Sep 24, 2013

Summary of Conclusions

This page contained a collection of conclusions gathered during the investigation. Now that a final conclusion has been reached is is mostly obsolete. Read the final conclusion here.

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Seeing as the blog is getting very detailed and rapidly growing in traffic, I prepared a summary of the conclusions so far, so new readers can easily find their way around.

This blog is an online collaborative effort to find who was behind the Ghouta chemical attack.

Immediately following the event, numerous reports were published by governments and NGOs. Some blamed the regime and some the opposition, but somehow, they all reached the conclusion that matched their existing prejudices and interests.

Here you will find the most detailed analysis of all evidence available. It is built in a hierarchical structure that allows the reader to verify any step of a conclusion by following the links until reaching the hard evidence. There are no "we have information that shows", or "it is well known" or "a renown expert has determined". Only evidence, verifiable claims and logical conclusions.

It is still work in progress, but so far we reached several interesting conclusions:
  1. The US Report presented no significant evidence to support the regime attack theory.
  2. The UN Report has major flaws, such as wrong trajectory calculations, which were widely misinterpreted to imply regime culpability.
  3. The blogger Brown Moses is the only one to present reliable evidence to support the regime attack theory, by proving the attackers used rockets developed and deployed by the Syrian Army.
  4. Any munition of the Syrian Army should be assumed to also be available to the opposition.
  5. The rockets used in the attack come in two versions: a conventional warhead and an incendiary warhead. There is no evidence that they were used as a chemical weapon prior to the attack.
  6. The attackers could have used the incendiary warhead, and filled it instead with sarin. Since incendiary and chemical detonators are similar, this would have allowed them to bypass the technological difficulty of building an effective chemical warhead.
  7. There is somewhat stronger evidence for past use of lethal chemical weapons by the opposition than by the regime.
  8. The opposition has attempted to acquire sarin, but there is not enough evidence to determine whether they were successful.
  9. The sarin used in the attack was of low quality, indicating it is more likely not from a military source.
  10. The chemical attack was limited to the area of Zamalka, and the report of a chemical attack in Moadamiyah is probably incorrect.
  11. The rockets used in the attack were likely shot from the north at a short range, an area which was not under regime control at the time (map).
Follow this page for updates as more findings come in.

Want to help improve the conclusions? Just comment with a clear argument based on reliable evidence.

Thank You!

21 comments:

  1. Sasa, given the inherent unreliability of analysis that relies on review of videos and photographs from across the world, there must be something more than just one piece of the puzzle to state the Eliot Higgins has "proven the attackers have used [the UMLACAs]" without a caveat that this is not a confirmation that the al Assad regime is responsible for the August 21, 2013 attack. Given how unreliable such evidence is, it is not much better than merely circumstantial evidence. In other words, for Eliot Higgins' conclusions to be strong evidence, they must be supported by the other pieces of the puzzle. Your own analysis and the emerging issues with the UN report suggest that his conclusions are not so supported.

    (1) Videos are not very reliable source of conclusive data on the subject. A number of internet commentators have criticized and raised issues with some of the key videos referred to by Eliot Higgins. It has been suggested that some of them could have been staged (e.g. the famous one with individuals in red berets). As well, the position and geo-location of the launches is only somewhat conclusive. It is always troubling when videos like these emerge and are immediately put forward as support for a particular theory. Unless we see the launch directly from the Mezzeh airbase, for instance, it is very hard to tell that that is where the missile came from - only that it came from that direction, no more, no less. In any event, the situation on the ground is very fluid - we have rebel-held neighbourhoods in the midst of army-occupied territory, and the positioning of rebel forces, comprised of small, mobile groups, is constantly shifting.

    (2) the lack of fit between Eliot Higgins' analysis and the other pieces of the puzzle is most troubling. Just questions, without conclusions:

    (a) why would UMLACAs be developed at all, in the midst of an ongoing conflict, when Russia and Iran are supplying Syria with far more effective, better designed and well-tested alternatives?

    (b) why would Syria use UMLACAs to launch CW, when it's 23-year old CW program would have developed far better munitions suitable for delivery of CW – i.e. 122mm rockets for the BM-21 “Grad” weapons platforms, SCUD missiles and many other delivery vehicles (e.g. all the ones identified in the French intelligence report)?

    (c) why were UMLACAs used in Ghouta and an outdated 140mm unguided rocket was used in Moadamiya – particularly considering that a mass barrage with multiple 140mm rockets (as they are intended to be used from BM-14s) would have been far more useful for a saturation-style bombardments of the kind that was done in Ghouta? In any event, why two different delivery vehicles and not one?

    (d) where were these UMLACAs launched from, giving your analysis of the azimuth and the range, and if they were launched from rebel-controlled territory, how so?

    (cont'd below)

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    1. (3) The outdated, decommissioned 140mm shell is, to me, the biggest problem for any theory that links the attack to the Syrian government. It’s an issue of enormous significance. We cannot dismiss the heavy reliance that has been placed on the 140mm shell by the rebels, the HRW and the UN Report. All of the anti-Assad actors took the shell to be a “smoking gun”. In fact, it is a “smoking gun” of an increasingly obvious false flag operation. Darn, I finally had to use the stupid “false flag” phrase – I had managed to avoid it until now, but my internal thesaurus is failing me.

      The 140mm shell is an issue of incredible significance. I have presented some of my analysis to Eliot Higgins, twice now, and he has failed to provide any response whatsoever – that, despite that he had previously responded to my email when he had supportive evidence in his favour and we have engaged on twitter as well. It is because the information regarding the shell was always there for him to find and review, but he jumped the gun, along with everyone else, when it suited his conclusions.

      Unfortunately, I am starting to seriously doubt his objectivity on the subject of the Syrian civil war. The 140mm shell issue is just one of many signs of partiality and conclusion-driven analysis (I can provide more, but this is immaterial) Mr. Higgins is far less objective (I don’t really believe in “objectivity” as commonly defined, but he does) than has been portrayed. Any analyst of the issue should stringently question his results. This is not at all what I expected – initially I gave a lot of credence to his analyses, but my respect is starting to wane.

      In law, we frequently deal with weak and circumstantial evidence. Weakness is not a sign of uselessness. On the contrary, weak evidence can be determinative, but only in consonance with other evidence and ONLY if it is supported by other evidence – i.e. if the puzzle fits. The narrative emerges from the totality of evidence – one piece of evidence cannot drive and formulate the entire narrative.

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    2. Gleb,
      You raise some very good points. While videos are not always reliable, these seem to be very clear in their association of the UMLACA with the regime. I agree this does not necessarily mean the regime is behind the attack, but I did not yet reach this stage in my research. We'll get there.

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    3. Gleb,

      i agree almost completely with your conclusions. As an odd coincidence my day job is working with complex technical evidence in criminal cases and explaining it to the jury (and the dumb lawyers :-).

      As your rightly point out, individual facts or quasi facts do not make a case. It's the totality of evidence that matters.

      One thing I have noticed is that those who talk a lot (lawyers, politicians etc) have a very limited understanding of what they deal with and fixate on only those elements that they can easily understand and which are usually almost irrelevant to the case.

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    4. Agreed with Gleb. "the attackers used rockets developed and deployed by the Syrian Army." The second part's not really proven, but they did have a truck, a crane, as well as the berets, so I'll say okay. The first part, "the attackers" suggests parties to the chemical attack. The link between the rockets and chemicals was never made by Higgins - rebels said so, and UN tests run show GB got on there somehow.

      Otherwise, this post is an interestingly balanced summary, with a lot of insights that should be common sense but seem genius in comparison to the drivel we're fed by the MSM.

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    5. Note that there is now much more evidence tying the UMLACA with the regime, like launches from Mazzeh Airport.

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    6. Charles, I am almost scared to admit to you that I am a lawyer (litigator) by trade :). Otherwise, you are entirely correct, not much to add.

      Caustic Logic and Sasa, I see nothing helpful in the fact that there was a truck, a crane and berets in the video - that information to me is as useless as it comes, to be entirely honest. That's part of the reason I am so uncomfortable with Mr. Higgins' version of arm-chair analysis.

      With the opposition having access to weapons ranging from BM-21 "Grad" to tanks, anti-air Igla RPGs to anti-tank missiles, anything is possible. The evidence is to conspicuous. In many videos I have seen of the SAA military, I have rarely seen a large collection of red berets grouped together - in fact, I watch ANNA TV from time to time (they have a team on the ground, embedded with SAA and they film everything from death to tea ceremony). I can tell you that I don't recall ever seeing red berets. I am not as attentive to videos, because they matter little to me (as a lawyer I have a certain undeniable bias against video evidence in general - I think it sucks), so I might be missing something obvious. But I don't think I am. Without the red berets, the whole argument of attribution to al Assad's regime simply FALLS APART. And, if that falls apart, what happens to the claims of attribution of UMLACAs. Ah, there are those Mezzeh Airport videos - vague shots of rockets coming from the general direction of the Mezzeh Airport, apparently hitting deserted neighbourhoods and causing no obvious damage. Really? I would have expected SAA to use BM-21 "Grad" and shell the place to shreds (I expect them to do so because I expect the people in charge to be monsters and ready to pulverize a neighbourhood). And yet, it's a nice sunny day and a rocket goes flying through the air aimlessly aimed nowhere in particular. Curious, that's all I can say.

      Anyways, that was a rant. I am getting increasingly annoyed I am not getting any obvious answers and this getting murkier by the second. Back to the topic of Red Berets. The only red berets in SAA, according to Wiki (I'll dig up some military sources later, I am lazy right now) are the Republic Guard (otherwise known as Presidential Guard). Curious how they end up being en masse, together, loading a makeshift UMLACA launcher and scurrying about conspicuously? Didn't they have some newly drafted cannon fodder to do this job? Or are UMLACA the brilliant new super-weapon of the regime that the Presidential Guard is required? Or are they all scientists in disguise and their expertise is necessary for the tests being conducted?

      Going further (from Wiki):

      The Syrian Republican Guard (Arabic: الحرس الجمهوري‎), also known as the Presidential Guard, is a 25,000 man armoured Division composed of 2 Security Regiments, 1 Mechanized Brigade, 1 Artillery Brigade and 2 Armoured Brigades of the Syrian Army. They are a single armored division used to protect the capital, Damascus, from any domestic threats. The Guard is the only Syrian military unit allowed within the capital city centre.

      The following from Wiki is also very very curious:

      Uniform and insignia[edit]

      The Republican Guard uniform is distinct from the regular Army uniform. Service dress is composed of red berets rather than the standard black or green, red epaulettes, red lanyards, and brown leather belts with brown shoes. On ceremonial occasions, officers wear red peaked caps instead of a beret.[citation needed]

      How interesting, and how convenient that they all gathered in one place to inaugurate the UMLACA?

      I have much more to say, but given the late night, I am coming unhinged. Give me something that I can finally blame al Assad with a clear conscience.

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  2. "6. The sarin used in the attack was of low quality, and most likely not from a military source."

    On contrary, low quality is fully consistent with the "Middle East" standards, as I already stated please read something about similar Iraq's WMD programs in UN reports or other sources (see below just for illustration*1). Sorry to say your chemical analysis does not contain any evidence that support your statement ("not from a military source") .



    *1 "During the Iran-Iraq War, for example, Iraq gave priority to speed, volume, and low cost of production over agent quality and shelf-life. As a result, the sarin in Iraqi chemical munitions was only about 60 to 65 percent pure to begin with and contained large quantities of hydrogen fluoride (HF), both because of the synthesis process used and the deliberate omission of the distillation
    step." or "Iraq was unable, however, to produce high-purity, stable nerve agents in bulk quantities." ..."On average, the purity of sarin and sarin-type agents produced by different methods both during and after the Iran-Iraq war was within the range of 45 to 60 per cent. Besides failing to achieve the production of high-purity nerve agents, the level of purity varied from batch to batch. Iraq explained that this variation and the failure to achieve production of high-purity tabun, sarin, cyclosarin and a sarin/cyclosarin mixture was due to both the poor quality of the immediate
    precursors used and to technical problems associated with the production steps. Iraq furthermore explained that the overall technological problems included its inability to remove solvents and impurities during the final stage of chemical agent
    production, and difficulties with the optimization of the configuration of production
    equipment and process parameters for agents and their immediate precursors."

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    1. That's very important information. Can you provide the source?
      If we trust Western Intelligence agencies, they seem to give Syria much more credit (see below). When you add to it that Iraq's program was for 10 years long starting 30 years ago, and Syria's is over 20 years with current technology it seems less likely they didn't solve the problems Iraq faced.
      And in any case, it still doesn't explain the lack of stabilizers and the eyewitness reports (added now).
      Until we close this, I reduced my "most likely not" estimate to "reducing the likelihood"
      Thanks for helping out!

      http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/02/syria-crisis-french-intelligence-assad

      It states that Damascus has more than 1,000 tonnes of chemical agents making it "one of the most important operational stocks in the world". It describes Syria's chemical arsenal as "particularly massive and diverse", including Yperite, VX (one of the most toxic chemical agents known) and "several hundred tonnes of sarin".

      "The sarin and the VX … are partly stocked in a binary form, that is to say kept in the form of two chemical products called precursors, that are mixed just before use. This technique and the associated procedures show a great knowledge of the technology of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime."

      The report continues: "Damascus is capable of delivering its chemical weapons with a very large range of several thousand vectors." These, it says, include Scud C, Scud B, M500 missiles, bombs and artillery rockets with a range of up to 500km.

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    2. Also, here it is pretty clear:
      "Military grade sarin, for instance, would not contain chemical byproducts likely to be present in sarin made through other recipes."
      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=who-made-the-sarin

      Is it possible Iraq was an exception?

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    3. I found the source: http://www.un.org/depts/unmovic/new/documents/technical_documents/s-2006-701-munitions.pdf
      It is pretty clear this is a chemical program far less advanced than Syria's. For example, Iraq did not reach operational binary capabilities.
      So until contradicting evidence is provided, I am returning to my previous estimate.
      Thanks for your help!

      Delete
  3. Mark Lyall Grant, the British ambassador, said Ake Sellstrom, the head of the U.N. inspectors, told a closed-door United Nations Security Council meeting on Monday that the sarin used was "35 times the amount" used in the 1995 Tokyo subway attack and was higher quality than that used by Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323981304579078661513059576.html

    The U.N. investigators analyzed 30 samples, which they found contained not just sarin but also "relevant chemicals, such as stabilizers."

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/09/16/the-u-n-chemical-weapons-report-is-pretty-damning-for-assad/

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    1. Silly Sellstrom, his UN Report suggests the opposite. He needs to take some legal writing courses.

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    2. Anon - These statements are covered in detail here:
      http://whoghouta.blogspot.com/2013/09/summary-of-anomalies-in-un-report.html
      Let me know if you still have questions after that.

      Delete
  4. Sasa,
    How conclusive is evidence that the missiles were used for the chemical attack. There are indications that this is the case seen the UN report, but is there enough proof? Do you think it does not need to be investigated further?

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    1. Several things point to that being the case. The evidence I find most convincing is that at night hundreds of reports came about a mass poisoning event in Zamalka, and by morning multiple videos of the UMLACA rockets were uploaded from the exact same area.
      All of these videos showed show signs indicative they were used to deliver chemicals: small impact craters with little damage, relatively intact rocket bodies, and remains of a container that seem to explode on impact (e.g. Page 22 of the UN report describes container remains found on a roof while the rocket body penetrated to the floor below).
      I can't see any other explanation other than some complicated fabrication plot.

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    2. Doesn´t that need to be added to your summary of conclusions then? Seems important to me. Accepting the UMLACAs as the origin of the chemical dispersal excludes possible other scenario´s.

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    3. Sasa,
      Seen Dan´s latest report on the number of rockets needed to get a large scale attack and his doubts about the whole picture, it might be time to question again the assumption that the UMLACAs were the vehicles of the Sarin. To get a large number of victims in the Ghouta circumstances, it seems to be likely victims were specifically targeted in a confined space. Not with an 'ad random´ attack with non-directed missiles. Maybe it is time to critically analyze the evidence leading to the first assumption of sarin delivered by missiles?

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    4. His calculations are incorrect. I'll try to get a post on it out soon.

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  5. I think you should make a page ´counting the victims´. It´s an important issue in the evaluation process of the scenarios. E.g.: One of the main reasons for discarding the false flag option by some experts is ´the rebels could not have obtained/made that much Sarin´.

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    1. Good idea. May get to it later. Thanks!

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