA reduced shelf life of Iraqis sarin to a couple of weeks. This is OK for quick provocation, but a huge problem for military that has to redistill and replenish its stock for years.

      But the main thing is that Syria doesn't need the US air strikes on Syrian tanks and aviation. Syrians need these tanks and aviation to protect their wives and children from drugged al Qaeda terrorists. Saudi, Al Qaeda and Obama want to destroy Syrian army and make Syrian helpless against terrorists. So only Saudi, al Qaeda and Obama are interested in creating an excuse for air strikes. Given the quote from CIA second-in-command, Obama could not order CIA to do it. There would be a new Snowden and Obama would be eaten alive, I mean Russia won't grant him political asylum. So we are left with Saudis and al Qaeda.

      Delete
    11. Calcium fluoride and sodium fluoride are different things. Calcium fluoride cannot be used to make sarin. You really have no idea what you're talking about.

      Delete
  3. tradicionalist

    He isn't. Thats the trick. He is letting you infer that.

    This is a typical MSM ploy. Its a non sequitur. Keep repeating an uncontested assertion derived from a contentious premise.

    NO ONE contests that sarin was discovered. But to make that leap to culpability you still have all your work ahead of you.

    Where are we now? Back in the town called "no wiser than before".

    For the diligent, keep your eye on the suspected munitions, the audit trail thereof, not to mention the dimensions of the projectile in the context of Newtons Law.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Taken from my longer comment at the bottom of this page:

      Look specifically at syricide's comment above. In the midst of some awkwardly executed patronization he pronounces that Higgins has written a story about nothing but the already-covered and undisputed use of Sarin. Yet the first few sentences of the referenced Higgins post reveal that the story was about the specific connection of Sarin to the 140mm rockets, which is definitely disputed in the linked article. Somehow syricide has taken all of this to imply a broader conspiracy that Higgins is writing for the sole purpose of engaging in "perception management". How does someone respond to such a stupid accusation? Syricide is either extremely stupid or he has personal compulsions that are greater than his interest in the truth.

      Delete
  4. Most of the US statements on Syria are demonstrably false. The UN report uniquely offers the US something to talk about which is more solid. The US government has little idea what is happening in Syria. Russia has hundreds of times more resources on the ground.

    The Russians seem to be pretty certain that the insurgents have Sarin. There is no way Putin would say such a thing if he did not think to be true. Russia is not America, being wrong, is a significant thing. Putin is popular because he says X and does X, Russians really like that. The US has nobody in the same category.

    As for residue, the stabilizers should also be there, if it is a stored, proper military weapon. March 19 in Khan al Asal, is what the UN team were supposed to be investigating.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How do you know an anti-rebel contrarian: they'll tell you. Just look for the guy repeating simplistic negative claims over and over while ignoring any obligation to consider context. Here we have Greig fumbling on about the rebel's possession of chemical weapons. How much of their chemical weapons stash do you think the rebels are keeping atop Mount Qasioun, Greig? Why hasn't Putin given his guess?

      You are giving Putin's words heavy weight because he "pinky swears" that the rebels did it? Pro-Assad arguments have to come from somewhere, I suppose. Why don't you spend more time on your claim that "US statements on Syria are demonstrably false"? Which claims are you talking about?

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    2. "As for residue, the stabilizers should also be there, if it is a stored, proper military weapon."

      Two comments:
      -Binary weapons don't need stabilizers.
      -Assuming stabilizers are present, what if they are volatile and do not stick around for 7 days?

      Delete
    3. Ah good, i see that we've got another experienced chemist (Grieg) to discuss the finer points of chemical weapons production, storage, use and residue analysis with!! (feeling nerdly giddy about being able to discus this with someone else with a solid grounding in the "central science" :-)

      So, Greig, what stabilizers are you thinking that the Syrians use? The reports I've read that they keep most of their CW stocks as precursors are a bit unclear if they also keep any weapons filled long term (I wonder if they have different mixtures i.e. a limited production one for long term storage, and a mass mix one for use within x hours?) Come to think of it, i wasn't totally clear on which precursors they were using for the final mix.
      Do you think that they would go with the obvious binary combination and risk having hydrogen fluoride solution washing around in the mixing system? I know that it's not as strong an acid as you'd expect it to be, but it is reactive with metals.
      What are your thoughts on the material that the warhead would need to be made from? If it was some nickel containing steel, do you have any idea why the UN report didn't talk about how unusual that was (as i read it they took fragments from the warhead)?

      ooo... so much chemistry to talk, nice to know there is someone else here who really knows his stuff. look forward to your thoughts :-)

      Delete
  5. "Syricide" and "Shawn Redden" are a pair of twits confirming each other's contrarian fantasies. They provide a tiresome speed bump for people who are interested in information from this source. I still approve of the strategy of allowing comments from these zealots because it contextualizes Higgins' own work neatly: he is taking a scrupulous, step-by-step approach to finding out any concrete information that he can about the situation while his detractors rant and speculate and constantly abandon disproved contrarian arguments in favor of new ones.

    Look specifically at syricide's comment above. In the midst of some awkwardly executed patronization he pronounces that Higgins has written a story about nothing but the already-covered and undisputed use of Sarin. Yet the first few sentences of the referenced Higgins post reveal that the story was about the specific connection of Sarin to the 140mm rockets, which is definitely disputed in the linked article. Somehow syricide has taken all of this to imply a broader conspiracy that Higgins is writing for the sole purpose of engaging in "perception management". How does someone respond to such a stupid accusation? Syricide is either extremely stupid or he has personal compulsions that are greater than his interest in the truth.

    Shawn Redden is even worse.

    I think a good idea would be to develop a litmus test for these posters, such as a simple set of ten facts that users are required to indicate whether they accept or deny. I guarantee that none of these contrarians are willing to admit the following:

    There is a very small minority group in Syria that has ruled for many years since the original undemocratic takeover of the Assad family. During this time they have consolidated their power, shut out dissent, obstructed political challenges and transformed the military into a tool for keeping their minority group in charge. (This was actually an acceptable status quo across the Middle East at the time). Syria's recent government held power without a reasonable democratic process. Massive public protests and calls for regime change occurred. The foreign fighters number in the thousands but are among millions of genuine Syrian citizens.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Contra: apart from Syria, based upon the criteria you indicate above, please list the nations NATO ought to bomb for freedom.

      Delete
    2. Russia, Iran, China... haha. You think the onus is on pro-interventionists to solve all other world crises if we want to address this one? Why is that your standard? Couldn't we just as easily say that the anti-rebel contrarians should list the dictators they support? Here Shawn: which other dictators should be propped up because there might be muslims nearby? Should the right to self-determination be discarded for all countries until you are ready for those people to have some rights? Please continue to ignore all context in favor of repeating simplistic, negative claims about the rebels.

      Delete
    3. Where else should we encourage dictatorships over democracy and self-determination Shawn?

      Delete
    4. At least you're honest, Contra-man, in your lust for a global jihad on behalf of Zionism and Wall Street.

      That said, I would hardly call it "self-determination" when outside powers like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, France, Britain, Apartheid Israel and Uncle Sam pay gaggle after gaggle of head-choppers from Libya and Chechnya to terrorize the Syrian people. Nor is it "self determination" for those same powers to train the alCIAda in Turkey and Jordan to use chemical weapons and bomb churches. Nor is it self-determination to provide them with provisions and weapons, train them on how to use Sarin, and stack up piles of dead babies for photo ops (uploaded onto CannibalTube). Nor is it self-determination when your loverman, Horseface Kerry, propagandizes endlessly for your beloved heart-eaters.

      You are the .01%.

      Delete
    5. I'm really interested to know how Saudi Arabia or Apartheid Israel doesn't get the Syria treatment from you.

      Is it because Susan Rice hasn't instructed you to do so just yet?

      Delete
    6. I would be all for intervention in those countries if they experienced revolts of the same nature and had the same behavior as the Assad regime. I am not pro-Israel, and I don't even think pro-Saudi is a common phrase here in America just like pro-America isn't a phrase used there. I'm also not a contrarian idiot and I know that a serious person can take a view on the Syria crisis even if we have not solved 100% of the world's other problems.

      Delete
    7. Ignoring 65 years of ethnic cleansing in Palestine does not make you more believable when you cry about human rights for heart-eaters in Syria, hoss.

      Delete
    8. How convenient that this comes back to "We can't do anything about Syria unless everyone is willing to sign off on Shawn Redden's interpretation of Israel." Actually that's an extremely boring story and you are not speaking to a pro-Israel pundit so it makes no sense. I blame Israel for lots of horrible crimes and the Israeli people's support of certain ideas makes me sick. If the Israeli government and ruling class launched a savage campaign attacking a majority of their people, I would most definitely support intervention. I was not alive for much of Israel's history but it's possible that I would have supported intervention against Israeli activities at certain times (today even most Israelis weren't alive for Israel's worst crimes). That doesn't mean that your dramatic description is connected to reality or relevant to Syria and the current crisis. Nor have you answered why you believe that the onus is on interventionists to first solve 100% of the world's other problems before addressing Syria.

      Why do you feel that you have no comparable responsibility to explain your rejection of self-determination? I think you should list the peoples of the world who do not deserve this right. Apparently #1 is Syrians. I think you should explain why this is good for the world, how Syrians have earned your contempt and patronization, and why you aren't fighting against self-determination for your own country.

      Delete
    9. If you're concerning yourself in problems a world away on humanitarian grounds, doesn't it make more sense to oppose Apartheid than it does to support the transport, arming, training, and deployment of alCIAda to smash the Syrian state?

      How does that benefit Syria? No wonder the whole world, apart from a few crazy zealots, stands with the people of Syria in resisting this imperialist assault carried out by cannibal proxies.

      How will bombing the country to smithereens do any good?

      As to your tick-like repetition of the "self-determination" canard, this is what I wrote above, essentially, that you ignored in order to repeat yourself:

      What does "self-determination" mean when outside powers like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, France, Britain, Apartheid Israel and Uncle Sam pay gaggle after gaggle of head-choppers from Libya and Chechnya to terrorize the Syrian people? What's self-deterministic about those same powers teaching alCIAda in Turkey and Jordan how to use Sarin (and stack up piles of dead babies for photo ops uploaded onto CannibalTube), providing them with provisions and weapons, training and deploying them to behead priests? Is it self-determination when your loverman, Horseface Kerry, propagandizes endlessly for your beloved heart-eaters?

      Your a$$ is showing here, big dogg, a little more than a little bit.

      Delete
    10. Haha Shawn can't admit that he is speaking against self-determination because it would shatter his delicate dissonance. Somehow there is one elaborate distraction after another and Shawn just won't give a comment on whether there are millions of Syrians fighting for their right to self-determination. Of course repeating the word self-determination is throwing him off. He either has to acknowledge it or come up with more and more reasons why he won't. It's pathetic and you can literally watch him run away from the challenge just by reading through his comments.

      Shawn, should your own government ignore everything you say? Should they be allowed to set up a military that keeps a minority group in power and imprisons or kills you if you speak up? Why won't you answer any questions about your thoughts on self-determination?

      There are millions of Syrians fighting for self-determination Shawn, and sooner or later you will have to admit it. It will be more and more embarrassing as time goes on. You have already come full circle against your own logic from your anti-Bush anti-Iraq days, as you now claim that there is a vast conspiracy and countless Al Qaeda that must be fought againsnt in the middle east even if it means sacrificing democracy. Classic.

      Delete
    11. Who are you to speak for what Syrian's want, White man?

      Seeing as I live on Uncle Sam's Plantation, I talk about self-determination in the context of our corrupt political system, fraudulent elections, corporate-whore judges and billion-dollar campaigns paid for by the same war profiteers that have made bankroll in Syria for 31 months.

      Giving someone self-determination by sending heart-eating proxies sure doesn't appeal to me, and I doubt it appeals to anyone there, either.

      I would rather contract a venereal disease! I suppose that is why nobody in Syria supports your alCIAda buddies--why it's just you and a handful of other White zealots.

      Delete
  6. Replies
    1. Troll off, please.

      Brown Moses is providing a forum for people who actually know, and will always seek and publish advice from other experts to confirm or correct what he thinks. His methods of analysis are rational, and in many cases he is trying to understand things which are new to the "experts" too.

      Delete
  7. if you were attacked with Sarin, would the best bet be too jump in the shower and blast the hot water?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In the absence of other effective measures, it'd be worth a try.
      It's what my father did when accidentally exposed to mustard gas, too: I wouldn't have been born if it hadn't worked.

      Will be less effective for VX and Soman: not sure if soap good or bad in that instance: might help VX through the skin?

      The curtain of water droplets might clean the air of some other CW, like phosgene and HCN, and certainly chlorine.

      How well it will work depends on the concentration of CW and how long it lasts, which may depend on outdoor temperature as much as anything.

      It's not going to save everyone, but it's the sort of thing that's worth trying rather than accepting your fate.

      The potential CW it will do least for is phosphine (not to be confused with phosgene) and this is used commercially as a pest-killer, so it might be encountered.

      A lot of bio-toxins are delivered as clouds of dust: the main thing is that the shower is indoors, so close every possible door on the way there and use the shower curtain, too. However, if the shower is surrounded by the dust, persisting for weeks, you're not going to get out again very easily. These weapons HAVE been used, in Laos. (Funny how everyone cares about Syria and no-one cares about tribal forest dwellers being wiped out by communist regimes...)

      Delete
    2. You could also try lighting fires or breathing through a wet towel lined with charcoal. But chances are, by the time you know you are attacked with Sarin, you've already been exposed to a life-threatening dose.

      Delete
    3. Sarin is 100% miscible with water, so washing compound spilled on the skin off with water is exactly the right thing to do. Personally i'd go with a cold water from a hose or tap to minimise the amount of agent that is aerosolized, as this is the main route of exposure for G-series agents.

      A detergent would be useful to decontaminate a victim of a hydrophobic CW agent. The detergent would help to solubilize the hydrophobic molecule allowing it to be washed away easier with water.

      Delete
  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. Worth pointing out, in relation to militias allegedly making their own sarin, that if they did indeed need ten tons of hydrogen fluoride, that would be a fairly monster CW in itself if they had a way of delivering it, such as a truck bomb.

    Even quite low concentrations of HF have caused electronics industry workers to suffer heart failure and there's all kinds of crippling effects from non-lethal doses.

    I think that any terrorist group with ton-sized quantities of HF would either be tempted to use it as a weapon in its own right, or if they didn't perceive the possibility, would be killed by it long before they had made any sarin.

    One big reason for doubting that the rebels were responsible for the August 21st attack, is that the amounts of Sarin used overall were implausibly large for a garage-based operation to have produced it.

    UN monitors are now saying that CW have been used at least three times since then, too. So Russian and Syrian protestations of innocence are not just a smokescreen for what happened: they are a smokescreen for ongoing, but more cautious, use of CW in the face of international outrage.

    It isn't at all clear that Iranian support for Assad still exists: the past few weeks have seen Russia emerge as Assad's main champion and protector. Iran was a victim of CW during its war with Saddam, and I suspect that even the Supreme Leader doubts Assad's innocence and most Iranians are revolted by this kind of thing.

    Iran's sudden willingness to talk to and deal with the Americans, since the evidence about the August 21st attack has been published, speaks volumes. Iran can only do two things: it can hold its nose and continue supporting Assad, no matter what he does, or it can wash its hands of him, and by necessity, also wash its hands of its clients in neighbouring countries, too.

    It looks as if they are at least considering the latter course. America hasn't suddenly become more attractive of Israel less belligerent, but Assad has suddenly become unsupportable, at least for a country where many citizens have witnessed gas attacks on the battlefield and lost relatives to them.

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