MIT weapons expert rubbishes White House paper on Syrian attack
An American weapons expert from MIT believes the Trump administration’s reason for blaming the Assad government for the April 4 chemical attack in the Idlib province is based on lies.
Published: April 13, 2017, 10:49 am
A chemical attack with a nerve agent did occur, the leading chemical weapons expert said, but the available evidence does not support the US government’s conclusions.
On Tuesday, the White House released a declassified intelligence brief accusing Syrian President Bashar Assad of ordering and organising the attack, in which Trump officials alleged that Syrian planes had dropped chemical ordnance on civilians in the terrorist-held town of Khan Shaykhun.
The white paper released by the White House cited “a wide body of open-source material” and “social media accounts” from the terrorist-held area, including footage provided by the White Helmets group that has ties to jihadist rebels, and anti-Russian Western and Gulf Arab governments.
The report asserted that “we have signals intelligence and geospatial intelligence,” but then added that “we cannot publicly release all available intelligence on this attack due to the need to protect sources and methods”.
But Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Professor Theodore Postol not only challenged the latest obviously false claims but had exposed similar allegations in 2013 of a chemical attack in Syria blamed on Assad.
“What the country is now being told by the White House cannot be true,” Postol pointed out, “and the fact that this information has been provided in this format raises the most serious questions about the handling of our national security.”
“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,” the expert says.
Postol says the Trump report “contains absolutely no evidence that this attack was the result of a munition being dropped from an aircraft.” Postol has studied the intel brief and put together a 14-page assessment, which he provided to RT on Wednesday. He said a quick perusal already exposed the worrying conclusions by the Trump administration.
It is “very clear who planned this attack, who authorized this attack and who conducted this attack itself,” Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday. White House spokesman Sean Spicer also said that doubting the evidence would be “doubting the entire international reporting crew documenting this”.
But according to Postel, the “evidence” proposed in the brief is all but clear. “Any competent analyst would have had questions about whether the debris in the crater was staged or real,” he wrote. “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.”
Instead, “the most plausible conclusion is that the sarin was dispensed by an improvised dispersal device made from a 122mm section of rocket tube filled with sarin and capped on both sides.”
“We again have a situation where the White House has issued an obviously false, misleading and amateurish intelligence report,” he concluded, recalling the 2013 situation when the Obama administration claimed Assad had used chemical weapons against the rebels in Ghouta, near Damascus.
Award-winning investigative journalist Robert Parry also says the Trump administration withheld key evidence to support its core charge that a Syrian warplane dropped sarin on a northern Syrian town on April 4.
Parry was told that initially the US analysts couldn’t see any warplanes over the area in Idlib province at the suspected time of the poison gas attack but later detected a drone that they thought might have delivered the bomb.
According to Parry’s source, the analysts traced back its flight path to Jordan, from a Saudi-Israeli special operations base for supporting Syrian militants against Assad, and added that the suspected reason for the poison gas attack was to create an incident that would reverse the Trump administration’s announcement in late March that it was no longer seeking the removal of President Bashar al-Assad.
The United States and some European allies were already using defense contractors to train Syrian rebels in 2012 on how to secure chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria, a senior US official and several senior diplomats had confirmed to CNN.
The training, which was taking place in Jordan and Turkey, involved how to monitor and secure stockpiles and handle weapons sites and materials, according to the sources. Some of the contractors are on the ground in Syria working with the militants to monitor some of the sites, according to one of the officials.
The nationalities of the trainers were not disclosed, though the officials cautioned against assuming all are American.
The White House paper stated, “Our information indicates that the chemical agent was delivered by regime Su-22 fixed-wing aircraft that took off from the regime-controlled Shayrat Airfield. These aircraft were in the vicinity of Khan Shaykhun approximately 20 minutes before reports of the chemical attack began and vacated the area shortly after the attack.” But according to Parry the delivery of the poison gas could no be traced to Assad’s aircraft.
The Syrian foreign ministry reiterated its position that it has held since 2012 that it will not use chemical weapons under any circumstances, the state news agency SANA reported.
In two letters addressed to the UN Security Council and the US Secretary-General, in 2012 the ministry warned that “terrorist groups might resort to using chemical weapons against the Syrian people… after the terrorist groups recently took hold of a chlorine processing plant to the east of Aleppo city,” according to SANA, after Syrian militant opposition forces created a unified command to get rid of Assad.
Also the town of Khan Shaykhun was not near the fighting, but the White House dossier presented the location as an area of support for the offensive.
It remains a mystery why this explosive and false intelligence assessment was not issued directly by President Trump’s intelligence chiefs. The White House has seemingly relied on the assessment of the “intelligence community” in which neither CIA Director Mike Pompeo nor Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats took part.
A dozen US intelligence officials had handed a memo to President Trump urging him to undertake a careful investigation of the incident before letting this crisis exacerbate US-Russia relations, according to Parry, but Trump chose to ignore it and went ahead with the attack on Syria anyway.
“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,” Postol concluded.
According to recent data provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), 84 people, including 27 children, died in the incident.
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