As I predicted in an April 5th article, Paul Antonopoulos’s “false flag” account of the Khan Sheikhoun sarin gas incident would serve as the shock troop assault on truth that would open up a breach for more reputable figures.
For example, blogging at the NY Review of Books, David Bromwich, a Yale professor with more awards than Glenlivet scotch, chastised the Western press for not considering the possibility that ISIS might have been the culprit since according to Reuters reporter Andrew Deutsch the group has been “using chemical weapons in both Iraq and Syria.” If you take the trouble to read Deutch’s article, you will see that ISIS has indeed been using chemical weapons, including chlorine gas, but not sarin. In fact, if you Google “ISIS used sarin”, you will not find a single article making such a claim—not even from RT.com or Sputnik. Try the same thing with “al-Nusra used sarin” and you’ll come up with the same results. Even Infowars referred to “the less than incontrovertible proof the al-Nusra used sarin gas in Syria.”
None of that seems to matter to those like Antonopoulos who suggest that jihadis had been stockpiling sarin gas in Khan Sheikhoun. How do such devils who are willing to fly jets into the WTC manage to avoid using sarin gas except on their own supporters? Don’t expect answers from Paul Antonopoulos or David Bromwich.
Unlike David Bromwich, whose day job is analyzing sonnets, the 71-year old Theodore Postol is a specialist in weaponry, having both experience in the Pentagon and various universities writing scholarly articles, including some that helped to put a kibosh on Reagan’s Star Wars program. Like Seymour Hersh and many other people carrying Assad’s water today, he has an illustrious past. That being said, he has no background writing about chemical weapons.
On April 14th, an article by Postol appeared on Truthdig, a publication generally not associated with making the case for Assad’s innocence. Naturally, it appeared as well on a host of conspiracist websites like Veterans Today and Global Research but it is cause for alarm when it ends up on Truthdig as well. This was the third offering by Postol on Khan Sheikhoun (the prior two are linked in his Truthdig article) and makes a big issue about the first responders not wearing protective clothing. Since sarin gas loses its toxicity rapidly and since the earliest responders were stricken after touching the victims, there’s not much else worth mentioning on this except that Antonopoulos and many other “false flag” propagandists have made the same point. And more alarmingly, you can interpret Postol’s article as pointing to the whole incident being staged like a movie, which is in line with everything that people like Max Blumenthal have been writing about the White Helmets.
If you turn to the first article in the series, you will note that it is written from the same angle as Postol’s articles from three years ago after the sarin gas attack on East Ghouta in August 2013. Then, as now, he tried to get Assad off the hook. Essentially, Postol hones in on the physical evidence of a crater in Khan Sheikhoun and concludes that whatever made it had to be “placed” on the ground rather than dropped from an Su-22 jet as most analysts conclude. This was the same tack he took on the East Ghouta sarin gas attack except that in that incident his central argument was that Assad’s artillery was out-of-range from East Ghouta and therefore could not be responsible for the attack that cost the lives of more than a thousand Syrian noncombatants.
Since it would help to test Postol’s latest hypotheses by reviewing his past efforts, I will start with the debate that took place between Postol and Hersh on one side and Elliot Higgins and Dan Kaszeta on the other. Much of the debate entails some rather arcane discussion of weaponry engineering and chemistry, so I will do my best to simplify matters in the interest of sustaining your attention. It is necessary to interrogate the political agenda of an MIT scientist whose pretensions to neutrality are as believable as climate change denialists. If it is important to be familiar with the science of climate change at least on a layperson’s level, it is just as important to be up to speed on the claims made about sarin gas by Assad’s supporters.
In 2013 and 2014, Postol was partnered with a weapons technology consultant named Richard Lloyd who was employed by Tesla Laboratories, Inc., a consulting company that had no connection to Elon Musk. Their names first surfaced in a study in early September written just weeks after the East Ghouta attack that had the incriminating photo just below even if it was posed as a question.
On January 14, 2014, they argued in a new report that Assad was in the clear since his troops were more than 2km (1.24 miles) from East Ghouta, putting the area beyond the range of his rocket launchers. They relied on American-government issued maps that supposedly supported their conclusions and claimed that the spent missiles found on the ground in East Ghouta could been “manufactured by anyone who has access to a machine shop with modest capabilities”. Could sarin gas be manufactured just as easily?
Since this was a question they apparently preferred to sidestep, it was left to Seymour Hersh to answer it for them in an LRB article titled “The Red Line and the Rat Line” that fingered Turkey as the supplier of sarin gas to al-Nusra. Had it ever been used? Hersh said yes, specifically on March 19, 2013 in the town of Khan Al-Assal that led to the death of 19 civilians and 1 Baathist soldier.
There’s a couple of problems with his reporting as is so often the case when it comes to Syria. To start with, the FSA was named as the perpetrator of the attack, not al-Nusra. Furthermore, Åke Sellström, the chief investigator of the UN/OPCW mission stated that it “was difficult to see” how the opposition could have weaponized sarin gas, and added that Assad had repeatedly denied that the rebels had gotten their hands on any of his chemical weapons. In the entire six years of the war in Syria, this is the only incident in which rebels have even been accused of using sarin gas against the Baathist military. If they had access to such weaponry, why haven’t they used it routinely?
According to Hersh, this was in their power since the sarin gas used in Khan Al-Assal was nothing but “kitchen sarin” made “very easily with a couple of inert chemicals”. He came up with this in a Democracy Now interview, allowing listeners to visualize it as if it was something that could be whipped up by a Food Network chef with a Cuisinart food processor and a microwave. While it was not as potent as the sarin gas cooked up by Assad’s professionals, it was toxic enough to kill 20 people in Khan Al-Assal—that is if you believe in “kitchen sarin”.
Elliot Higgins dealt with the 2km question in a number of articles, including a Business Insider item dated January 14, 2015. Using videos from Russia’s ANNA news service, he established that the Syrian military was within 2km on the day of the East Ghouta attack. To my knowledge, Postol has never responded to Higgins’s findings on the distance question. In terms of the sarin-laced missiles being “manufactured by anyone who has access to a machine shop with modest capabilities”, this could only mean that rebels went through the trouble to create facsimiles of the Volcano rockets whose remains were strewn across the streets of East Ghouta on the day of the attack.
They were identical to those that had been used in Adra just weeks before the East Ghouta attack but without the chemical warhead. To take Postol and Lloyd’s lawyerly defense of Assad seriously, you’d have to believe the following:
- The images found on ANNA were falsified (original copies of the video have been archived).
- Rebels took the trouble to manufacture rockets that were exact duplicates of those that Assad used routinely.
- Rebels staked out positions in the no-man’s land between East Ghouta and Damascus in order to fire sarin gas rockets at their family members, risking being seen by eyewitnesses in such a “false flag” operation and in sheer indifference to the loss of loved ones. (As they said during the Vietnam War, Orientals don’t cherish life the way we Westerners do.)
- Having such weapons in their armory, they have never used them up until August 2013 when they decided to kill over a thousand of their supporters just to provoke Obama into going to war.
On the question of “kitchen sarin”, we can thank weapons expert Dan Kaszeta for some clarity on this. In addition to Higgins’s analysis of Volcano rocket remnants at East Ghouta, he examined the physical evidence of hexamine, a substance that covered the earth after the sarin gas attack. In a report dated December 13, 2013, Kaszeta described the importance of hexamine in weaponizing sarin gas.
Binary Sarin weapon systems combine methylphosphonic difluoride, also known as DF, with isopropyl alcohol to form Sarin. The resulting mixture has a lot of residual acid in it, in the form of hydrogen fluoride (HF), which is highly destructive, possibly to the point of ruining the weapon system. The US Army’s cold war era Sarin program used isopropylamine to reduce this excess HF. Several chemists and engineers knowledgeable in the matter have confirmed to me that hexamine is useful as a Sarin additive for the same reason. One hexamine molecule can bind to as many as four HF molecules. This would explain the declared Syrian stockpile of 80 tons of hexamine. Interestingly, the same stockpile contains 40 tons of isopropylamine as well.
I consider the presence of hexamine both in the field samples and in the official stockpile of the Syrian government to be very damning evidence of government culpability in the Ghouta attacks. 7 weeks of research on this subject reveal no public domain evidence of hexamine being used in this way in other Sarin programs. The likelihood of both a Syrian government research and development program AND a non-state actor both coming up with the same innovation seems negligible to me. It seems improbable that some other actor wanting to plant evidence would know to freely spread hexamine around the target areas.
The use of hexamine in this fashion is described as an “acid scavenger” by experts.
After preparing this report, Kaszeta was contacted out of the blue by Theodore Postol about hexamine. He wrote that he could find no reference to it in the technical literature having such a function, naming 9 articles. Kaszeta referred him to one article but more importantly reminded him that hexamine was found in the same location as the degraded by-products of sarin in East Ghouta. Additionally, the OPCW head Åke Sellström stated that it was included in the Syrian government’s formula by its own admission. Plus, why would Assad have surrendered 80 tons of the stuff after a deal had been worked out between Putin and Obama?
After several more exchanges, Postol informed Kaszeta that he has a heavy hitter on his side:
On the separate matter of the solubility of hexamine in isopropanol, we have finally gotten a solid scientific source. This technical information was provided to us with full scientific references by Syrian Sister, an organic chemist who we conferred with when we were unable to get this basic information from you.
As some of you may know, the Syrian Sister is one Maram Susli who is a long-time and notorious supporter of Bashar al-Assad. Her interviews with David Duke and Alex Jones have been too much even for a strong Assad supporter named Sukant Chandan, who she assailed for his leftist views obviously influenced by Maoism and Black nationalism.
Left wing individuals like Sukant Chandan who has lived his whole life as an immigrant in Europe would feel a lot better if I identified as “Arab” rather than the privileged “whites”. But where i come from it was the Arabs that were the slavers and the imperialists (apologies to my Arab friends but its history). They’re the ones who raided and took over our cities hundreds of years ago. They are the ones that enslaved the blacks of horn africa after taking over their cities and forcing the Arab language down on them. They are the ones who invaded Morocco and took white blonde Berber women of the sharmoot tribe as sex slaves.
Any surprise that this woman would feel at home doing interviews with David Duke? I think not. She even did one just a few days ago. Now none of this indicates that she is not qualified to offer opinions on hexamine. It seems that it was the late Richard Lloyd who first reached out to her on Twitter.
Why Lloyd looked her up is anybody’s guess but it was obvious that by May 2014, he had begun to move decisively into the Assadist camp based on his retweeting a Gareth Porter article with his usual excuses for the dictatorship. Once you start sniffing around websites featuring Gareth Porter, you are bound to run into Maram Susli before long.
Before long, Postol was turned on to PartisanGirl (as she is also known) and began “watching her” on Twitter, as he put it in an interview with conspiracy theorist and anti-Semite Ryan Dawson.
Kaszeta complained to Postol about him cc’ing Susli without his permission and reminded him that “that having discussions about nerve agent technology with unidentified Syrian nationals can cause me serious legal issues, particularly legal/regulatory matters and my various NDAs [nondisclosure agreements].”
The email exchanges between Kaszeta and Postol end at this point on Postol’s insistence even though Kaszeta promised him a thorough explanation of the use of hexamine in sarin gas production. I suspect that it would have been similar to the article he wrote on August 5, 2014 titled “Amines and Sarin – Hexamine, Isopropylamine, and the Rest…” that would be impossible for me to summarize since it is so technical. Suffice it to say that Postol found it convenient to ignore, just as he found Elliot Higgins’s articles on the geolocation of Assad’s military. Apparently the MIT professor enjoys picking fights even though he prefers to walk away from them when he is losing.
In addition, it would be useful to read what Jean Pascal Zanders had to say about hexamine. As the Project Leader of the Chemical and Biological Warfare Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) from October 1996 until August 2003 and Director of the Geneva-based BioWeapons Prevention Project (BWPP) between April 2003 and May 2008, his credentials would appear to be impeccable. In an August 2014 blog article, he stated:
However, recent discussions with officials from some Western states who are involved in the analysis of Syria’s declarations indicate two other roles of hexamine, namely as catalyst and stabiliser. The catalyst function is probably closely tied to the acid scrubber role. In an e-mail exchange today, Ralf Trapp, a chemist and consultant to the OPCW, confirmed that hexamine increases the yield of the chemical reaction by pulling the equilibrium between the precursors and reaction product (sarin) in favour of the latter. As a result, the sarin concentration receives a significant boost, possibly up to 60%. This degree of purity is considerably higher than the yields achieved by Iraq in the 1980s.
As a stabiliser, hexamine probably allowed the Syrians to store freshly produced sarin for days, if not several weeks. This understanding is more compatible with views before the civil war that Syria’s CW served strategic deterrence. Munitions declared to the OPCW last autumn also seem to validate those views. Initiating the final reaction shortly before use, as was the case in Iraq, would have undermined this doctrinal role.
One also must wonder why Postol turned to Susli for advice on hexamine when MIT has a world-class chemistry department filled with experts, who we must assume know more about such matters than someone whose knowledge of Ebola is—in a word— laughable:
Turning now to Postol’s three articles on the Khan Sheikhoun incident, they hinge on the impossibility of the remains of a 122 mm pipe found in a crater being fired from the sky. It had to be “placed” on the ground. His proof of it being the handiwork of somebody on the ground is a bit confusing:
The explosive acted on the pipe as a blunt crushing mallet. It drove the pipe into the ground while at the same time creating the crater. Since the pipe was filled with sarin, which is an incompressible fluid, as the pipe was flattened the sarin acted on the walls and ends of the pipe causing a crack along the length of the pipe and also the failure of the cap on the back end. This mechanism of dispersal is essentially the same as hitting a toothpaste tube with a large mallet, which then results in the tube failing and the toothpaste being blown in many directions depending on the exact way the toothpaste skin ruptures.
If this is in fact the mechanism used to disperse the sarin, this indicates that the sarin tube was placed on the ground by individuals on the ground and not dropped from an airplane.
Maybe it is just me but I have trouble visualizing what Postol is describing. Was this 122 mm pipe like a big pipe bomb to which a fuse was attached? Did jihadi rebels who supposedly control the town light the fuse in full view of the villagers like at a July 4th picnic? What about the fact that the village was attacked by Su-22 jet bombers within minutes of people falling to the ground unable to breathe? Just a coincidence? Also, how does an weapons expert MIT professor, even if emeritus, manage to write so much about sarin gas attacks in Syria without ever writing a single word about the feasibility of any rebel groups manufacturing, storing and weaponizing it?
Damned if I know.