Sep 24, 2013

Other Evidence for a Regime Attack

If this is your first time here, I recommend starting from the conclusion page.

After reviewing the three reports supporting the theory of a regime chemical attack on August 21st, I would like to examine in this post other evidence that was not included in these reports.

I'm so far aware of two reliable reports. If anyone has any more (reliable!) evidence supporting a regime attack not covered here or in previous reports, please post in the comments and I will add it here for analysis.

The Hezballa-Iran call

This is a leak from a closed meeting in which German foreign Intelligence (BND) reported intercepting a call between a Hezbollah official and the Iranian embassy in which the Hezbollah official says Assad's order for the attack was a mistake and that he was losing his nerve.

As with all second-hand Intelligence reports, it is very difficult to assess its reliability without seeing the raw information. However, in this case a simple probabilistic analysis can prove the evidence has no weight:
This is a call between two officials who are very far from any decision making or inside information regarding chemical attacks. A Hezballa official having such sensitive information would imply thousands of others (much closer to the regime) also have such knowledge, which would inevitably result in better intelligence than what we saw so far. 

So this is just probably one of thousands of intercepted calls made in the area speculating about the attack, and given weight only because the speakers are associated with Syrian allies.

Testimony of the Chemical Officer of the 5th Division

According to the testimony of Brigadier General Zaher Al-Saket, he was commander of chemical warfare (in some places "chief scientific officer") in the Syrian army’s 5th division, was ordered to attack rebels with chemicals and refused.

Examining this story closely raises many doubts:
  1. It doesn’t seem like anyone publishing this story actually verified Mr. Al-Saket held the position he claims. I could not find any such evidence. If anyone has it, please share.
  2. His facebook page shows a picture of him wearing Amid Insignia (Brigadier General, as claimed), but he seems 15-20 years younger (see below). It is rare for senior officers to remain so many years in service without promotion.
  3. Syria’s chemical weapons are a strategic asset that is not handled at the Division level. Division chemical officers are charged with protecting against chemicals, not attacking. Also, they are junior officers, definitely not Brigadier Generals (which is one rank below the Division commander).
  4. His discussion of chemical weapons is generally unprofessional, bordering on incoherent. For example here, after accusing the regime of using sarin, he says: "Worse still, this regime has binary chemical weapons. The world must understand that there are chemical binary weapons in Syria". Whether a chemical weapon is stored in binary form or not is of minor significance in this context.
  5. He claims to have been ordered to use Phosgene, a chemical weapon that has not been in use for over 70 years, and was never considered part of the Syrian arsenal.
  6. In live interviews he seems very dedicated to the goal of getting International intervention.

So unless there is more substantial evidence, it seems like Mr. Al-Sakat did not hold the position he claims during the civil war, and is just using his military past to help get International support for the opposition.
There are many mentions of his name in Arabic. Help of an Arabic speaker that can shed more light on this story would be appreciated.

This concludes my analysis of the evidence for a regime attack. As shown, the only evidence of any weight presented so far is the munition analysis by Brown Moses, which demonstrates with high probability that the attack on Zamalka was carried out by rockets developed and used by the regime.

I will next examine the evidence contradicting a regime attack.

Did I miss anything? Please share your evidence and analysis and help me improve my conclusions.


  1. You present here evidence for a Government attack, but only in passing refer to evidence against a Government attack.

    I see you plan to examine evidence for an Insurgent attack next.

    In trials, trying to blame someone else is a common defence tactic, but not the best defence tactic. Perhaps you could expand this post to explicitly include evidence that the Government didn't do it? Or even a separate post?

    One option to consider is that intelligence services of one or more hostile powers was to blame and not the Government or Insurgents. I realise logistically this would be difficult but given the fractured nature of the Insurgency and porous borders and transit routes this should be considered.

    I note that for example that the DGSE has no qualms whatsoever inserting military units into other countries for sabotage and false-flag operations. I can also think of several countries in the region that have a very strong vested interest in removing the CW capability of Syria.

    1. Good Idea - I will try to separate evidence against a regime attack, from evidence for a rebel attack.

      As to alternative theories - I will later try to prepare an easy summary of all evidence and invite everyone to propose scenarios.

  2. Sasa, you should consider the following analyses:

    Observations on the United Nation Report released 16 September
    2013 - Background paper by Dan Kaszeta, Twitter: @DanKaszeta
    Credentials: About the author: Dan Kaszeta is the author of “CBRN and Hazmat Incidents at Major Public Events: Planning and Response” (Wiley, 2012) as well as a number of magazine articles and conference papers. He has 22 years of experience in CBRN, having served as an officer in the US Army Chemical Corps, as CBRN advisor for the White House Military Office, and as a specialist in the US Secret Service. He now runs Strongpoint Security, a London-based CBRN and antiterrorism consultancy. Mr. Kaszeta also holds a part-time post as Senior Research Fellow with the International Institute of Nonproliferation Studies and
    is a contributor to Wikistrat.

    Also an excellent (whether on point or not, I tend to think it is) article by Sharmine Narwani and Radwan Mortada, Questions Plague UN Report on Syria

    1. Here is the link to Kaszeta's paper:

    2. The al-Akhbar article was very good as usual. In my opinion it's the best English Language Arab newspaper in the region.

      Putting my best conspiracy hat on how about this scenario?

      The Saudi supplied sarin accident story is true and it happened during a slightly larger than normal bombardment prior to an SAA advance.

      A number but not a huge number of people were killed or injured by gas in one location. They were treated at a number of dispersed local treatment points. The local story - as it would be - is that it was caused by the SAA bombardment.

      Realising the huge propaganda value of the incident and to cover up the accident a foreign intelligence service used the several days delay to help the local insurgents plant evidence. In particular they supplied aerosol sprays of vanishingly weak Sarin and/or selected decomposition products. These were taken to missile sites that the UN would be asked to inspect and sprayed around to be collected by the UN.

      They weren't able to do this at Moadamiyah because there weren't any of the 300mm+ rockets there - and these were the missile types that had been deliberately publicised in previous months as the "Government Chemical Warfare rockets".

      The subjects presented to the UN inspectors were taken from a pool of people previously exposed at Ein Tarma and Zamalka, or even from a pool of people deliberately exposed after the event with non-lethal doses. In some cases they may have been originally exposed to conventional weapons - e.g. W.P - which would explain some of the symptoms and the smell of chemicals reported.

      I think it's significant that the percentage of women in the sample is much higher than the video records of the day.

      As far as I can see just about all observed evidence can be explained by this theory. The only unknown in this argument is the relatively large percentage of children.

      - takes conspiracy hat off.

    3. Charles.
      You forgot to mention the bombshell dropped by Pierre Piccinin & La Stampa`s journalist Domenico Quirico,the conversation they heard while in "Syrian opposition" custody.

    4. Gleb,
      Seems like a very professional report. Thanks for sharing.
      I think the differences between Tokyo and Zamalka are a result of the time delay. The Tokyo report probably relates to symptoms found after a few hours, while the Zamalka report to a week later. So for example it's possible that the body recovers from miosis quicker than from other symptoms.
      Anyone here can confirm this is true?

    5. Sasa:

      (1) Lack of miosis is inexplicable. It does not disappear in a week.

      According to Kaszeta, "Miosis after nerve agent exposure can last for a number of weeks and the Tokyo experience confirms that miosis is resistant to atropine injections" (both points referenced to sources which you can consider).

      (2) seizures/loss of consciousness are penultimate to death. If they occur, death would usually occur without seconds thereafter. To have so many SURVIVORS (sorry for the emphasis) report seizures/loss of consciousness, but not miosis, gastrointestinal, tearing, etc. (all symptoms PRIOR to seizures/loss of consciouness).

      (3) if sarin concentrations were negligible/not fatal/small, then PERHAPS miosis could go away earlier than observed with the Tokyo attack. But that does not reconcile with the wide-spread reports of seizures and loss of consciousness. You cannot have one AND the other. If seizure/loss of consciousness were, in fact, suffered, by the examined subjects, that means:

      (a) they were heavily exposed to sarin;
      (b) they were near death;
      (c) they received aggressive atropine treatment and were saved in the nick of time;
      (d) miosis would, as a result, still be present, and, likely, for weeks to come.

      So, no, time delay is not a factor at all. Kaszeta notes (I believe) that miosis is the most common and the most persistent symptom/effect of sarin exposure and is quite long-term in comparison to other symptoms/effects.

    6. I did not finish, sorry:

      (2) seizures/loss of consciousness are penultimate to death. If they occur, death would usually occur without seconds thereafter. To have so many SURVIVORS (sorry for the emphasis) report seizures/loss of consciousness, but not miosis, gastrointestinal, tearing, etc. (all symptoms PRIOR to seizures/loss of consciouness), is inexplicable and does not accord with our understanding/data on sarin. It also does not make any logical sense.

    7. Here is an excerpt from sarin Safety Data Sheet. What it suggests to me is that miosis requires very little sarin exposure, while the other symptomps require progressively greater sarin concentrations.

      Section V: Health Hazard Data
      AIRBORNE EXPOSURE LIMIT (AEL): The permissible airborne exposure concentration for GB for an 6 hour workday or a 40 hour work week is an 8 hour time weight average (TWA) of 0.0001 mg/m3. This value is based on the TWA or GB which can be found in "AR 40-8, Occupational Health Guidelines for the Evaluation and Control of Occupational Exposure to Nerve Agents GA, GB, GD, and VX." To date, however, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has not promulgated a permissible exposure concentration for GB.

      EFFECTS OF OVEREXPOSURE: It is a lethal anticholinergic agent. Doses which are potentially life threatening may be only slightly larger than those producing minimal effects.

      Route Form Effect Type Dosage

      ocular vapor miosis ECt50 less than 2 mg-min/m3
      inhalation vapor runny nose ECt50 less than 2 mg-min/m3
      inhalation severe ICt50 35 mg-min/m3
      inhalation vapor death LCt50 70 mg-min/m3

      percutaneous liquid death LD50 1700 mg/70 kg man

      Effective dosages for vapor are estimated for exposure durations of 2-10 minutes.

      Symptoms of overexposure may occur within minutes or hours--depending upon dose. They include: miosis (constriction of pupils) and visual effects, headache and pressure sensation, runny nose and nasal congestion, salivation, tightness in the chest, nausea, vomiting, giddiness, anxiety, difficulty in thinking, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, muscle twitches, tremors, weakness, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, involuntary urination and defecation.

      With severe exposure symptoms progress to convulsions and respiratory failure. GB is not listed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), or National Toxicology Program (NTP) as a carcinogen.

      Material Safety Data Sheet -- Lethal Nerve Agent Sarin (GB)". 103d Congress, 2d Session. United States Senate. May 25, 1994. Retrieved 2004-11-06. Hazard Data

    8. The Miosis thing got me confused so I returned to the report and I think I figured it out. On page 13 there are two paragraphs about symptoms. One is based on interviews, and another on medical exams (including miosis). They were then joined into one graph, which is the cause of the confusion.
      So the miosis sample is from 1 week after the attack, while the rest are from any time after the attack.

    9. I updated this on the UN Report page. Thanks!

    10. No problem. But, Sasa, I am not sure I understand your conclusion. Kaszeta's point is that given the reportedly severe exposure to Sarin in the sampled survivors, it is highly unlikely miosis would not have been present one week later, at the time of examination. It should have present in nearly all of the examined individuals.

      To extrapolate Kaszeta's point, the symptoms reported by the survivors (seizures/loss of consciousness) are either:

      (1) severely overstated (which would make sense, as individuals that came to the point of seizures/loss of consciousness would have likely died within second/minutes thereafter without aggressive atropine treatment, and many actually describe (in other reports) losing consciousness and then awaking in hospitals - not very likely); or,

      (2) some other agent/cause is responsible for loss of consciouosness/seizures (a point made by Kaszeta and a conclusion which also suggests that the severe symptoms may have been made up).

      We can disagree, but, in any event, your update to the UN Report section is quite confusing - I had to do a double take. When you state you found an explanation at page 13 I originally scoured the Kaszeta report before realizing it only had 7 pages, and then finally realized you were talking about the UN report.

    11. Regarding the lack of miosis in survivors:

      This could be explained by administration of an oxime enzyme reactivator (e.g., Pralidoxime, Obidoxime, etc.). These are true antitodes to organophosphate poisoning and they remove the OP molecule from acetylcholinesterase. In effect, this restores normal functionality to muscles.

      Oximes are used in conjunction with atropine to treat organophosphate poisoning. Atropine basically buys time for the patient while oximes actually save them.

    12. DDTea - makes sense.
      Gleb - how do you know miosis must persist more than a week?

    13. DDTea, responses:

      (1) Treatment centers, allegedly, had insufficient atropine. Do you suppose they had any more advanced treatment on hand, such as oxime enzyme reactivators? From opposition reports, all they were doing was injecting atropine, and were scrambling to get more. The lack of atropine is sufficiently corroborated by Medicins Sans Frontiers. There are no reports of oxime enxyme reactivators being used.

      Besides, here is an assessment Pennsylvania Department of Health, discussing oximes:

      "Oximes, which are acetylcholinesterase reactivators, relieve the important nicotinic symptoms of skeletal neuromuscular blockade. Most clinical experience is with pralidoxime chloride (2-PAM, Protopam chloride R), pralidoxime methanesulfonate (P2S) or methylsulfate (Contrathion R ), and obidoxime chloride (Toxogonin R ). These agents have poor CNS penetration and must be repeatedly injected or given as a loading dose followed by a maintenance dose."

      Appears to me to be a less than a miracle drug, requiring prolonged repeated treatment, or a loading dose with follow-up maintenance.

      (2) In any event, the Kaszeta report compares Ghouta to Tokyo. BY 2006, oximes were well known. However, most human-suitable oximes appear to have success rations of 23%-33% ( In any event, I would be surprised if Tokyo hospitals did not have access to oximes. Kaszeta does not discuss oximes directly, but states unequivocally that meiosis is virtually uncurable, and lasts for weeks - particularly with heavy exposure (such as would be needed for seizures, etc.).

      (3) From what I have seen, it appears there is some consensus that sarin-caused meiosis is not generally treated in victims - it is considered unnecessary or the treatment is ineffective. I just read a scientific paper on point (discussing a controlled experiment with 5 subjects being exposed to sarin specifically to consider treatment of meiosis), and, if you want, I will try to find the link.

      In any event, before we go any further, can you find some data confirming that oximes do, in fact, relieve meiosis? That would be an important first step to further consideration.

    14. Gleb, he says 'can last for a number of weeks'. So unless we get some hard stats, I don't find it too disturbing that only 14% has miosis after 8 days.

    15. Sasa - read Kaszeta's paper. Here is the relevant quotation:

      "Miosis after nerve agent exposure can last for a number of weeks and the Tokyo experience confirms that miosis is resistant to atropine injections. The military textbook says categorically: “Miosis and
      respiratory involvement are almost invariant with inhalational exposure.”"

      I surmise that, with the heavy, near-fatal exposure described by the victims, meiosis should have lasted weeks, as suggested by Kaszeta.

      Kaszeta's info is cited to the following sources:

      Sidell FR. Soman and sarin: clinical manifestations and treatment of accidental poisoning by organophosphates. Clinical Toxicology. 1974;7:11

      Ohbu S, et al. Sarin Poisoning on Tokyo Subway, Southern Medical Journal, Vol 90, Issue 6, June 1997. at p. 30.

      US Army Office of the Surgeon General. Textbook of Military Medicine: Medical Aspects of Chemical Warfare. 2008., at p. 169

      (2) And, no, Sasa, DDTea's suggestion is simply fantastical. It would presume:

      (a) a level of medical sophistication in the middle of an active warzone, when even atropine is scarce and insufficient, that is nearly impossible. There is no evidence oximes were available for victims, and every suggestion to the contrary.

      (b) that the hospital stuff would engage in repeated application of oximes to victims (oximes that have 23-33% success rate) in the middle of a medical crisis/pandemonium.

      (c) that treatment of miosis is indicated by the prevailing medical doctrine, particularly considering more significant injuries that need to be attended to. There is every suggestion to the contrary - that meiosis is, in fact, usually not treated, even in the West.

      So, DDTea, yes, good find/info, but logically and common-sense suggests it has no relevance to the situation.

    16. Sasa, well, as between you Kaszets - you don't find it disturbing, but he does. That is the biggest concern in his article. He is practically incensed over that fact, if you read his paper carefully. Given the apparently/allegedly significant Sarin exposure, I do tend to agree with him, and, like him, think that this is a monumental discrepancy and concern.

      HOWEEVER, since you want further data, here is confirmation of what I am saying:

      Munro NB, Ambrose KR, Warson AP
      Toxicity of the organophosphate chemical warfare agents GA, GB, and VX: Implications for public protection. Environ. Health Perspect. 1994;102:13-37.

      Within seconds after exposure to low
      levels of nerve agent vapor, local effects
      may be observed in the eyes and the respiratory
      system of humans. Depending on
      the agent and the dosage, the local ocular
      effects may be a constriction of the pupils
      of the eye (miosis) lasting only several days
      or a prolonged miosis persisting for many
      weeks (39,40), pain, and/or dim vision

    17. So it can be days and it can be weeks.
      I guess the best thing to do is check what Kaszets thinks now that we know the miosis symptoms are in 1 week delay, while the other symptoms are from day 0.
      Want to do it and update?

    18. I'll ask him. Not sure if he did not already figure that out at the time of writing, but it's fair to ask and see what his response is.

    19. I have asked. We'll see. He has signed off - so possibly not until tomorrow. Do you have a twitter account?

    20. Sasa, as per your question, Dan has not responded yet. However, I re-read his report again, and the answer to our question is their. Dan did consider the issue. Here is the quotation:

      "These statistics from Tokyo omit those who were considered to be suffering only mild symptoms who were not admitted to the hospital, but merely treated and released. It is not possible to make a direct comparison, as the Tokyo signs/symptoms were upon admission, not upon examination days later as was the case with the UN report. The
      Tokyo statistics broadly match what is expected of Sarin in the military medical literature. Needless to say, there are vast differences between the UN data and the Tokyo data. Incidentally, the Tokyo data is reinforced by earlier data from first responders to an earlier Sarin incident in Matsumoto, wherein eye troubles such as miosis were nearly universally encountered by emergency responders to the incident."

      - Note the second sentence - that the answer. However, note also the other points he makes, putting impossibility of direct comparison into context:

      (a) Tokyo statistics broadly match military medical literature expectations;
      (b) Tokyo data is reinforced by Matsumoto data, where miosis was universal.

      Later, Dan states that lack of miosis is a "paradox" without explanation. Military literature states miosis is almost invariant and resistant to atropine. Also note the following quotation:

      "Convulsions are a relatively advanced symptom showing a high level cholinergic crisis brought on by nerve agent intoxication. It is strange that there are patients (such as patients SN 24 and 27) that show positive exposure to Sarin by blood test, convulsions, but no excess salivation, excess tearing, or miosis. That is very strange to me."

      I.e. lack of miosis is irreconcilable with the presence of convulsions (simply, you can't have severe symptoms without mild/intermediate symptoms - or this discrepancy must be explained somehow).

      Another point by Dan is simply put as - why loss of consciousness and no death? In other words, how did the 78% who reported to lose consciousness manage to survive despite being so near death? Also, how is it that they do not show other mild/intermediate symptoms (i.e., such as miosis)?

      I also realize I must clarify the scientific citation I provided above. What the paper says is not simply - it's either days or weeks, but:

      - miosis must be present as a result of nerve gas (Sarin) exposure;
      - the duration and severity of miosis is not accidental or random, but is directly correlated/dependent on the level of exposure. I.e.:

      weak exposure = several days
      strong exposure = many weeks
      and everything in between.

      Here we have reports of 78% of surveyed victims experiencing a near-fatal symptom of loss of consciousness, and yet only 14% are observed to have miosis a week later. Such a severe exposure, according to literature, would result in duration of miosis on the level of "many weeks", rather than "several days". To me, personally, logic does not allow the possibility that despite such strong exposure miosis disappears by end of week 1.

    21. Note that he only mentions the difference in admission times between Tokyo and Zamalka. He didn't notice that the miosis reports are from a live examination while other symptoms are from an interview.

    22. Sasa, I am not sure I agree with your reading of the sentence, but let's not beat a dead horse. If Dan responds to me we'll know - if not, hopefully he will clarify the point in his upcoming updated analysis on the subject.

    23. I now have a twitter account @WhoGhouta

    24. Good. I got a conclusive response from Dan. He did consider the issue we were discussing. I will excerpt our exchange below:

      Gleb Bazov‏@gbazov
      @DanKaszeta Joint Que w/Sasa Wawa: In your analysis of miosis issue, did you consider that miosis observations were 1 week after the event?

      Dan Kaszeta‏@DanKaszeta4h
      @gbazov Academic literature on the subject shows Miosis many days post event. Very mild exposures will go away in days.

      Gleb Bazov‏@gbazov4h
      @DanKaszeta Yup. Read Munro et al. - from minimum of days to max of many weeks. To me, no miosis is a sign. issue in the sampled population.

      Gleb Bazov‏@gbazov4h
      @DanKaszeta I take it that you took into consideration in your 1st analysis the fact that miosis observations delayed by 1 week? Correct?

      Dan Kaszeta‏@DanKaszeta3h
      @gbazov Yes. I would expect more than 14%, but less than the 99% reported from Tokyo

      Gleb Bazov‏@gbazov3h
      @DanKaszeta thank you, understood, entirely agreed.

  3. “Syria’s chemical weapons are a strategic asset that is not handled at the Division level. Division chemical officers are charged with protecting against chemicals, not attacking. Also, they are junior officers, definitely not Brigadier Generals (which is one rank below the Division commander).”

    In 2 plus years of war about half of Syria (measured geographically) has been overrun by the rebels. Huge portions of the Syrian military have either defected to the rebels or have just left. The regime has the loyalty of about 10% of the population, is rapidly becoming opposed by 60%.

    Things just aren’t run the way they were pre-war.

    And for what’s it worth, once upon a time the division would be trained to attack with (whether the division fired the CW or an attached unit did) with CW.

    1. If army loyalty deteriorates, the regime is likely to do the opposite: centralize control of chemical weapons.
      In any case, it is just one of several indications that the Mr, Al-Saket story is unreliable.

      Your claim of 10% vs 60% support for the regime is different than what I know. Do you have evidence for it?

    2. Dear Anonymous,

      You are plain incorrect on your assessment of support for Assad and alleged defections. There is a lot of data on the subject, but I will give you something you may not have read. Quoted below is my facebook post review of the Bild am Sonntag report on the German Intelligence (BND) classified submissions to the German parliament (I read the article in original and translated, as English-language reporting on the subject was very incomplete and limited). I have omitted my own commentary on each point, which is irrelevant for our purposes.

      A couple of points on our present subject:

      (1) BND's info is that all defections from the Syrian army have stopped;
      (2) Al Assad is likely to remain in power for years to come (echoed by recent Mossad statements as well).

      The article is titled “Interception specialists reveal Assad commanders wanted to use poison gas for months”

      Below, I summarize my understanding of the article’s key statements. You can find the link to the German version at the end.

      According to the Syrian military’s radio conversations intercepted by the German ship “Oker”:

      - The Syrian government troops have made repeated demands that al Assad authorize the use of chemical weapons over the last 4 months (i.e. since April 2013).

      - Al Assad rejected each and every request by the Syrian military for deployment of CW.

      - According to German Intelligence, it is unlikely that al Assad personally approved the use of CW on August 21, 2013.

      - German Intelligence expects that al Assad will retain power in Syria regardless of the pending US air strikes.

      - German Intelligence reported at the secret session of the Bundestag Defence Committee that the bloody civil war would drag on for a long time. BND’s Gerhard Schindler is quoted as saying “It can last years.”

      - Schindler further compared the fighting in the greater Damascus to the Battle of Stalingrad. He explained that for the Alawite minority in Syria, retaining Damascus under al Assad’s control has the same symbolic importance as Stalingrad held for the Soviet Union under Stalin.

      - Volker Wieker, the Inspector-General (??) of the German army, Bundeswehr, reported to the Committee about a “dramatic power-shift” among the rebels.

      - According to Wieker, as a result of this “dramatic power-shift”, the western-backed Free Syrian Army has lost its former military leadership.

      - Wieker proceeded to state that the FSA is no longer led by an organized group of Syrian military deserters – this power structure no longer exists. Instead, the influence of Al Qaeda in the FSA is becoming more and more dominant, with dramatic consequences.

      - Thus, according to Wieker, there are few defectors from the ranks of the Syrian military because deserters are, as a rule, immediately shot by the rebels.

      - Finally, Bild reports that the EU (on behalf of its 28 governments) asked the United States yesterday to delay a military strike until the UN report on the use of CW weapons comes out.

      (originally posted as a new post, now reposted as a reply)

    3. And, as for lack of control over the military/CW contingents, the entire case for strikes and for Assad culpability has so far been built on the argument that he retains tight control and direct oversight over the CW arsenal.

      Consider the French Intelligence Report (here it is in the original:

      Here is the relevant excerpt:

      - Syrian chemical program is controlled primarily by the Center of Scientific Research and Study ("CERS") and its Branch 450. Branch 450 is composed solely of Alawite military personnel and is characterized by a high loyalty to the Syrian regime. (NOTE: same can be said of 70% of career soldiers in the Syrian Army). Bashar al Assad and certain influential members of his clan are the only persons with the authority to order the use of CW. The choice of the targets, delivery weapons and toxins is made by the Staff of the Syrian Army. (p. 5. paras. 2-4)

    4. Bild Am Sonntag is the German equivalent of the UK "The Sun" newspaper. It has zero serious journalistic credibility.

      Worse, it is easily fed stories that it has no ability and no inclination to check.

      Mark the entire report down as a standard misinformation exercise. So weak in fact it wasn't even leaked to more prestigious news outlets - or perhaps it was and they ignored it.

    5. Charles, yes and no. I am far from trusting the leak itself - let along Bild am Sonntag. But Bild were the first to report this, and it was taken up by the majority of Western media. It would not be illogical for BND to leak this to Bild, as a means of testing the water - knowing well they can't come out directly against the US on the issue. But it shows that BND's data (if reported with any accuracy at all) is quite divergent from the US intelligence. I would have preferred to read, of course, an original report from BND, but nothing like that followed, so, together with my analyses of the original French report, UK and US, I treated this as yet another glimpse into the national intelligence services' thinking and data. As I explain, I would not be so rush as to say that this is misinformation. It could have been, rather, a trial balloon - and has correllated directly with Germany's outward behaviour in relation to the Syrian crises (tentative and reserved).

    6. I admit my numbers are simplistic…. 10% Alawite for the regime and 60% Sunni which are against the regime. The Kurds (10%) aren’t for the regime and while they have made some deals with the rebels I don’t think they are for them either. The Christian 10% are mostly sitting it out, and the last 10% otherwise are also sitting it out. Clearly there are individual exceptions to this but overall I think it holds up. Why would any Sunni’s support Assad? Why has one of the Kurdish groups made a deal with the rebels? What breakdowns on this have others seen?

      Defections from the Syrian Army have not stopped but are admittedly in small numbers these days, 2’s and 3’s, once in a while in a dozen and rarely larger. These are shown by videos that pop up from time to time. But alongside that are the Syrian Army soldiers who left the country and became refuges rather than ‘defect’ the rebels. There are 2 million (and climbing) refugees outside Syrian now and some of them have to have been soldiers. Even with that there is a part of the remaining Syrian Army that is suspect in so much as they are only going to fight halfheartedly if at all – particularly as infantry. That would be any remaining Sunni’s, halfhearted Kurds, Christians, etc.

      This has left Assad with a manpower problem. Otherwise it would be over by now and Hezbollah wouldn’t have been needed. Furthermore, his air force, his biggest force multiplier can only generate about a dozen sorties a day. Anyone seen evidence otherwise? While Assad can from time to time, marshal his forces and take back one town or another it seems he ends up giving up some of the places he stripped his forces from. Otherwise the rebels would have been pushed out of what they hold in Aleppo, Hama and the Damascus suburbs they still hold.
      Assad will likely remain for some time. But his ‘in power’ will be over an increasingly smaller part of the country. Right now… geographically the rebels have run Assad’s regime out of about half of the country? I think things will stalemate with Assad remaining ‘in power’ in a rump state mostly along the Mediterranean with some fingers reaching a little into the interior. I agree it can then ‘last years’ in that format.

      How does the Syrian Army’s centralized control of CW conflict with the possible use of it as reported by this general and others? And I’m not claiming that he/they is correct on its use. But I don’t see how the ‘centralized control’ says anything one way or the other. Maybe Assad said no and his brother who lost a leg in an assassination attempt said yes? Maybe the reports that prior use of CW was of diluted down gas and this time someone screwed up. Didn’t the German intelligence also report the intercept of a conversation with a commander of one of the artillery units that is alleged to have fired the CW (if any CW as fired) refusing to fire it until he was told he would be shot if he didn’t follow orders?

      All that stuff can be tossed into the conversation and interpreted one way or another. But how much of Syria is under the regime contiguous control? How safe are the corridors between the regime controlled areas?

    7. Anonymous,

      Your description of the ethnic break-down in support for the Government is common, simplistic, and wrong.

      From the very beginning it's been a fight between educated urban Syrians and uneducated religious country Sunni.

      The commercial power and financial structure in Aleppo and Damascus is predominately Sunni and they support the Government. The President's wife is a Sunni from a very influential Sunni family and her father is a major powerbroker in Government.

      The Christians mostly support the Government and all Druze do. Druze are in all forms of civila nd military power and their is even a Druze Brigadier General in the 4th Brigade.

      Alawites have a majority in only one area - Military command. Even then the majority of the airforce and all pilots are Sunni.

      Using figures from independent observes, the majority of urban Syrians support the Government. Then add in the Alawites (majority of them country) Christians, and Druze, and you suddenly get a large majority of people who actively support the Government or at least tolerate it.

      The core of the opposition is religious country Sunni who make up around 10-20% of the population. They are socially and religiously distinct from the urban Sunni.

    8. Responses

      (1) You have posted repeatedly, why are you still under "Anonymous" moniquer?

      (2) Syrian Demographics:

      - 74% Sunni Muslim,
      - other Muslims (including Alawites) - 16% of the population,
      - Christian denominations - 10%

      Population density suggests:

      - Majority of population in Aleppo, Latakia, Damascus and surrounding areas, Hamah and surrounding areas - anywhere between 50-648 persons / sq. km. to 10k - 27k / sq. km. in heavily populated areas.

      - the Kurdish region also has some notable population density, but nothing compared to the ones indicated above.

      - the remainder of the country - is extremely sparsely populated in comparison. Plus massive exodus of refugees from these regions (as well as the populated regions) (to no small degree thanks to rebel occupation, human rights abuses, etc.) and you have the rebels controlling the mostly depopulated areas of Syria.

      Based on assessments of the conflict that I have seen, al Assad made a strategic decision to abandon these large, depopulated areas of the country to focus on key regions and military targets.

      This website provides an update on the military situation on the ground to August 2013:

      Key points - in August, 2013:

      - rebel groups controlled 60-70% of the Syrian territory, but only 40% of the Syrian population (well, it's not clear how much of that population has fled the country, but neither you nor I have any specific data on the subject)

      - Ariha (nw province of Idlib) is divided between the opponents;
      - Damascus is mostly out of reach for the rebels, fighting rages in the suburbs;
      - Homs is almost completely controlled by the Syrian army;
      - Aleppo is divided between the opposition, the Syrian army and Kurdish groups;
      - Rebels had pushed into Latakia, butt were repelled and pushed back to Salma;
      - In Daraa, rebels storned Nawa and then lost it to the Syrian army again in August;
      - Kurdish groups have finally seized Ras al-Ayn.

      While we are at it, here is a map of the dispute forom NYT from March 12, 2013, prepared by my good acquaintance Liam Stack,

      (2) Kurds are not associated with the rebels. On the contrary, they are staying out of the conflict, mostly, but when they do get involved, overall, it is in favour of the al Assad regime. Rebels (particularly the extremist groups) have repeatedly attacked the Kurds, and have been heavily supported by Turkey (which has its own issues in mind). There is no love lost between the two forces. Kurds will likely come out on the side of the al Assad regime if they are sufficiently provoked.

    9. continued

      (3) Hezbollah involvement and alleged manpower shortage are not connected. Kindly provide any data suggesting a manpower shortage. In my analysis, Hezbollah and militias are better suited to fighting a guerilla-style war against mobile rebel groups. Hence their involvement. I understand from a variety of reports that pro-Assad Syrians have also formed into militias which are well organized and equipped.

      In any event, the Syrian army is general-conscription, and, at the start of the conflict, had active personnel of 178,000. Including militias, police, etc., the total pro-Assad force was, at that time, about 336,000 - 341,000. Hezbollah comprises only 1,500 - 5,000 of this force, which is not surprising. They have Lebanon to look after.

      The rebels number up to 146,000 (I am giving you the top estimate, it could be as low as 116,000). Their casualties are anywhere between 30,850 (including captured) and 87,158. And that is only if the opposition claims assigning a significant number of deaths (up to 45k) to civilians is to be believed - those casualties could well include opposition casualties as well.

      Reported Syrian army casualties are (at the top end) up to 50,000. Even allowing for desertions of up to 100,000 (which would be exceedingly surprising, giving that the FSA numbers between 50-80k), the Syrian army is still substantially stronger numerically than the rebel forces. Do your own calculations.

      - Also provide any data that the Syrian airforce can generate only a dozen sorties a day. Before you challenge someone to provide data to the contrary of your argument, it is polite to establish a factual basis for making assertions. I can also say - al Assad does not care about Syria because he is building a rocket to evacuate to Mars. Anyone seen evidence otherwise?

      Even if you are correct that the airforce has only been flying a dozen sorties a day, is that the limit of their capability? Is there any reason to think that they could not fly more sorties if they had to?

      According to Wiki, here is the composition of the Syrian Arab Air Force:

      The Air Force command consists of:

      7 Attack squadrons
      20 Interceptor/FGA/Reconnaissance squadrons
      4 Transport squadrons
      1 Electronic Warfare squadron
      7 Transport/Attack Helicopter squadrons
      5 Attack Helicopter squadrons
      1 VIP Helicopter squadron
      1 Training Group.

      Its hardware includes:

      448 attack aircraft
      88 helicopters
      Multiple transport air vehicles

      It could be that the Syrian army has decided that the air sorties are not a suitable method of prosecuting the war and uses the air force mostly for reconnaisance purposes. Would explain a limited number of sorties. Who know? I am no expert on military strategies, but it would make sense to me in fighting disparate, mobile, small rebel groups, as opposed to a war against a large well-equipped national force.

      - why would a Sunni support al Assad? I don't know, maybe because many moderate Sunnis support his regime and want peace and quiet? Why don't you ask this guy: (Grand Mufti Hassoun)

      - I am not aware of reports indicating diluted gas. I am also not aware of direct attribution of previous CW attacks to the al Assad regime. I recall Carla Del Ponte claiming that the Khan al-Assal attack was perpetrated by the rebels.

      - You keep asking Maybe? questions - I do not care to speculate.

    10. The only place where I watch some kind of "poll" about Ba'ath support is here:
      From May 2013:
      -Pro-Ba'ath: 70%
      -Neutral: 20%
      -Pro-rebels: 10%
      That's supposelly a NATO contracted-poll. I haven't read the report or anything, so, these data fiability goes to World Tribune, as NATO doesn't publish this kind of things.
      And... I don't know how to take:

    11. And... obviously we could take prev-elections in near years:
      - Syrian parliamentary election, 2012: ~67% Ba'ath / voter turnout of 51.26%.
      - Syrian constitutional referendum, 2012: 89.4% voting in favour / voter turnout of 57.4%.
      - Syrian local elections, 2011: can't found results.
      I think the weren't international observers, but well, that's something.
      Not so participants in the elections, that shows some "rebel" effect.
      (There were news about rebels boicot:

    12. The NATO poll is amazing. Thanks for sharing.

    13. It seems one of the two big Kurdish groups is leaning more towards the rebels than Assad….

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Sasa, for your ongoing analysis of the UN report/etc., here is a summary of the first 13 sampling results from the UN Report (samples related to Moadamiya).

    There is only one undisputed positve sample – #1. The rest of the samples are either completely clean (no Sarin and no byproducts detected by both labs) – 8 samples. Or they are contested/disputed samples – 4 samples. The metal fragment samples are both disputed.

    The second lab’s results produced the overwhelming majority of contested/disputed samples. The first lab is only responsible for one. Query what happened between the first and the second labs and the reason for this material discrepancy.

    Sarin Presence

    #1 to #13 – No Sarin

    Breakdown Byproducts – Both Labs Consistent

    Only one sample, #1, is consistent for both labs – byproducts: Lab #1 IPMPA & DIMP, Lab #2 DIMP

    No Breakdown Byproducts – First Lab

    Samples #2 – #11 and # 13

    No Breakdown Byproducts – Second Lab

    Samples #6 – #8 and #10 – #13

    Breakdown Byproduct Present – First Lab

    #12 – IPMPA and #1 – IPMPA & DIMP

    Breakdown Byproducts Present – Second Lab

    #1, #2 – DIMP, IMPA, MPA, #3 – IPMPA, MPA, DIMP, #9 – DIMP


    Completely Clean Samples:

    #4 – #8, #10, #11, and #13

    Disputed Samples (Difference Between Two Labs)

    #2, #3, #9, #12

    Positive Samples (Both Labs Indicate Byproducts)

    #1 (soil sample)

    1. I of course referred to this in my report and is the reason I concluded the M14 is not chemical. Are you implying this data can be used to show there was no sarin attack at all at Moadamiyah?

    2. Correct, particularly put together with my own analysis/conclusions on the outdated nature of the M-14 found by UN and the history of the Syrian CW program. The puzzle fits.

      Here is what I posted on another blog in relation to analysis of Kaszets' paper. This is an excerpt from that post:

      (3) Finally, put Dan’s report together with the missile found in Moadamiya. It’s 140mm shell, which was manufactured and sold to Syria (or another Soviet client) in 1967 (correllates with the dates the BM-14 platform and M-14 rockets were sold to Syria: 1967-1969). BM-14s and M-14s were decommissioned by Syria by 1990 and replaced entirely with M-21 “Grad” systems. Syria does not have 140mm shells (which require the decommissioned BM-14s for launch) in its active arsenal. Possibly in storage, but unclear why, when there is nothing to shoot them with. The M-14 missile is by now 46 years old. Its life-expectancy is 40 years, possibly somewhat longer, given the dry Syrian climate. All that to say is that I would doubt the M-14 missile found by the UN could even be fired. And that’s completely apart from the issue of the CW warhead. Syria did not have a CW program until 1990, and so any warheads it would have created for the purpose would have been fitted to BM-21 “Grad” 122mm missiles, not to the M-14s.

      (Before you refer me to Eliot Higgins (Brown Moses), I have presented this data and more and asked him twice to comment, but he has failed to say anythign on the subject – although we have already communicated by email and on twitter repeatedly)

      (4) In the context of 3, it illuminates why there is such a dearth of evidence of Sarin and byproducts in Moadamiya. It’s very unlikely, in my opinion, that the M-14 carried any Sarin (not even sure it was launched, and, if launched, then by whom?). The results on the missile itself conflict between the 2 labs used by the UN.

      (5) 8 of 13 samples are completely clean – no Sarin or byproducts. Only one sample is positive for both labs – for byproducts (and there is sufficient scientific data to suggest that certain byproducts from agricultural organophosphates could be confused with Sarin’s breakdown byproducts). 4 remaining samples are conflicted between the two labs. The UN report fails to consider or to address this material discrepancy – not sure why. The whole point of using more than one lab is for quality control. If you are not going to care about the discrepancy, then just use one lab.

      (6) Sarin was found on the Zamalka rocket – why not on the M-14?

    3. Got it. Would love to add this info.
      Do you think you can get me a source for:
      - BM-14s and M-14s were decommissioned by Syria by 1990
      - Syria did not have a CW program until 1990

    4. Will do. I have it all bookmarked, but I need some time to put it together.

    5. sasa

      This link provides different information on the Syrian CW program including an earlier start date. It does provide sources.

      However some of the sources may be 'conflicted' and have limited accuracy. NTI itslef may be partisan.

      The only significant date is when the Syrian program was militarised. This is unclear.

    6. Syria’s Chemical Weapons Chronology

      Diab, Syria’s Chemical and Biological Weapons: Assessing Capabilities and Motivations, The Nonproliferation Review, Fall 1997
      (GB NOTE: all citations to referenced documents and statements in the paper)

      (1) Allegations – Putative CW Capabilities
      (a) 1973: Syria reportedly obtains CW artillery shells from Egypt, but does not use them in the October War against Israel
      (GB NOTE: Possible red flag? Did Syria as a result obtain M-14 CW warheads – but claim dubious, and no operational CW program, so any M-14 CW shells from 1973 would have expired by now – besides, need BM-14 weapons platforms to launch, in any event);
      (b) late 1970s - early 1980s: Syria’s CW program starts;
      (c) 1990 and 1996: veiled claims by Syrian officials that Syria has CW capability vs. Israel;
      (d) 1997: Assad makes an oblique statement suggesting Syria has CW capability, suggests mutual WMD disarmament with Israel;
      (e) Credibility/Reliability Problems (GB NOTE): Syrian threats/insinuations clearly directed against Israel and appear to be aimed to broker some form of mutual WMD disarmament or to create the illusion of a WMD deterrent against Israel. In my opinion, very unlikely Syria possessed any operational CW weapons until well into the 1990s (however, more sources/cross-referencing necessary).
      (f) Additional info quoted later in the paper, suggest that the initial consideration of developing a CW program was prompted by the loss of Egypt as a strategic partner vis-à-vis Israel following the 1979 peace treaty.
      (g) Further, motivations to develop a CW program would have been strengthened by Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 – Syria’s forces powerless against Israelis.
      (h) “Evidence for a 1982 Syrian decision to build up its CW capability is supported by the publication in 1983, in the leading Syrian military journal Al-Fikr al-Askri, of two translated articles: one from a French military journal on chemical and biological weapons and a second from a German military journal on CBW decontamination procedures.” – direct quotation.


    7. (2) Existing Official Data on the Syrian CW Program
      (a) According to the US Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research in 1997: Syria has had a chemical warfare program since the mid-1980s;
      (b) in 1988, a US analyst describes Syria’s CW capability to be more advanced, but having a smaller CW stockpile than that of Iraq;
      (c) in 1989, Israel’s Moshe Arens is quoted as stating that Syria was producing CW agents and had the “Potential for chemical warfare, but not more than that.”
      (d) in 1995, An Israeli analyst writes that “chemical warheads are produced in Syria with the assistance of North Korean and West European technicians and engineers” and that “Syria is not able to attain full independence of foreign suppliers and aid, at least for now.”
      (e) in 1995, The Middle East Military Balance, 1994-1995, describes Syria’s CW capabilities to include: (i) protective and decontamination equipment, (ii) stockpiles of mustard gas, sarin, VX (unconfirmed), (iii) CW aerial bombs and CW warheads for surface-to-surface missiles (GB NOTE: query – BM-21 “Grad” munitions and Scud, etc.?)
      (f) in 1996, an Israeli report describes Syria’s CW capability to include: (i) thousands of CW aerial bombs and (ii) 100-200 Scud-B and Scud-C missiles.

      (g) Assessment and Analysis (GB NOTE): based on the official chronology (I am ignoring for the purpose the less reliable unofficial reports and veiled/vague statements), the following appears:
      - Syria’s CW capability did not include delivery mechanisms until at the earliest the early 1990s;
      - the earliest reports of CW munitions/delivery vehicles being produced by Syria date to 1995, and then only with foreign expert assistance;
      - in 1995-1996, other reports indicate a stockpile of CW delivery vehicles, including aerial bombs and Scud missiles.
      - although I do not discount the possibility of BM-21 “Grad” 122mm rocket CW warheads having been developed at that time, there is no official indication that Syria had any in mid-1995
      - in fact according to the French intelligence report, the Western spy services are not aware of any unguided CW munitions having been developed. According to the French (August 2013) the following were the available CW delivery vehicles:

      Syrian regime possesses means of CW delivery that range from 50 km (artillery shells) to 500 km (SCUD C missiles). Some of the missiles employed can carry hundreds of litres of CW. (p. 4, paras. 2-3)
      (summary translation of the paragraph)

      French Report in the Original


    8. (3) Other Interesting Info & Conclusions

      (a) pp. 105-106, under heading “Foreign Assistance to the Syrian CW Program”, go on to discuss foreign assistance for the Syrian CW program:

      (i) in 1996, unauthorized illegal sale of 800kg of CW precursor chemicals by a retired Russian Lt. Gen. Initially charged, but later charges dropped. Interestingly, he claims “you cannot make a chemical weapon with 800kg” – query if true and how this affects the likelihood of CW being manufactured by or for the opposition in situ, inside Syria. If true (should be verified with reference to scientific/technical data), then it is highly unlikely CW could have been manufactured by or for the opposition during the conflict inside Syria – significant shipments would be required;
      (ii) also in 1996, Germans are implicated in building a poison-gas factory near Aleppo (curious, which factory? – need to reconcile with the reports of a chlorine factory near Aleppo seized by the opposition);
      (iii) also in 1996, Israel claims Russian scientists helping Syria develop VX – not clear whether claim it was an official engagement or a private contract. Russian deny. Military Balance, 1993-1994, indicates Syrian stockpiles of VX munitions, but does not mention Russian assistance;

      (iv) CIA claims European firm instrumental in supplying CW precursors to Syria, vitally necessary to produce CW.
      (v) CW precursors and dual-use production equipment apparently comes from Europe, China, India, and North Korea – Russian involvement unclear, but not discounted.

      (4) Conclusions on Syrian CW Program

      So, there it is in regards to the CW program chronology. More secondary source examination is necessary and a cross-referencing of findings. That is for later. My conclusion are:

      - It is more likely than not that Syria’s CW program did not kick off in earnest until end of 1980s – early 1990s. It take a long time to acquire sufficient internal expertise in CW development, handling, weaponization and delivery. Even as of 1995-1996, it appears that Syria was relying on foreign experts, and this reliance may have continued for some time.

      - The likelihood that the CW program kicked off at the end of 1970s – beginning of 1982s is far less likely. Yes, preliminary research and such was probably being conducted, but it would not be surprising if it took Syria all of the decade to make any substantial progress. Reliance on foreign experts in mid-1990s is indicative that the CW program, whenever it was commenced, proceeded at a slow pace in the 1980s.

    9. Sasa, working on the chronology for BM-14/M-14 and BM-21 "Grad". If you give me your email I can send you the Military Balance reports for 2010, 2012, as well as several between 1991-2009. Good start for any chronology of weapons sales.

    10. sasa1wawa on gmail. thanks!

  6. The use of diluted CW:

    Some from the same German intelligence briefing mentioned here already?

    The intelligence service chief said there had been previous chemical weapons attacks before the latest, on August 21, which the US says killed at least 1,400 people. In previous attacks a heavily diluted gas mixture was used, Mr Schindler said, which resulted in fewer fatalities.

    The group’s media director, Dan Layman, told The Cable that a doctor treating patients on the ground reported that the chemical solution in the attacks were ‘extremely high’ concentrations of sarin as opposed to more chemically-diluted attacks in previous months.

    Schindler also believes CW had been used on a smaller scale before August 21. Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee assessment counted 14 separate incidents — though it has not publicized its evidence. Schindler said that in the earlier attacks the poison gas mixture was diluted, explaining the much lower death tolls in those assaults.

    The BBC’s experts seem fairly convinced that the footage shows a gas attack, but Haaretz provides a useful summary which offers some alternative explanations for the videos of the latest attacks. These include a riot control gas, a diluted chemical attack, or asphyxiation from a fuel-bomb.

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      (1) I did not mean political statements, allegations or politicized articles, Allegations, unverified reports of allegedly intercepted radio transmissions, political statements and conjectures don't cut it for me. If I were to present any such evidence in court, I would be laughed at (at best).

      (2) What I asked for is any actual data on the subject. But, fine, let's consider your links:
      refers to:

      There is not one shred of expert opinion or statement on the subject of usage of diluted gas (sarin or otherwise) by "BBC experts." The only expert opinion cited is saying that it's likely gas was used, and that it would be hard to stage this - based on review of videos. Then goes on to say the UN investigation would give a definitive answer.

      The Haaretz article is behind a paywall, can't confirm their info. In any event these are "explanations" for "scenarios" - more conjecture and sophistry.

      Schindler may believe whatever he wants. Simply conjecture again, he does not even suggest that his conclusions are based on data. Just speculation.

      The Cable's article is again behind a paywall, but query - was the cited doctor making a comparison or was the last bit about a diluted mixture added in by the journalist. Again, though, no evidence, conjecture only.

      This is Schindler again - your repeat his statements later, it's the same statement being reported, not two different statements. In any event, no need to address this one again.

      Anything else?

  7. Here is two more reports on the earlier use of CW in small scale, light attacks in Syria:

    1. Thanks. I'll try to analyze these in a future post.