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MIT Professor says White House claims of Syrian chemical attack “cannot be true”

Theodore Postol, Professor of Science, Technology and National Security Policy in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT, has made some preliminary responses to the four-page report by the Trump Administration on the Syrian “chemical attack”. We reproduce his findings in part below. See the document in full here

A Quick Turnaround Assessment of the White House Intelligence Report Issued on April 11, 2017 About the Nerve Agent Attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria.

Dear Larry:

I am responding to your distribution of what I understand is a White House statement claiming intelligence findings about the nerve agent attack on April 4, 2017 in Khan Shaykhun, Syria. My understanding from your note is that this White House intelligence summary was released to you sometime on April 11, 2017.

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

In fact, a main piece of evidence that is cited in the document points to an attack that was executed by individuals on the ground, not from an aircraft, on the morning of April 4.

This conclusion is based on an assumption made by the White House when it cited the source of the sarin release and the photographs of that source. My own assessment, is that the source was very likely tampered with or staged, so no serious conclusion could be made from the photographs cited by the White House.

However, if one assumes, as does the White House, that the source of the sarin was from this location and that the location was not tampered with, the most plausible conclusion is that the sarin was dispensed by an improvised dispersal device made from a 122 mm section of rocket tube filled with sarin and capped on both sides.

The only undisputable facts stated in the White House report is the claim that a chemical attack using nerve agent occurred in Khan Shaykhun, Syria on that morning. Although the White House statement repeats this point in many places within its report, the report contains absolutely no evidence that this attack was the result of a munition being dropped from an aircraft. In fact, the report contains absolutely no evidence that would indicate who was the perpetrator of this atrocity.

The report instead repeats observations of physical effects suffered by victims that with very little doubt indicate nerve agent poisoning.
The only source the document cites as evidence that the attack was by the Syrian government is the crater it claims to have identified on a road in the North of Khan Shaykhun.

I have located this crater using Google Earth and there is absolutely no evidence that the crater was created by a munition designed to disperse sarin after it is dropped from an aircraft.

The Google Earth map shown in Figure 1 at the end of this text section shows the location of that crater on the road in the north of Khan Shaykhun, as described in the White House statement.

The data cited by the White House is more consistent with the possibility that the munition was placed on the ground rather than dropped from a plane. This conclusion assumes that the crater was not tampered with prior to the photographs. However, by referring to the munition in this crater, the White House is indicating that this is the erroneous source of the data it used to conclude that the munition came from a Syrian aircraft.

Analysis of the debris as shown in the photographs cited by the White House clearly indicates that the munition was almost certainly placed on the ground with an external detonating explosive on top of it that crushed the container so as to disperse the alleged load of sarin.

Since time appears to be of the essence here, I have put together the summary of the evidence I have that the White House report contains false and misleading conclusions in a series of figures that follow this discussion. Each of the figures has a description below it, but I will summarize these figures next and wait for further inquiries about the basis of the conclusions I am putting forward herein

[ … ]

At that time (August 30, 2013) the Obama White House also issued an intelligence report containing obvious inaccuracies. For example, that report stated without equivocation that the sarin carrying artillery rocket used in Damascus had been fired from Syrian government controlled areas. As it turned out, the particular munition used in that attack could not go further than roughly 2 km, very far short of any boundary controlled by the Syrian government at that time. The White House report at that time also contained other critical and important errors that might properly be described as amateurish. For example, the report claimed that the locations of the launch and impact of points of the artillery rockets were observed by US satellites. This claim was absolutely false and any competent intelligence analyst would have known that.

The rockets could be seen from the Space-Based Infrared Satellite (SBIRS) but the satellite could absolutely not see the impact locations because the impact locations were not accompanied by explosions. These errors were clear indicators that the White House intelligence report had in part been fabricated and had not been vetted by competent intelligence experts.

This same situation appears to be the case with the current White House intelligence report. No competent analyst would assume that the crater cited as the source of the sarin attack was unambiguously an indication that the munition came from an aircraft. No competent analyst would assume that the photograph of the carcass of the sarin canister was in fact a sarin canister. Any competent analyst would have had questions about whether the debris in the crater was staged or real. No competent analyst would miss the fact that the alleged sarin canister was forcefully crushed from above, rather than exploded by a munition within it. All of these highly amateurish mistakes indicate that this White House report, like the earlier Obama White House Report, was not properly vetted by the intelligence community as claimed.

I have worked with the intelligence community in the past, and I have grave concerns about the politicization of intelligence that seems to be occurring with more frequency in recent times – but I know that the intelligence community has highly capable analysts in it. And if those analysts were properly consulted about the claims in the White House document they would have not approved the document going forward.

I am available to expand on these comments substantially. I have only had a few hours to quickly review the alleged White House intelligence report. But a quick perusal shows without a lot of analysis that this report cannot be correct, and it also appears that this report was not properly vetted by the intelligence community.

This is a very serious matter.

President Obama was initially misinformed about supposed intelligence evidence that Syria was the perpetrator of the August 21, 2013 nerve agent attack in Damascus. This is a matter of public record. President Obama stated that his initially false understanding was that the intelligence clearly showed that Syria was the source of the nerve agent attack. This false information was corrected when the then Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, interrupted the President while he was in an intelligence briefing. According to President Obama, Mr. Clapper told the President that the intelligence that Syria was the perpetrator of the attack was “not a slamdunk.”

The question that needs to be answered by our nation is how was the president initially misled about such a profoundly important intelligence finding? A second equally important question is how did the White House produce an intelligence report that was obviously flawed and amateurish that was then released to the public and never corrected? The same false information in the intelligence report issued by the White House on August 30, 2013 was emphatically provided by Secretary of State John Kerry in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee!

[ … ]

I stand ready to provide the country with any analysis and help that is within my power to supply. What I can say for sure herein is that what the country is now being told by the White House cannot be true and the fact that this information has been provided in this format raises the most serious questions about the handling of our national security.

Sincerely yours, Theodore A. Postol, Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy Massachusetts Institute of Technology

see full article and illustrations here

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13 Comments

  1. GLAAAR! says

    Typical dissemination of chemical agents happens either by CBU bomblets with individual burster charges or via dispenser tanks, affixed to the pylons. The purpose of this choice of agent dispersal is to ensure maximum coverage footprint from a controllable method compatible with high speed release from aircraft.

    Dissemination by rocket is possible but the individual payloads are small and without controlled airburst or spray altitudes will settle (heavier than air) into low areas rather than continue as a cloud. A fact made worse by the nature of the rocket’s forward momentum which drives the warhead down into the ground, resulting in a subsurface detonation which inhibits proper dissemination of the agent and may in fact incinerate some part of it.

    The common Soviet era calibers of Russian aircraft rockets are also 57mm, 80mm and 250mm. One hundred twenty two millimeter is the ‘Katyusha’ caliber and is largely a ground fire weapon. This does not prevent use of residual cases as freefall toxin carriers but would result in very limited coverage with extreme risk inherent to air drop due to the uncleared nature of the munition and the use of adhoc burster charges with non-binary (premixed) agents.

    As an extension of this, I must also add that a powered rocket would create a notched groove in the pavement if impacting at typical 700-1,100m/sec of Soviet era rockets and that the use of a charge powerful enough to crater a roadway that deep would also shatter the casing and throw fragment shrapnel in all directions as a function of forensic proof of a dynamic attack. Here, it looks like the canister remained in the pit which suggests a static release and a possible tamping mechanism if the detonation itself caused the crater.

    Because of these unknown factors, it is hard to determine what the actual mission purpose of a CW release was. if you are attempting to kill soft targets in the open, a much larger cloud formation would be desired. If you are attempting a point kill on a POI (leadership) or key enablers (bomb makers etc.) this is a very clumsy, uncertain, way to get it.

    As long as the Russians are there, with much more firepower, training and coordination than his own, battered, forces can muster; Assad has a good chance of winning, as indeed, the last six months have shown. Given the existing war state favors an SAA victory condition as outcome, he would need a considerable incitement to do this now.

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  2. BigB says

    Let us be clear, there is never going to be an independent, measured, and impartial investigation into the CW incident at Khan Shaykhun – Trump saw to that by delivering the verdict before the court even convened. There is going to be a highly vindictive, emotional, politicized, and partisan ‘investigation’. A bit like the debate at the emergency session of the UNSC on Wednesday.
    “Murderous, barbaric criminal” Matthew Rycroft dishonoured his ambassadorial role and made the outrageous claim that Porton Down tested samples positive for sarin. They probably did. I’m guessing they didn’t have to travel, they’ve probably got the exact batch the jihadis use in stock – but rating it “highly likely” it came from the ‘regime’? Our regime maybe? After all, I think we are in at around £40 mil for the White Helmets – pity we couldn’t stretch it to send them HazMat suits. Or gloves.
    I admire Vladimir Safronkov, he gave as good as he got: he had a very salient point – the resolution he vetoed was to blame Assad – then investigate? It was also the pre-cursor to legitimize war*. Russia knows we don’t want this investigated, lest our terrorist sponsorship be known. He said Rycroft was “losing sleep” over it. He isn’t. He’s not capable of empathy. We just want the war. Toward that end, the verdict is in.
    So Postol’s analysis will be ignored – it doesn’t fit with the evidence required to support the verdict. What if there were a real investigation and his preliminary findings were proved correct? That the 122mm ‘sarin shell’ was exploded on the ground by a slab of High Explosive? Or more nefariously, that the local weather conditions were considered and: “It is therefore absolutely clear that the time and day of the attack was carefully chosen and was no accident.”
    That is why there can be no real investigation, not just because any international body that could carry it out will be infiltrated by those who have already passed verdict – because the whole theatre macabre that the war in Syria has become will expose Washington and London as worse than liars.
    What if became widely known that London’s and the M$M’s favourite Oscar winning terrorists, the White Helmets, use dead (or dying) babies as barbaric props? Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli, lead Doctor of the SWEDHR Report; has come under threat of death for daring to mention such a thing. Actually, not just daring to mention – showing conclusively. This occurred after another staged CW (chlorine) attack in Sarmin. Or this other report from the Indicter**, that claims that the ‘father’ in another attack was likely murdered two days before he ‘died’ from CW exposure. Real evidence and a real investigation may well lead the world down a dark realist hole where it does not want to go. It prefers the memory hole.
    Justice could lead to calls for regime change, not just in Damascus – but in London and Washington as well.
    In the perpetualized wars of the nascent 21st century, truth and fact, as always, are the first casualties. Now, after Khan Shaykhun, it is official – welcome to the post-justice world.

    *http://www.globalresearch.ca/china-and-russia-veto-un-security-council-resolution-on-syria-no-carte-blanche-for-chapter-vii/5584941
    **http://theindicter.com/analysis-of-evidence-contradicts-allegations-on-syrian-gas-attacks/

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    • John says

      The other era we are living in is one of a “novelty” 24/7 media, where their ability to focus on and concentrate upon anything beyond their immediate news “cycle” means they end up chasing off after some other “latest” or “breaking” item of news without fully analysing or digesting the immediate matter previously under scrutiny.
      Everywhere, people join in with the rabid packs of news hounds and all of them end up chasing their own tails into some sort of Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole outcome.
      Meanwhile, those of us who are naturally skeptical about the provenance of the mass media increasingly realise they are not a reliable foundation for truth, knowledge or understanding.
      As long as we know these things, we are personally protected from the follies of the mass media and the ignorant politicians who are supposed to be making rational decisions on our behalf.
      Those who remain unprotected are the victims of the bombing raids and the victims of the blow-back attacks being perpetrated all around the world.
      The only people who emerge unscathed from any of this – of course – are the billionaire tax-dodging mass media owners and controllers, as well as the publicly expensively protected political class.
      What a crazy world we are all living in !

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  3. JJA says

    Theodore Postol, Professor of Science, Technology and National Security Policy in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT… Rank amateur.

    Pah, what does an MIT prof know, compared to a mainstream media go to guy student drop out living in a flat in Leicester?

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  4. How can the Google Drive link to this paper actually link it to the MIT prof? In the news current climate you need to demonstrate that this is not fake news…

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  5. What is essential for peace in Syria and the Middle East, and on Earth is 1) determining the individuals responsible for this most recent example of the war-initiating (Gulf of Tonkin, Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction”, 9/11, etc. etc.) Big Lie, then, 2) driving at the economic realities motivating them (examples: money, land, power, etc.), and 3) articulating to the world the root cause of these massive, repeating human problems.

    Stopping wars is possible. It requires getting to the real root causes of war – whether material, spiritual or both – and establishment of wide awareness in people around the Earth of those roots.

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    • I think we can stop wars. Wars are always for the profit of big business. We don’t have to “work hard” at stopping wars. We must work hard at keeping the peace. Countries must decide on having the moral fortitude to keep the peace. In our modern era, just because someone doesn’t agree with you is no longer a “cause” for war.

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  6. John says

    The faked “intelligence” also explains why Obama decided against bombing Syria, even though allegations were bring thrown around like confetti that President al-Assad had crossed one of Obama’s “red lines”.
    Clearly, Trump has failed to learn from Obama’s near-mistake.
    Some MPs in London have been saying that it was a mistake for the House of Commons to vote against Cameron’s proposal to bomb Syria at the time.
    Now, I hope they learn from the expert testimony above that the British people – who were the real ones who were against bombing Syria – were right all along. Democracy rules OK!
    Also, another reason Obama decided against bombing Syria and tried to “pass the parcel” on the decision to bomb Syria to Congress was because he knew from public opinion polling at the time that a majority of the US electorate was against bombing Syria.
    Congress quickly realised the same thing and collectively dropped making any decision on bombing as quickly as they could.
    Yet again, “ordinary” US people had a far better appreciation of the fact that the original “outrage” incident had been staged by the terrorists who currently still are attacking the legitimate Syrian government.
    Such a pity that all the leading politicians in the UK and USA lack the same intelligence as their own peoples.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jim says

      Leading politicians do not lack intelligence. Their agenda is to fill the pockets of the military industrial complex and the banks (or else).

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  7. writerroddis says

    So many holes in Washington’s ‘reasoning’ that even the liberal intelligentia are trashing it on social media. Trouble is, they’re slotting it into the Hillary-would-have-been-so-much-better narrative.

    Liked by 1 person

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