Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Knowledge Gap - Seymour's Hersh Of Cards

Since my earlier blog posts examining some of the issues with Seymour Hersh's piece, The Red Line and the Rat Line, Hersh has made further media appearances defending his piece.  At the same time, many more pieces have been published criticising Hersh's work.

In his recent interview in the Turkish press (update, now in English), Hersh gives more details on the claims he's making.  Hersh is asked about Volcano rockets, with my work being referenced.  Previously, Hersh has claimed the rockets used were "homemade" and not known to be used by the Syrian government. 



As I've clearly demonstrated, Volcano rockets have been in use by the Syrian military since late 2012, with both explosive and chemical versions being in use, and the chemical version turning up in previous alleged chemical attacks, including August 5th in Adra where three examples were filmed.   Videos and photographs from pro-government sources have clearly shown the government using the explosive type of Volcano rockets, which are virtually identical to the type connected to alleged chemical attacks.  It seems clear that despite their "homemade" appearance (in the view of Hersh), the rockets have been used by the Syrian government.  

This is not some small point in events of August 21st, but key evidence linking the rockets to the Syrian government, so Hersh's statement that the rockets are not used by the Syrian government seems incredibly ill-informed, and considering the amount of information easily available online it seems rather alarming that any journalists would fail to uncover that fact when writing a story on August 21st, especially one that blames a government for assisting with a false flag attack.  

When asked about Volcano rockets in his most recent interview, Hersh seems dismissive of their relevance.  Oddly, Hersh now seems to be aware of the work I've done linking the rockets to the government, and shifts his position; rather than the rockets not being used by the government, it now doesn't matter they are being used as the government because of claims about the range of the rockets by Richard Lloyd and Ted Postol, and also statements by Ake Sellstrom. He fails to address how the Syrian opposition acquired these munitions, and as I've pointed out earlier, the Syrian government has never claimed the munitions were captured or otherwise lost from the stockpiles.  The alternative is the Turkish government or Jabhat al-Nusra created perfect copies of them for their false flag attack.  

It seems this dismissiveness is down to his belief that the approximately 2km range described by Lloyd and Postol and referred to by Ake Sellstrom means any discussion about who has the rockets is irrelevant.  He appears to believe the front-lines were far more than 2km away, just like the White House claimed in their intelligence report criticised by Lloyd and Postol, and therefore not worth discussing. 

The problem for Hersh is, as Lloyd and Postol points out, the White House report lacked certain details that reflected the situation on the ground accurately.  The map provided by the White House does seems to show government position several kilometres way, and for Hersh that seems to be enough.  Except, it provable using open source information that the White House report didn't accurately reflect the situation on the ground.  

From June 2013 to August 20th 2013, ANNA News, embedded with the Syrian military, uploaded a series of reports to YouTube showing "Operation al-Qaboun". In total, nearly two dozen videos were uploaded, showing the Syrian government's forces slowly capturing a region between Qaboun and Jobar.  Videos from opposition sources show the other side of the fighting, in particular firing mortars at checkpoints on major roads in the area.  I've spent the past 8 months collecting and analysing videos related to that area, and I now have what I strongly believe to be an accurate representation of the area controlled by the Syrian government on August 21st


Videos do suggest there was some firing into these areas by opposition groups, but it appears sporadic at best, and not of significant intensity. 

But how does this relate to Hersh and his dismissal of the relevance of Volcano rockets?  The below map shows the impact locations I've found for 5 Volcano rockets used on August 21st using a combination of videos, photographs, and satellite imagery, with the 2km distance from each rocket marked in red


These only represent those five rockets I've been able to find precise positions for, and the below map shows the positions of rocket impact sites reported by the Zamalka Local Co-ordination Committee, some of which match the above locations


Despite Hersh's dismissal of the Volcano rockets importance, these images do show the impact locations were in range of government controlled areas on August 21st.  This is to assume the 2km maximum range is correct, and with the greatest respect to the work of Lloyd and Postol I do not believe their calculations have been peer reviewed.  However, based on video evidence showing rockets being launched and landing, which allows for basic calculations on how far the rockets travelled (one example here), it seems 2km is a realistic figure for the minimum range of the rockets used on August 21st.  

It seems by not researching Volcano rocket, nor the situation on the ground on August 21st, Hersh has wrongly dismissed the importance of the rockets.  As I've clearly demonstrated, Volcano rockets are used by the Syrian government, despite Hersh's statements to the contrary, and their 2km range is not an indication they can only have been launched from opposition territory.

It's also worth noting Hersh appears to completely ignore the M14 artillery rockets recovered in the west of Damascus that have also been linked to the August 21st attacks.  He makes no mention of these in his article, and only refers to "homemade" rockets, which the M14 certainly are not.  No explanation is given for their presence in the attack, nor that the attacks would have been launched from two different sites.  Again, it's seem Hersh has deemed this information irrelevant to his narrative.

A number of articles have been published in response to Hersh's piece, criticising various aspects of his report.  "Who Trusts Russian Spies on Syria?", "Seymour Hersh’s alternate reality", and "Turkey’s Syria Policy: Why Seymour Hersh Got it Wrong" all focus on different aspects of the story, and Dan Kaszeta's Hersh and the Red Herring looks closely at the chemistry and practicality of the claims made in Hersh's piece.  This includes Hersh's claim that Porton Down couldn't match batches of Sarin together from their reference stock and the type used on August 21st:
The article also either ignores or misunderstands other important technical details. Much is made of a sample of Sarin provided by Russian intelligence. Even under the best of circumstances, can we count on Russian intelligence services to have probity and objectivity, given Russia’s record of obfuscation on the issue of the Sarin attacks? After all, Russian state media has been ruthless in pursuing alternative narratives in this case. Hersh also makes much of matching samples of Sarin. By its very definition, all Sarin, binary or otherwise, is made by a batch process and not a continuous production process. Even with the best, highest grade of stockpile-quality US Sarin, there were differences between batches even though millions were spent to have a standardized product. Consistency was hard to achieve. Certainly, Iraq could not produce consistent batches. With binary Sarin, the differences can be particularly pronounced, as the product is typically made in much smaller quantities at a time. The Sarin from the first pouring from the mixing vessel can be much different than the last one. Given these differences, the ubiquitous presence of an additive, hexamine, is ever more pronounced. None of these important facts are mentioned in Mr. Hersh’s report. 
This section of the article is of particular interest as Tom Coghlan, Foreign Correspondent for The Times, contacted the MoD about these claims
Again, when asked about the work of Dan Kaszeta Hersh does little more than dismisses it, rather than realising it's key to the claims he's making.  Hersh also claims Jabhat al-Nusra has a Sarin production facility in Aleppo, clearly having no grasp of what that would actually entail (a large custom made facility to produce the quantity of Sarin used on August 21st), and his claims that Turkey were shipping precursor chemicals to the factory in Syria would require at least one end of the process to be manufacturing Methylphosphonyl difluoride, a key component of the Sarin used on August 21st, requiring large, custom built, facilities to manufacture the quantity needed for the August 21st Sarin attack, and huge amounts of closely controlled chemicals. Beyond the vaguest of explanations, Hersh provides no explanation to how any of this could have occurred, and it seems when it comes down to the finer details, that would cast doubt on the narrative he's constructed, he believes a hand wave is all he needs to dismiss it.

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

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