More on the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack: Further debunking of the official narrative
Following US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow, where he talked with his counterpart Sergei Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin, it appears that tensions between the US and Russia/Syria have stabilized. While the situation has not improved, the Russians were encouraged by Tillerson not issuing “absurd proposals” or ultimatums during their meetings.1
Yet the US is still promoting the mainstream narrative that the Assad regimes was responsible for the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack. The US Treasury department has used such incriminations to justify imposing fiscal sanctions on 271 Syrians who are alleged to have involvement in Syria’s chemical weapons program.2
French intelligence report
Backing up US claims is a French intelligence report which concludes:3
“Based on this overall evaluation and on reliable and consistent intelligence collected by our Services, France assesses that the Syrian armed forces and security services perpetrated a chemical attack using sarin against civilians in Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017.”
This conclusion was reached based on chemical testing on environmental samples from “one of the impact points of the chemical attack at Khan Sheikhoun” somehow obtained by the French, presumably their intelligence units. The tests revealed the presence of sarin, diisopropyl methylphosphonate (DIMP) and hexamine. DIMP is a byproduct of sarin synthesis, while hexamine is a stabilizer which increases the shelf life of sarin.4
The report argues that since the chemical composition of the samples match those from an unexploded grenade “which was used with certainty by the Syrian regime during the Saraqib attack on 29 April 2013” that the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack was carried out by the Assad regime. The possibility of a false flag attack by rebel groups such as ISIL and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (an umbrella group consisting of Jabat al-Nusra and others) was dismissed as these groups were judged by French intelligence to neither possess sarin nor the air ability to deliver it.
“The theory of a staged attack or manipulation by the opposition” was also rejected because “the massive influx in a very limited time towards hospitals in Syria and Turkey, and the simultaneous, massive uploading of videos showing symptoms of the use of neurotoxic agents.”
Based on this report, French Foreign Minister Jean-March Ayrault averred “There is no doubt about the responsibility of the Syrian regime given the way that the sarin used was produced.”5 Maybe Trump was right that there can be “no dispute” that Assad is guilty. Well, not so fast, as there still remain many reasons to doubt this assertion.
First of all, just because a Western intelligence agency produces a report, does not mean the conclusions therein are valid. At best, the intelligence could be faulty, at worst fabricated. Hopefully people have not forgotten the prelude to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, during which faulty intelligence was used to sell the invasion over fears of Saddam possessing weapons of mass destruction.
With this in mind, even if we are to trust the findings of the French report, all it proves is that the sarin used at Khan Sheikhoun had a similar composition to that of Assad’s. This does not conclusively prove that the Syrian regime conducted the attack. It is possible that the rebels, or whoever, may have stolen sarin from Assad’s stockpiles or added the hexamine to their sarin to mimic Assad’s or obtained a sarin produced in a similar way to Assad’s.
As UN chemical weapons expert Dr Åke Sellström wrote in a 2014 email on the topic of chemical weapons in Syria (emphasis mine):6
“The presence of hexamine may mean that this substance was used as scavenger for protons when producing sarin. It is a product simple to get hold of and in no way conclusively point to the government. In addition hexamin found in samples may be derived from other sources for example, explosives.”
In another email about the events at Khan Sheikhoun and the French intelligence report, Dr Sellström wrote:
“It is really a question of the meaning of the word indicating. The presence of hexamine could, indeed, indicate that the source is the government. Leaving out who actually used it. But it could also indicate a lot of other things, like someone using the same recipe for example. I think the phrasing in the statement is clever.”
Based on the assessment of a credible expert like Dr Sellström, who I highly doubt is blinded by some type of pro-Assad bias, and based on simple logic, the evidence presented in the French intelligence assessment does not fully support its own conclusions. Yes the presence of hexamine is consistent with the Syrian regime being responsible for the attack, but it is also consistent with other possibilities clearing Assad of culpability. The French assessment does adequately resolve between these different possibilities and is therefore inconclusive.
There are other problems with the report. It claims that there is no evidence supporting that rebel groups possess or have access to sarin gas or other nerve agents. However as numerous posts at Washington’s Blog show, there is indeed evidence showing that rebel groups such as al-Nusra have access to sarin and have already used it.7
The report also calls into question rebel groups ability to deliver chemical weapons by air. This is a fallacious estimation as well. In Iraq ISIL has already demonstrated their ability to use drones to deliver munitions. In October 2016 two French soldiers were seriously wounded and two Peshermerga fighters killed by an ISIL explosive suicide drone.8 During the ongoing battle of Mosul ISIL has used drones to drop conventional bombs on enemy forces and has provided video evidence of their drones in action.9 There is also video purporting to show a drone belonging to the al Qaeda affiliate Jund al-Aqsa dropping a bomb on Syrian regime forces.10
So why French intelligence would claim that rebel groups in Syria, be they ISIL or others, do not have the means to drop a chemical weapon from the air via a drone is beyond me, especially given the fact that the unexploded chemical munition shown from the April 2013 Saraqib attack is a hand grenade of sorts, small enough to be carried by a rebel drone. Furthermore, why the report assumes that the chemical weapon was delivered by air, and could not have been delivered on the ground is also puzzling.
The report also mentions that the environmental samples were taken from one of the “impact points” of the attack. No information is provided of where that impact point was. Does it correspond to the one cited in the White House report? This site has been shown by Dr. Theodore A. Postol as not being consistent with an air dropped munition and was also tampered with.11 As such if that is the site, then the French claims would be invalid. Is it another site? If so where is it so that people like Dr. Postol can analyze it. But such pertinent information is not provided by the French, I guess they want to protect their intelligence gathering methods.
The argument that “the massive influx in a very limited time towards hospitals in Syria and Turkey, and the simultaneous, massive uploading of videos showing symptoms of the use of neurotoxic agents” somehow disproves a rebel false flag attack is suspect. There is no doubt, based on video and photographic evidence that people were sickened and died due to exposure to some type of toxic agent. As such we know that the incident was not staged with crisis actors or completely made up.
However, the rebels could have staged a false flag event in which chemical weapons were actually released and people were killed and sickened, in an attempt to discredit Assad. Do people really find it so hard to believe that jihadis who are willing to kill themselves for their cause would have any inhibition in killing innocent civilians, even ones that support them, to further their cause? I don’t.
As with the White House report, it appears that the French intelligence report on the Khan Sheikhoun attack has many holes in it, and even if its claims are accurate, it still does not conclusively prove Assad’s guilt.
Further debunking of the White House press release
Speaking of Dr. Postol, he has provided more analysis which undermines the official White House report (WHR) on the Khan Sheikhoun attack.12
Based on weather data (wind speed and direction, and temperature), urban topography, timing, and the claimed site of sarin release, Dr. Postol determined that the only area in which civilians could have been poisoned by the dispersed sarin gas was a small hamlet 300 meters east southeast of the release site. However, video taken of the gas attack victims, show scenes that are not consistent with the above hamlet and none of the video journalist mention casualties in that area. Thus Dr. Postol concluded that the location where the video evidence of the victims was shot is incompatible with the impact site cited in the WHR.
Furthermore images taken at the impact site which show individuals from the Idlib Health Directorate without adequate protective gear loitering around and within the impact crator a few hours after the reported time when the munition was dropped and detonated, indicate that sarin was not released at the site. Based on the temperature changes during the morning of the incident, Dr. Postol argues that if a sarin munition was detonated a few hours earlier, as claimed by the WHR, then the concentration of sarin in the surrounding atmosphere would have been sufficient to have at least sicken or likely kill individuals seen in the pictures.
In Dr. Postol’s opinion, “the nerve agent attack described in the WHR did not occur as claimed. There may well have been mass casualties from some kind of poisoning event, but that event was not the one described by the WHR.” He also concluded his report in scathing fashion:
“[the] White House intelligence assessment … is not correct. For such a report to be so egregiously in error, it could not possibly have followed the most simple and proven intelligence methodologies to determine the veracity of its findings.
Since the United States justified attacking a Syrian airfield on April 7, four days before the flawed National Security Council intelligence report was released to the Congress and the public, the conclusion that follows is that the United States took military actions without the intelligence to support its decision.
Furthermore, it is clear that the WHR was not an intelligence report.
No competent intelligence professional would have made so many false claims that are totally inconsistent with the evidence. No competent intelligence professional would have accepted the findings in the WHR analysis after reviewing the data presented herein. No competent intelligence professionals would have evaluated the crater that was tampered with in terms described in the WHR.
Although it is impossible to know from a technical assessment to determine the reasons for such an egregiously amateurish report, it cannot be ruled out that the WHR was fabricated to conceal critical information from the Congress and the public.”
Others are doubtful of the official narrative
Dr. Theodore Karasik, who was apart of the RAND Corporation’s International Policy and Security Group and writes editorial pieces for Al Arabiya among other things, gave an assessment of the Khan Sheikhoun attack which differs from the mainstream one. In an interview with RiskHedge he said:13
“Apparently, the location of the attack itself is in an industrial area where there are a lot of toxic industrial chemicals located. The attack on this location produced a toxic cloud that was deadly enough, obviously, to kill and maim hundreds. The issue here is that in this particular attack, where this industrial gas was released, this is not in any way related to a sarin-type attack. … Yes, there was an industrial toxic agent that killed and maimed people. But, whether or not it was sarin still has not been proven.”
So Karasik, who’s articles I frequently read and which have never struck me as being pro-Assad in any way, is skeptical of the sarin gas attack thesis, and instead believes that Syrian warplanes struck an industrial site, thereby releasing toxic gases which poisoned nearby civilians.
Another person who is skeptical of the official mainstream narrative is Greg Mello, the secretary and executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group. According to Mello:14
“The idea that the poisonings in Khan Sheikhoun occurred because of chemical weapons or precursors released by a conventional munitions attack on an Al Qaeda weapons warehouse or workshop, which is the report of the Russian government, makes the most sense given everything we know. The notion that Assad or some rogue element in his army dropped chemical weapons on his own people, just when he is winning militarily and politically, is ridiculous.”
He also finds it suspicious that the US “does not want the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW] involved in an investigation of the attack” an issue which the Russians and Assad have complained about.15 It appears to Mello and others that the US is attempting to cover up what exactly occurred at Khan Sheikhoun on April 4.
If one is being honest, we still don’t know what occurred at Khan Sheikhoun. It is clear that people were exposed to some substance which sickened and killed many, but there is still debate on what that substance was. Although many seem to accept that sarin was the culprit (OPCW analysis indicates “that sarin or a sarin like substance was used”16), still there are credible people who do not, for instance Karasik thinks an industrial toxin was the culprit.
What is clear, thanks to the excellent work of Dr. Postol, is that the White House ‘intelligence’ report is faulty and most likely deceptive, while the French intelligence report is little better. It is rather sad and disconcerting that Western governments and intelligence agencies are producing such shoddy analysis. This is likely not a result of incompetence, as they are not this inept. No, I suspect they know exactly what they are doing. Yhey are attempting to deceive us, so as to provide justification for their geopolitical ambitions.
 http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/09/classified-u-s-military-document-syrian-rebels-do-have-chemical-weapons.html , http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/09/yes-the-syrian-rebels-do-have-access-to-chemical-weapons.html , http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2016/04/seymour-hersh-says-hillary-approved-sending-libyas-sarin-syrian-rebels.html , http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2014/01/syrian-chemical-weapons-fired-rebel-held-territory.html , http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2015/12/syrian-chemical-weapons-attack-false-flag-turkey-isis.html
 http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2017/04/22/Russia-complains-to-US-over-exclusion-from-Syria-chemical-probe.html , http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2017/04/21/518848/Syria-Assad-OPCW-russia-Iran-chemical-attack-Khan-Shaykhun-idlib