A just-published report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology confirms earlier reports by WND that the Syrian government could not have launched the sarin poison-gas-laden rocket last Aug. 21 into a Syrian suburb of Damascus that killed hundreds of civilians, many of whom were children.
At the same time, the report disputes continued U.S. insistence that the Syrian government was at fault, a position that almost prompted the United States to launch military attacks on Syrian chemical depots.
The chemical attack, in which some estimates of deaths from the attack approached 1,800 people, occurred in the Ghouta area then under Syrian opposition control in the midst of the Syrian civil war.
The report concluded that the range of the rocket that delivered the sarin was too short to have been fired from Syrian government locations, even though the Obama administration, based on what it says was technical intelligence, said – and still insists – the gas attack was from the government forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The report said a large canister to hold the chemicals was placed on top of the rocket, limiting the capability of the rocket.
Furthermore, the report said the design’s two-foot long, tin can-like canister to hold the chemicals as a warhead on the end of four-foot, 350mm rocket was nothing like what was in the inventory of the Syrian military.
The report added that the rocket could have been constructed by anyone with “access to a machine shop with modest capabilities,” implying that the crudely constructed rocket with its tin can warhead could have been devised by the Syrian opposition, a prospect reinforced by separate information given to the United Nations for investigation.
The 46-page MIT report, titled “Possible Implications of Faulty U.S. Technical Intelligence in the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013,” was written by Richard Lloyd, former U.N. weapons inspector from Tesla Laboratories Inc., of Arlington, Va., and Theorore A. Postol, professor of science, technology and national security policy of MIT. It was put out by the MIT Science, Technology, and Global Security Working Group.
In their report, the authors said the Syrian improvised chemical munitions fired on the morning of Aug. 21 had a range of only two kilometers, a determination confirmed by the findings of a United Nations independent assessment on the range of the chemical munitions used in the attack.
“This indicates that these munitions could not possibly have been fired at East Ghouta from the ‘heart,’ or from the eastern edge, of the Syrian government-controlled area shown in the intelligence map published by the White House on August 30, 2013,” the report said.
“This mistaken intelligence could have led to an unjustified U.S. military action based on false intelligence,” the report said. “A proper vetting of the fact that the munition was of such short range would have led to a completely different assessment of the situation from the gathered data.
“Whatever the reasons for the egregious errors in the intelligence, the source of these errors needs to be explained,” it added. “If the source of these errors is not identified, the procedures that led to this intelligence failure will go uncorrected, and the chances of a future policy disaster will grow with certainty.”
The report’s summary conclusion reflects on what turned out to be faulty intelligence on weapons of mass destruction that the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein was said to possess. It ultimately led to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. However, WMD never was found.
Based on its assessment at the time, the Obama administration had made a request for congressional authorization to launch military strikes against Syrian chemical weapons depots, but later withdrew that request after the administration struck a deal with the Russians to get the Syrians to dismantle their entire chemical weapons program.
In addition, there was the likely prospect that Obama would not have gotten congressional approval, even though he had stated that the Syrian government had crossed a “red line.”
The MIT report, however, bolsters initial revelations made by WND last August that al-Qaida-linked Syrian rebels had the capability of producing the deadly chemicals and may have fired the rocket.
This claim was reinforced by a determination by a U.S. military source who told WND that there was no intelligence reporting on the Syrian government firing the artillery armed with poison gas.
“We don’t have anything,” the U.S. military source said at the time, referring to the availability of intelligence.
“And there isn’t any up to right this minute, meaning that nobody collected any intelligence via any ‘INT’ that said he was indeed having [President Bashar al-Assad’s] troops use the stuff,” referring to the sarin poison gas.
The ‘INT’ to which the source referred is the means of intelligence collection either through HUMINT, or human intelligence; SIGINT, or signals intelligence; IMINT, imagery intelligence; ELINT, or electronic intelligence; and MASINT, a variety of electronic specialties in gathering and interpreting intelligence.
“We’ve been eyeballing Syria for over a year,” the U.S. military source added, “watching [al-Assad] move weapons and units around, as well as their skirmishes and rocket launches.
“So, I would say that the community politicians cobbled together an extrapolation that made the boss [Obama] happy, but there’s nothing pointing to Bashar in the time frame that we’re talking about,” he added.
This U.S. military source also had made available to WND a classified document that showed that the National Ground Intelligence Center, or NGIC, had identified sarin production by al-Qaida elements associated with the Syrian opposition in Iraq and Turkey.
The document, dated August 2013, is classified Secret/Noforn – “Not for foreign distribution.”
It came to light despite official denials by the Obama administration that the Syrian opposition was capable of producing such poison gas.
The document reveals that sarin was confiscated earlier this year from members of the Jabhat al-Nusra Front, the most influential of the rebel Islamists fighting in Syria.
The document, disseminated in August 2013, revealed that sarin said to be “bench-scale” from al-Qaida in Iraq had made its way into Turkey and that while some was seized, more could have been used in an attack last March on civilians and Syrian military troops in an artillery attack in the major Syrian city of Aleppo.
The U.S. assessment backs documentation made available to the U.N. from the Russians indicating specifically that the sarin gas was supplied to Sunni foreign fighters by a Saddam-era general working under the outlawed Iraqi Baath party leader, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri.
Al-Douri was a top aide to Saddam Hussein before he was deposed as Iraqi president.
The sarin nerve gas used in the Allepo attack, sources say, had been prepared by former Iraqi Military Industries Brig. Gen. Adnan al-Dulaimi. It then was supplied to Baath-affiliated foreign fighters of the Sunni and Saudi Arabian-backed al-Nusra Front in Aleppo, with Turkey’s cooperation, through the Turkish town of Antakya in Hatay Province.
The source who brought out the documentation now in the hands of the U.N. is said to have been an aide to al-Douri.
Al-Dulaimi was a major player in Saddam’s chemical weapons production projects, the former aide said. Moreover, Al-Dulaimi has been working in the Sunni-controlled region of northwestern Iraq where the outlawed Baath party now is located and produces the sarin.
The U.S. military source speaking to WND also revealed that there was a Saudi-financier named Abu Abdullah al-Shamari, as well as a Turkish chemical supplier, along with a bomb component person, operating in and out of Iraq and Turkey. The source identified the Turk at Khalid Ousta.
“There’s apparently a large stockpile of sarin in Baghdad,” he said. “Insurgents are using it to threaten the government there in order to get prisoners released.”
He added that a Syrian based in Baghdad named Ahmed Abu Ali also is a known sarin manufacturer as well as expert in bombs and improvised explosive devices.
He said a Turkey-based materials supplier in Istanbul who may be on his way to China is named Bassam al-Essi.
“All these guys,” he said, “were tied to that sarin incident caught by the Turks” last May.
The NGIC depiction of the variety of sarin as “bench-scale” reinforces an analysis by terrorism expert Yossef Bodansky, who said the recent findings on the chemical weapons attack of Aug. 21 on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria, was “indeed a self-inflicted attack” by the Syrian opposition to provoke U.S. and military intervention in Syria.
Bodansky, a former director of the U.S. Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, said a preliminary analysis of the sarin showed that it was of a “kitchen” variety and not military grade, which accumulates around victims’ hair and loose clothing.
Because these molecules become detached and released with any movement, Bodansky said, “They would have thus killed or injured the first responders who touched the victims’ bodies without protective clothes … and masks.”
Various videos of the incident clearly show first responders going from patient to patient without protective clothing administering first aid to the victims. There were no reports of casualties among the first responders.
“This strongly indicates that the agent in question was the slow acting ‘kitchen sarin,'” Bodansky said.
“Indeed, other descriptions of injuries treated by MSF (the French group Doctors Without Borders) – suffocation, foaming, vomiting and diarrhea – agree with the effects of diluted, late-action drops of liquefied Sarin,” he said.
The terrorism expert said that the jihadist movement has technologies that have been confirmed in captured jihadist labs in both Turkey and Iraq, as well as from the wealth of data recovered from al-Qaida in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002.
He added that the projectiles shown by the opposition, which were tested by U.N. inspectors, are not standard weapons of the Syrian army.
Meanwhile, an Italian former journalist and a Belgian researcher who were recently freed from their al-Nusra captives say they overheard their captors talking about their involvement in a deadly chemical attack “last month,” which would have been the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack.
The Italian, Domenico Quirico, and Belgian researcher Pierre Piccinin were released after five months of captivity.
“The government of Bashar al-Assad did not use sarin gas or other types of gas in the outskirts of Damascus,” Piccinin said.
While captive, Piccinin said the two had overheard a Skype conversation in English among three people.
“The conversation was based on real facts,” said Quirico, claiming one of the three people in the alleged conversation identified himself as a Free Syrian Army general.
He added that the militants said the rebels carried out the attack as a provocation to force the West to intervene militarily to oust the Assad regime.
Both men told a news conference they had no access to the outside world while they were held captive and knew nothing about the use of chemical weapons until they heard the discussion on Skype.
A former analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency, Ray McGovern, similarly backs the claim that the Syrian rebels perpetrated the poison gas attack on Aug. 21
McGovern was one of a number of veteran intelligence professionals, or VIPs, who signed a letter to Obama saying that Damascus wasn’t behind the Aug. 21 chemical attack.
Former U.S. intelligence analysts claim current intelligence analysts have told them Assad was not responsible for the Aug. 21 poison gas attack, saying there was a “growing body of evidence” that reveals the incident was a pre-planned provocation by the Syrian opposition.
The analysts, in an open letter to Obama, referred to a meeting a week before the Aug. 21 incident in which opposition military commanders ordered preparations for an “imminent escalation” due to a “war-changing development” that would be followed by the U.S.-led bombing of Syria. They said the growing body of evidence came mostly from sources affiliated with the Syrian opposition and its supporters.
Those reports, they said, revealed that canisters containing chemical agents were brought into a suburb of Damascus, where they were then opened.
“Initial meetings between senior opposition military commanders and Qatari, Turkish and U.S. intelligence officials took place at the converted Turkish military garrison in Antakya, Hatay Province, now used as the command center and headquarters of the Free Syrian Army and their foreign sponsors,” the analysts said.
The VIPs memo to Obama reinforces separate videos, which show foreign fighters associated with the Syrian opposition firing artillery canisters of poison gas. One video shows Nadee Baloosh, a member of an al-Qaida-affiliated group Rioyadh al-Abdeen, admitting to the use of chemical weapons.
In the video clip, al-Abdeen, who is in the Latakia area of Syria, said his forces used “chemicals which produce lethal and deadly gases that I possess.”
F. Michael Maloof, staff writer for WND’s G2Bulletin, is a former senior security policy analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He can be contacted at [email protected].