Nov 9, 2013

Response to Dan Kaszeta's Chemical Analysis

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

Brown Moses recently published a detailed response by Dan Kaszeta to this blog’s chemical analysis and estimate of sarin production complexity.

First, thanks for publishing it. The more opinions and evidence we gather, the better our analysis will be.

Summary of Dan's Response

Dan generally agrees that the sarin used in Zamalka was of low quality and lacked stabilizers. However, he believes this is not the result of underground manufacturing, but rather a result of Syria having a chemical program similar to the one Iraq had during the Iraq-Iran war. Specifically:
Sarin's main precursor (Methylphosphonyl difluoride) is produced at low purity and stored without stabilizers. When the need comes, it is mixed with isopropyl to create sarin, poured into the munitions and quickly shipped to the battlefield, before it degrades.

He believes Syria chose this process due to the technical difficulties of producing high purity sarin, which he bases on the following claims:

  • "The US and USSR made Sarin in poor to mediocre condition for years before perfecting the process".
  • "Iraq devoted a large effort to manufacturing nerve agents and did so in large quantities during the Iran-Iraq war. The size, expense, and scope of the Iraqi industrial program is well documented by UNSCOM and UNMOVIC, and appears to be larger than the Syrian program.  Yet it made an inferior grade of Sarin".

Additionally, he believes the opposition could not have produced the amounts of sarin used in Zamalka (several hundred kg), for the following reasons:

  • The last underground attempt to manufacture large amounts of sarin (Aum Shinrikyo) was unsuccessful despite large investments.
  • It is a very expensive operation: “The US OTA study estimated that you needed at least $10 million in 1993 USD to get a basic setup going”.
  • Using this investment to produce conventional weapons would be much more efficient, or in his words: “Thirty million dollars buys a lot of conventional equipment that is much more immediately useful than a few tons of Sarin”.

All of these claims are incorrect or irrelevant.

Rebuttal of Claims

Claim: The US and USSR took years to reach high purity (implying Syria's product would be of low quality).

Response: Comparing a modern chemical program to ones started over 50 years ago is meaningless. Lab technology is far more advanced and know-how has dissipated. In any case, even back then the US and USSR were able to reach high purity within a few years. Why would the Syrian program not reach this ability after 30 years?

Claim: Iraq’s bigger chemical program never reached high purity (implying Syria's product would be of low quality)

This is a misunderstanding of Iraq’s program. Iraq developed agents to be used immediately in the battlefield. They therefore focused on quantities rather than shelf-life. A few relevant quotes:
“While the purity of nerve agents produced were effective enough for immediate use on the battlefield during the Iran-Iraq war, they were not suitable for long-term storage”.   (Source: UN report on Iraq’s chemical weapons)
"The short shelf life of Iraq's nerve agents was not a problem during the war with Iran, because Iraq's CW manufacturing facilities were able to produce large quantities of agent shortly before it was to be used in battle".   (Source: Declassified CIA report)
“Although the Iraqis could have distilled their sarin to remove the excess HF, they chose not to do so because the batches of agent were intended to be used within a few days”.   (Source:  A U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment report)
"CIA analysts believe that the shelf life problem was only temporary and that the Iraqis can now produce unitary agents of sufficient quality by adding a stabilizer or improving the production process".   (Source: The same CIA report)
Syria, however, has a completely different goal. Their chemical program is intended to counter Israel’s nuclear program. It therefore requires long-term storage and quick deployment of large quantities. A “just in time” mixing operation imposes a significant bottleneck which limits the amount of agent that can be deployed in a short time frame.

Syria would therefore need either a high-purity unitary process (i.e. storage of prepared sarin ready for quick deployment), or have binary weapons that mix the agent in-flight. Recent OPCW reports state Syria’s stockpiles are held in binary form, indicating the latter is more likely.

And indeed, Syria is generally believed to have large stockpiles of operational binary warheads and “a high level of know-how in the chemical weapons technology” (source: French Intelligence Report). As early as 1991 the US estimated that “Syria has an advanced CW program. The program has concentrated on developing sarin in two binary-type munitions: 500-kg aerial bombs and Scud B missile warheads” (source).

The only reason one would be forced to assume that Syria’s program is based on this non-standard “just in time” binary process is to justify why the rockets used in Zamalka don’t have binary warheads (evident by the rockets not having slanted fins or multiple nozzles, which are required to spin the rocket and mix the agents in-flight). When accepting that Zamalka was an opposition attack, these unlikely assumptions are no longer needed.

Last, the claim that Iraq’s program was bigger than Syria’s is not backed by evidence. Syria’s program is active for over 30 years with access to current technology, while Iraq was a 10 year program that ended 20 years ago.

Claim: The last underground attempt to manufacture large amounts of sarin (Aum Shinrikyo) was unsuccessful despite large investments.
Aum Shinrikyo indeed developed only around 100 kg of sarin in a year and half, while the Zamalka attack required several 100 kg’s. However, the Syrian opposition has several advantages over Aum Shinrikyo:
  1. Much weaker government supervision. Treating the opposition as a non-state actor would be inaccurate, as they have full control of some areas of Syria, making them the de-facto state there. This is critical: Aum Shinrikyo had stopped their process several times and destroyed products because of police investigations. 
  2. Possible access to former Chemical Warfare professionals from Iraq, Libya or Syria.
  3. Access to lab technology that is 18 years more advanced. This was specifically addressed in this detailed analysis of Aum’s chemical program, which estimated that current lab equipment would make a similar effort much cheaper. Quotes:
    “Such an effort might be well disguised or established on a smaller scale, however, by taking advantage of the development over the last decade of powerful, low-cost micro-production chemical capabilities”.
    “… the chemical industry has, over the last decade, introduced modular and flexible designs where reactions may occur in a solvent-free environment, at increased concentrations and in much smaller and less expensive facilities”.
  4. International allies. This could prove very helpful when trying to obtain regulated chemicals or lab equipment.
  5. Internet access, which makes information on sarin production widely available (e.g. details of Aum Shinrikyo’s process). This can significantly accelerate production - Aum Shinrikyo scientists spent much of their time in trial and error.
Furthermore, Aum’s big investment was in a plant intended to produce 2 tons per day. The opposition does not need such a large plant to carry out the attacks documented so far.

Claim: "The US OTA study estimated that you needed at least $10 million in 1993 USD to get a basic setup going"

This quote was taken out of context, without providing a link to the source (source here). The full quote is:
"Arsenal for substantial military capability (hundreds of tons of agent) likely to cost tens of millions of dollars”
This capacity is 100 times larger than what the opposition requires, and assumes military-grade quality, which wasn’t the case in Zamalka.

Additionally, this estimate is not only in “1993 USD”, but also in 1993 technology. As described above, lab technology has advanced significantly since then.

Last, it is very possible that the opposition’s plant was not built from scratch but was rather based on a captured chemical plant. Significant work would still need to be done to convert the plant to produce sarin, but it would be much easier and cheaper than building a new one. We know of at least one captured plant.

It’s hard to give an accurate estimate, but when considering all the factors above, it won’t be surprising to find that the whole operation cost less than $1 Million.

Claim: Using this investment to produce conventional weapons would be much more efficient, or in his words: “Thirty million dollars buys a lot of conventional equipment that is much more immediately useful than a few tons of Sarin.”

Besides the cost estimate being greatly exaggerated, this analysis assumes the weapons were intended to be used exclusively against regime forces. When considering the US red line, the value of a well-executed false flag attack becomes obvious: The US could win the conflict for the opposition within weeks, like it did in Libya. This would make a sarin plant the best investment possible.

Additional Evidence

Besides none of the claims holding up to scrutiny, the theory fails to explain why the opposition has been ordering large quantities of chemicals only relevant to sarin production. Were they risking arrest and spending money without having a laboratory that can process them?

Probably the most important aspect that Dan doesn’t address at all is the specific nature of impurities found in Zamalka. These can give us important insights into the production process. Most notable are the following two findings:

  1. Ethyl isopropyl methylphosphonate is the most common by-product reported by the UN. It is very telling, because the sarin production process introduces only chemicals with methyl groups. Ethyl groups should not be present in the final product at all.
    This indicates that one of the alcohols used (Methanol in stage 2 and/or Isopropanol in stage 6, see appendix) was in itself impure and contained ethanol. This level of contamination occurs in very low grades of chemicals, and is a strong indication of underground production.
    A military operation would not have any problem getting access to high-purity alcohols and paying the modest difference in price.
    Update: Charles Wood pointed to this OPCW report which indicates Syria's chemical weapon sites contained stocks of Isopropanol. This removes the remote possibility that they had to obtain Isopropanol elsewhere to produce sarin, and reduces the likelihood that government-produced sarin would contain Ethyl groups.
  2. Hexafluorophosphate was also found by the UN. It could have come from two places:
    (a) Residual phosphorus trichloride in step 2, which reacts with thionyl chloride in step 4 to produce Phosphorus pentachloride, and then reacts with Hydrogen Fluoride in step 5 (see appendix).
    (b) A by-product of step 1 intended to produce Phosphorus trichloride, but also producing Phosphorus pentachloride, which later reacts with Hydrogen Fluoride in step 5 (see appendix).
    This indicates that the sarin used in Zamalka was produced starting at step 1 or 2 (which is also consistent with the chemicals ordered in Turkey). A Military operation would have no reason to start with such basic chemicals, and could easily acquire large quantities of Dimethyl methylphosphonate of high purity, a common agent in the chemical industry, thus skipping directly to step 4.


So the scenario proposed by Mr. Kaszeta requires us to believe that:
  1. Despite 30 years of development, and in contradiction to intelligence estimates that Syria has binary warheads, they chose to use a “just in time” binary process for its CW program – A process that would make the program an ineffective deterrent against Israel’s WMD program.
  2. They chose to develop sarin from basic chemicals and use cheap low-grade alcohols, for no apparent reason, damaging product efficiency and shelf-life.
  3. They chose to use a lower-quality locally developed rocket that requires them to go into rebel-held territory, instead of deploying one of the many advanced delivery devices in their disposal.
  4. The opposition has been ordering chemicals that can only be used to produce sarin, without having the equipment to process them.
On the other hand, the alternative explanation only requires us to assume that one opposition faction decided to try to meet the US red line and potentially win the war, by making a modest investment.

Analysis of Amount of Sarin used

I will also take this opportunity to respond to another report by Dan Kaszeta, which raised doubts as to whether the number of rockets used in the attack is sufficient to cause the number of casualties reported. The calculations are based on several incorrect assumptions, but most importantly it uses data tables that assume an attack on prepared troops who wear gas masks within 15 seconds ("Based on... 15 second masking time"). This was obviously not the case in Zamalka, where sarin was inhaled by victims for a 50-100 times longer period. The longer exposure time is more than enough to account for the gap in Dan's report, making 5-12 rockets of 60 kg sarin a sufficient explanation for the number of casualties reported.

Some Thoughts

This section contained an off-topic discussion of the public debate. Now that it is no longer being discussed, I removed it.

Appendix - Sarin Production Process

This is a process that starts with the most basic chemicals. It was found to be consistent with the chemicals ordered in Turkey, and the by-products found by the UN. In an advanced program, the first steps could be skipped by starting with more complex chemicals.
  1. White Phosphorus + Chlorine = Phosphorus Trichloride
  2. Phosphorus Trichloride + Methanol = Trimethyl Phosphite
  3. Trimethyl Phosphite + Halo-Methane = Dimethyl Methylphosphonate
  4. Dimethyl Methylphosphonate + Thionyl Chloride = Methylphosphonic Dichloride
  5. Methylphosphonic Dichloride + Potassium Fluoride or Hydrogen Fluoride or Sodium Fluoride = Methylphosphonyl Difluoride
  6. Methylphosphonyl Difluoride + Isopropanol / Isopropyl alcohol (+ Isopropylamine to neutralize Hydrogen Fluoride)  = sarin
Diagram copied from this analysis of Aum Shinrikyo's process (starting from step 2 above):

Thanks to DDTea for his contributions in analyzing the UN’s chemical report.


  1. So wait...
    Samantha Power Sarin used in the attack was "high quality" so it is Assad
    Now we see it was low quality so it is Assad.
    ummm..... :/

  2. Seems like a well considered rebuttal to me with verifiable data to back it up.

    Yet we are to disregard this completely because Brown Moses requires a 'name' as a reference. So to does the self publicising "expert" Dan Kaszeta.

    How are we not to know if the author is a specialist but prefers to remain anonymous because it dissents against the narrative adopted by his/her body or employer?

    If the position is invalid, call it out. If the rebuttal is valid, the identification of the author is irrelevant.

    Something distinctly shallow about this line of criticism from the FSA collective.

    1. To be fair to Dan Kaszeta, he claims that he is bound by a number of non-disclosure clauses from his time in 'chemical corps'; it is the precise production processes that he is unable to provide in detail to the 'public' or to individuals in proscribed nations -- he has explicitly asked Sasa/Whoghouta for an identity and country location. Sasa/WG prefers to keep his/her professional life ("my business") separate from this blog ID and other IDs in blog comments/Twitter.

      There are means to provide mutually acceptable bona fides that have not been explored. That would require a transparency between the two interlocutors, where information is shared privately.

      To assign Dan or Brown Moses to an 'FSA collective' is unnecessary ad hominem. One could just as easily refer to WhoGhouta/Sasa Wawa as 'Assad apologist' and with the same snide tone of dismissal.

    2. If revealing my identity to an attorney or something would help Dan contribute to this blog - I'm in.

    3. As I understand Dan from his tweets, strict confidentiality rules prevent him from discussing details of production processes, and a certain level of detailed analysis can contain 'secrets' not to be shared with nationals of/in proscribed countries; separately but also important is his request that Sasa Wawa/@WhoGhouta establish bona fides with him -- he asked that he be provided with a name and location.

      "Revealing my identity to an attorney or something" is just a step away from establishing your bona fides directly. If Dan is true to his own rules of conduct, he can then respond to the erstwhile rebuttal.

      No one else needs to know any identity particulars, but: Are you able to sketch for interested readers your profession, citizenship and location? That might go a fair way to bridging the gap.

      With respect to transparency and open-source, and mutually-beneficial inquiry, it could be that there is no way to encourage a detailed response from Dan without a certain amount of disclosure. That need not be made public or shared with anyone else.

      I flog this horse because it seems that Dan has enjoined open/public discussion with several named folks -- among them Dennis O'Brien.

      I note also on this subject that Dan does not enter comment threads even on news sites such as Bloomberg. This might mean that despite frank disclosure by you we have to wait for him to publish a response elsewhere (such as Brown Moses).

      In my next comment I will try to distill the three uppermost questions that Dan might answer from your response above.

  3. again based on BS conjectures that are simply untrue

    lab technologies argument is so stupid besides the zero evidence

    assuming the Syrian opposition has had access to the latest and advanced lab technology from the US organised and built which is impossible

    how would that make any difference as a giant facility would still be required with process controls etc..

    the idea that because Assad used sarin mixed without stabilizers or mixed with other chemicals he didnt use chemicals stupid

    assad using this brew precisly to throw of investigators and allow assadists cultists like you to make this stupid argument

    the large amount of sarin required with using munitions that Assad uses which have never been captured or used by rebels make you look silly

    but then again people as evil as yourself wouldn't know better

    1. ^^ Anonymous ^^
      This is the Idiot-Brit StrangerThenRedz .. emotional nonsensical diatribe based on what? .. whatever BBC and CNN tells him. :)

      You see nubbit, you are at a disadvantage. You actually believe the preposterous MSM does not lie. To you there is no narrative, no agenda. Its all black and white. Assad deliberately accommodated his foes by doing exactly what they wanted. You are an MSM consumer. Put a photo of a dead child in your face and point at someone and say he did it and you are off and running like the subservient little lemming that you are.

      You probably have no memory or comprehension that dirty wars even exist. UK/US are good, Middle East are bad.

      The evidence is so clear to you yet no one has seen this US UK Intel. I am still waiting for you to post the link of satellite pictures showing the missile trajectory path. Remember?

      All that clear and damning intel. So clear that the US Govt would not even allow one of their own congressman to view it (Alan Grayson).

      Go away silly boy.

    2. 1. I'm not sure why you think that a well-funded opposition group with Saudi support cannot obtain advanced lab equipment. This is multi-purpose equipment that is not heavily regulated.

      2. The theory that Assad used low-grade sarin to throw off the investigation is definitely plausible. However, it is in contradiction with other strong evidence. It was already discussed here:

      3. It's true that we have not yet seen the UMLACA in opposition hands (besides the liwa-al-islam videos), but it still doesn't explain why the regime would use this locally-produced low quality non-binary weapon, instead of the advanced chemical weapons they've been developing for 30 years.

  4. I am the sort of person that lurks in the background just reading and learning and seldom do I ever comment, partly based on not being quite sure if i can add anything to a debate. But I feel the need to interject here.

    I for one am not going to pretend that I can totally follow the scientific discussion that is being carried out on this blog by far more intelligent people than I but that doesn't mean that I am unable to follow the debate as a whole.

    I will also add that such an open debate was/is very much needed in regards Syria overall let alone on the Ghouta incident but notwithstanding this is a good start. My position in all this is "yet to be convinced" of who carried out the attack and I support no side. I, like Sasa Wasa, originally swayed towards the Syrian government being responsible if only because they had the delivery methods and the rebels, as yet, have not been seen in possession of same. Even though it made zero sense that the government would carry out such an attack, especially at that time and that location, I still found myself being pushed towards blaming them.

    But that was then and this is now and a lot more information has come to light that otherwise would have been consigned to the dustbin of history had it not been for the writers and researchers on this blog who I believe are to be commended for their work. Before this blog was established we only had the word of those that support the opposition and what was needed was a counter-weight to balance the argument out as no argument has only one side, indeed there are three sides - the for's, the against's and the truth.

    Another thing that I like about this blog's approach is that they are basically opening themselves up to be proven wrong at every junction and indeed invite others to do so in the spirit of adding to the debate and closer to the truth. I find that a very interesting position to take in such an arena as the internet. I mean anyone, anywhere has the ability to look at how this blog has reached its findings and indeed challenge them on this. I just really like this new approach to an "open sourced" investigation.

    All that said that doesn't make the authors of such a blog correct or right; I am merely pointing out what attracts me to such a platform.

    I enjoy the debate and enjoy reading the work of intelligent people and wish for the tone to stay at that level. Having been following the debate continuing on Twitter I can see the tone being brought done to almost personal attacks rather than discussing the issues at hand. It's almost like some people are offended that their version of events is being challenged. This isn't the way to go guys.

    1. Sure disagree, but do so based on the evidence not on whether you know someone's real name. Such an intellectual debate being dragged to that level doesn't reflect very well on those taking this line. There are a plethora of reasons why one would wish to remain anonymous online and I see no conspiratorial reason for the person "sasa wasa" wishing to remain anonymous. It's not like by them remaining anonymous their findings are any less right or wrong. Do you not agree?

      To me, and please correct me if I am wrong, here is a person/s using open sourced material and feedback to investigate the Ghouta sarin attack. They are doing so in an open transparent manner and making their evidence available to one and all for scrutiny and possible humiliation. Why does their name matter? Maybe if they want to appear in the media, then yes, a name is required. But apart from that - does the debate now stop because he/she/they won't tell us their name/s?

      I agree whole heartedly with this statement from "sasa wasa":

      "Last, a personal note to Eliot Higgins (Brown Moses): This report and the previous report on the UMLACA range make me uncomfortable. They seem to indicate a directed effort to prove a regime attack, instead of an objective research effort:" The last sentence is what I would draw attention to.

      Eliott Higgins has made a bit of name for himself thanks to his analytical skills and eye for seeing what most would miss. I commend him highly for that and am excited by his somewhat success and recognition. I have no axe to grind with him at all. But....and there's always a but. He is not an impartial source and therefore his narrative and slant will be more directed at his own beliefs rather than in actually getting to the truth. You won't find a pro-government supporter getting airtime on his blog to balance the discussion. Now, I have no objection to that at all don't get me wrong here. But it does look more and more like he has an agenda to prove the regime is responsible. That bothers me. The same way as it would if someone set out with the same clear agenda to prove rebel culpability.

      Please guys, leave all that aside. Drop the egos. Mop up the testosterone and get back to what you all do so well......debating intelligently.

      In closing I mention that the world has moved on from the sarin attacks in Damascus but answers can still be gotten when great minds like yours come together and debate intelligently. If this blog is wrong then prove it. The same way if this blog finds Dan Kaszeta wrong or Eliott Higgins wrong then the onus is on them to prove it.

    2. Jim, Thank you for writing this. I'll do my best.

    3. sasa wasa, at the risk of sounding one-sided, I don't think the issue is with you here but I added you to my discussion so as to try and be fair.

      I think it is unfortunate to see how your detractors are behaving on Twitter. Very unprofessional and has left me somewhat saddened. People whom I otherwise thought of as genuine intelligent people have lowered themselves to new levels in order to try and avoid debating with you. You are right to keep suggesting they formulate a reply to you on the blog rather than trying to bog you down in Tweet wars, which appears to be their intentions.

      I think you have handled yourself well and with dignity through all this and I hope that those that disagree with you, in the interest of getting to the truth, do likewise.

      But if I don't mind I'd like to ask your opinion on something. It's a conspiracy theory of sorts and I am just wondering could it hold credibility under scrutiny.

      Is it possible that a radical rebel group obtained a launcher, used it and have since destroyed it so that the attacks can never be linked to them?

    4. Thanks again.

      Your suggestion sounds plausible. I guess it would make sense to hide or destroy the launcher and all UMLACAs after seeing what happened. Would definitely be very stupid to parade it around.

  5. Another excellent piece. You seem to have unlimited time and energy and be some kind of polymath!

    Now for the comments and criticism :-)

    The SAA has a large quantity of 122mm CW warheads (source unknown, but it seems generally accepted). As far as I know they aren't binary weapons (no spin) so there must be a JIT manufacturing and filling process?

    You assume that only one group in/near Syria manufactured Sarin. Given the highly fragmented nature of the opposition it's likely that more than one group has at least started to develop CW agents. Probably most were failures, but they will have been the cause for some of the chemical seizures we have seen.

    There is no real mention of the option of the manufacturing being done outside the country and the precursors being brought in. The evil foreign intelligence agency theory fits that well, Zamalka required at most 2 or 3 200l drums of precursor. Certainly it would all fit on the back of a small truck.

    It is a wartime situation in Syria. It may be that the only supplies of alcohol are low grade? On the other hand, the Government surely has plenty of stockpiled reagents ready for immediate use in their scuds and bombs.

    Re The 30 million figure. I understand the going rate for a tank in Syria is around $1 million, More for a T-72. (inter group trading). $30 million is not large in context.

    Mr Higgins? He is clearly partisan. Not only in his made-to-order 'guest posts' but in general what he does or doesn't report. Basically it's anything bad about the Government, Hezbollah, Shiism, and Iran, and anything good about the insurgents. He even had a donation ad for the insurgents on his blog at one stage. Not exactly impartial eh?

    1. Thanks Charles!

      1. Do you have a source on the unitary 122 mm warheads?

      2. I indeed assumed one group was manufacturing sarin, but I don't think it affects any conclusion. right?

      3. The option of foreign manufacturing was discussed in "Suggesting Scenarios". I think it is unlikely since it would violate treaties, and put such a country in a tough spot. I'm also not sure it provides any advantage compared to importing precursors and equipment, and then producing sarin in a plant deep in rebel-held territory.

      4. I think there's no way the regime has a problem getting or manufacturing high-grade alcohols. It should be a relatively simple process (if anyone knows otherwise, please share).
      I was surprised to see the opposition used low-grade alcohols. I'm guessing this was due to the final stage being done by a local group which is different than the ones who manufactured the DF.

      5. I think a $30M operation would be much harder to pull off. Do you have any idea what's the budget of a typical faction?

    2. Actually, your question on the 122mm missiles is interesting.

      The State Department identified the missiles used in Ghouta as 122mm

      Either they got it wrong or they were very clever and talking about the 122mm transport rockets used in the Eskimo.

      There is a lot of Internet secondary comment on 122mm missiles but no primary evidence of actual 122mm CW missiles in the Syrian inventory. e.g.

      And there are anecdotal reports of Syria having an arsenal of 122mm missiles they could have used instead of improvised weapons - I think at least one in something respectable but I can't find the link.

      We do know Iraq used 122mm CW missiles. But then again their purpose was tactical, not strategic.

      I think at this stage, the existence of Syrian 122mm CW warheads isn "Not Proven"

    3. Interesting find. My guess is that US intelligence internally identified these rockets as a 122 mm rocket with oversized warhead, and this internal jargon made its way into this report.

    4. Lucky the consensus on WhoGhouta evolved from 105mm to 122mm eh? :-)

      It means we are one-up again on Brown Moses!

    5. I think these numbers relate to different parts.125 mm is the OD from this image, and 100 mm is the ID:
      Of course, that's only the measurement we have at the rear.

  6. Question:

    How all come to conclusion that "wast" ammounts of Sarin (some say 100 tons or more) been used on August 21st and it was Sarin only attack?

    It is obvious that main agents used in attack that caused panic were not Sarin.

    First victims reporting strong various odours of chemical substances, symptoms described by doctors and seen in videos are clearly not completely matching Sarin effects some obviously missing and some are completely oposite to symptoms of Sarin poisoning like miosis-mydriasis etc

    Based on ground evidance, statements, testimonial analysis whoever done it scraped all they have available and unleashed cocktails of deadly chemical agents into planed areas and used Sarin was no more then 5% of all chemical arsenal used in attack like cherry on cake.

    UN team was pinpointed to examine not CW attack itself but to find proves it was massive Sarin attack and traces of it, were taken in monitored and time limited tours into preplaned by oposition locations but still all they found is miserable

    1. I haven't seen anyone claim 100 tons. It's up to 60 kg per rocket, and up to 12 rockets, so a few 100 kg.

      I think the videos and eyewitness reports are consistent with nerve agent poisoning. There were probably many other chemicals in the air due to the low quality, but it seems that sarin is the main cause of death. But would be great if you could point to specific contradicting evidence.

  7. Brown Moses has now dug up an example of an Eskimo-107 that appears designed to carry liquid - which he suggests may be a Chemical Warfare version.

    I raised the point it was more likely designed to carry a liquid incendiary. Doing a bit of research, the Livens Projector of WW-I has a high degree of similarity to the Eskimo-122 and Eskimo-107 units.

    The projector was designed originally to throw liquid incendiaries in cans at short ranges across the trenches. It evolved to also throw High Explosives, White Phosphorus, and Chemical Weapons.

    The projector came in several sizes with small ones comparable to the Eskimo-107 and large ones comparable to the Eskimo-122.

    The range was up to 1800 yards though usually much shorter. The only substantial difference is that the projector was a type of mortar rather than a rocket.

    The article on Livens Projectors also discussed the use of 'stinks' - non lethal chemicals designed to confuse and panic the enemy. These were used instead of, or sometimes at the same time as, lethal payloads. There may be some similarity in Syria yet again.

    1. Interesting stuff.
      We have strong evidence that Syria was using less-than-lethal agents in the battlefield. Of the three options, I think this is the most likely one. But this is pure speculation.

  8. Sasa Wawa, can you help my understanding these comments comparing Iraq and Syria's CW programmes?

    Syria, however, has a completely different goal [compared to Iraq]. Their chemical program is intended to counter Israel’s nuclear program. It therefore requires long-term storage and quick deployment of large quantities.

    Bearing in mind that President Assad said that Syria stopped its production of chemical weapons in 1997, if I understand you correctly, you accept that Syria's chemical weapon stores may have degraded over time?

    A “just in time” mixing operation imposes a significant bottleneck which limits the amount of agent that can be deployed in a short time frame.

    -- what I don't understand is how you class these three types of storage/deployment: unitary weapons; just-in-time; mixed in flight.

    According to the OPCW director-general, inspectors have verified that Syria's programme consists of production and mixing/filling equipment as well as unfilled warheads (and of course, the stock of precursors).

    You write that Syria has "large stockpiles of operational binary warheads" via French intelligence. By 'operational' do you mean 'ready-to-be-filled'?

    If you could elaborate on these points, given the context, I can see more clearly where in the supply and production and filling/mixing chain the presumed 'rebel' chemical capacity will differ from the SAA.

    What also bears thinking about is what state the precursors are in -- given Assad's declaration, I believe we can infer that the to-be-destroyed chemicals in his arsenal are at least sixteen years old.

    1. Welcome William, and thanks for the high-quality contribution.

      1. I wasn't aware of Assad's declaration that production stopped at 1997 (English source: Thanks for pointing it out. If it's true, it would have several interesting implications. For example, it would mean Syria has a less mature program than the 30 years assumed above (although still quite mature).

      However, I doubt it would mean the agents degraded, for the following reasons:
      a) Since OPCW reports that Syria holds its stocks as precursors, it means Syria stores sarin as Methylphosphonyl difluoride, which should be much more stable. I couldn't find specific data on its degradation at various purities - if anyone knows, pleas share.
      b) Even if manufacturing of new agents has stopped, it's fair to assume they would maintain the current stock in good shape, occasionally cleaning impurities etc. After all - it's still a strategic asset which required large investments to build.

      2. unitary - you prepare sarin and store it in tanks and in warheads.
      just-in-time - you prepare precursors, and only when you need to attack, you mix them in a plant and fill the warheads.
      in-flight - you fill warheads with precursors, which are mixed only when the projectile is used.

      3. "operational binary warheads" means ready for use in battle, in contrast to experimental (like Iraq's). They could be either filled or empty.

    2. Thanks for the cogent feedback, Sasa Wawa, especially the notes on degradation of binary components. I have no chemistry chops, but your suggestion that SAA chemical corps kept precursors in a ready-state seems plausible and in line with converging evidence (the Syrian declaration to OPCW). My secret chemical weapons expert confirms that the precursors will have a relatively long shelf-life (as compared to Iraq's degraded mixed armaments per UNMOVIC). Why stabilizers would be necessary I do not know.

      I also don't know with what confidence we can treat Assad's declaration of a significant end of chemical weapons production in 1997. The 1997 declassified US intelligence report suggests a continuation of efforts.

      From the French intelligence summary you cited, we see a list of arms:

      Scud C missiles, with a range of 500 km, capable of delivering sulfur mustard, sarin or VX,

      - Scud B missiles, capable of delivering sarin or VX at a 300 km range,

      - M600 missiles, with a range between 250 and 300 km. They too can deliver the three already mentioned toxic agents.

      - SS21 missiles, adapted to carry the three mentioned chemical warfare agents, at a limited range (70 km).

      - Air launched bombs with a payload of sarin. Depending on the model, they can deliver between 100 and 300 litres of toxic agent,

      - Artillery rockets, particularly 302 and 320 mm, aimed at delivering sulfur mustard, sarin or VX at a shorter range (50 km and under).

      The summary also notes, "Activities monitored for several years on Syrian test sites indicate that new dispersal mechanisms are being studied. Since the beginning of the conflict, our intelligence confirms the use by the regime of ammunitions carrying a lesser volume of chemical agents, adapted to a tactical use, more focused and local."

      As I understand this information, we can for the sake of discussion assume at least one of the "new dispersal mechanisms" carrying lesser volumes of Sarin may comprise a repurposed armament we call UMLACA. I don't presume to know when the UMLACA was designed and produced, only that it was deployed since the civil war began.

      It's interesting to note that the OPCW has 'overseen' (if not witnessed) the destruction of ~154 armaments of the declared "about 1,230 unfilled chemical munitions" (according to multiple reports, here one); Zanders also goes on to synthesize from OPCW statements:

      Syria has submitted:

      - inventories of chemical weapons storage facilities (CWSFs), that include munitions, chemical agents and precursors;

      - information regarding components of binary weapons;

      - site diagrams for CWSFs, including buildings and their current condition;

      - site diagrams and process flow diagrams for certain chemical weapons production facilities (CWPFs); information on the nature of activities conducted and current status of CWPF buildings and equipment, including fixed and mobile mixing and filling facilities;

      - information about the nature of activities at research and development facilities;

      -- and information about the test and evaluation site.

      The opacity of the details are of course due to confidentiality strictures that bind the OPCW/UN to the State Party. We cannot but speculate about the state or composition of the precursors vetted by the inspectors, and we have no tangible detail of the 'tactical' or shorter-range armaments discussed by the French. We don't really know how any purported armaments were prepped for battle -- what would be in the flow-chart the penultimate or ultimate chemicals loaded, for example? Thus it is difficult to accurately contrast with 'rebel' capacity.

    3. The earliest record I've seen of the 122mm (300mm+) missile is around January 2013. Ditto the 107mm infantry weapon. The larger 220/240mm missile appears to be later still.

      It is not unreasonable that these are the earliest dates - as opposed to 'start of the civil war'. Prior to the civil war Syria had no need for what were essentially urban siege weapons.

      As the civil war progressed the battles moved from open terrain to cities and suburbs. Aircraft losses were high so large bombs became a luxury that couldn't be replaced by artillery.

      Short range massive payload weapons became very attractive.and the time-scales for development from scratch seem O.K.

      There is no doubt they evolved the same way as the similar application WW-I Livens projector - which was originally designed to throw high explosive and evolved into throwing White Phosphorus, incendiaries, and eventually Chemicals with little or no engineering changes required.

      It seems very unlikely they were originally designed as Chemical weapons. The use we observe is almost exclusively WP and HE and probably some other types of incendiary.

      You don't have to be a rocket scientist (ha ha) to realize the basic body types could be easily adapted to delivering chemicals.

      The issue then becomes whether line infantry using these devices would suddenly start using them with chemicals in a radically different way to what was the known strategic use of chemicals.

      The alternative raised here is that captured instances of dual-use weapons were used by the opposition (and/or a foreign Government) to incriminate the Syrian Government.

    4. Hopefully one day soon the OPCW will describe the weapons it destroyed. Would be interesting to see if any M14 or UMLACAs will be mentioned.

  9. One thing I puzzled about was whether the Scud missile variants required a Just In Time process to load Sarin. This was primarily because the Scuds don't spin, or at least not fast enough to mix the chemicals.

    I've now read a report (original authenticity unknown) which suggests that Iraqi Ballistic missiles (Scud?) were binary weapons. By implication, Syrian ones would be as well.

    It would be interesting to know how the mixing occurs in these missile types.

    1. Good point about the spin.

      Note that your report discusses an experiment. could definitely be a ballistic missile with spin.

      Interesting quote from there: "...BINARY CHEMICAL WEAPONS WHICH WOULD NOT BE SUBJECT TO DEGRADATION". More support for point 1a in the comment above.

    2. I doubt they spin the Scuds. It would interfere with their inertial guidance system and they are too long in relation to diameter (must be less than 7:1 to spin)

      More likely they have an electrical or gas driven stirrer.

    3. They say it's an experiment and not necessarily a Scud. So maybe an unguided one?

      The stirrer idea is Interesting - did you see it used in other warheads?

    4. I believe this unique style/method of mixing binary agents has been tried a few times. The BLU-80/B BIGEYE is one example of this and I believe the BIGEYE used CAD/PAD components to help accomplish the mixing process and I don't think the results were very good. Also, I believe the XM135 MLRS warhead used something similar for inflight mixing but I am not certain of that.

    5. Interesting. Based on the Bigeye being experimental, I'm guessing it's unlikely Syria had stirrers.

    6. As the Scud is a binary weapon they certainly have to have a stirring mechanism because spin is not an option.

      The only question is power to the stirrer. It's probably not conventional batteries - the military doesn't like them as they are unreliable. That leaves a gas-generator (pyrotechnic), a thermal battery (probably too low power), or something like a Ram Air Turbine.

    7. Good cut-a-way of the BLU80/B. It shows most of the mixing components including internal mixing paddles, CAD/PAD devices, etc. Looks like a very complicated process.

    8. The BLU-80 B was designed to disperse persistent nerve agent VX.

      It uses the RAM-air device to spray the contents out rather than the simpler detonation used for Sarin.

      Syria has both VX and Sarin so would have different bomb variants.

      Also, here is a relevant news item from December 2012 where it is claimed aerial bombs are being loaded with binary agents but not mixed.

      Interesting spin - "increasingly desperate" when the situation in Damascus Governate was basically static at that stage.

    9. Interesting findings Charles and Jody. Thank you. Hopefully the OPCW will publish more details soon.

    10. 13 Nov; Syrian army improvises 'exploding barrels' as both sides developing creative tactics for urban warfare (video imbedded in article).

    11. Note, I should have stated that barrel bombs in Syria are old news but I believe this may be a new video of this device, I think anyway.

    12. Regarding Sasa Wawa`s comment hoping "OPCW will publish more details soon," the OPCW must obey heavy strictures on what it can make public. See the confidentiality annex to the Convention and the note from the Trench:

      The document grants state party rights to Syria (e.g., confidentiality of its declarations and inspection reports).

      Bearing this in mind, what are the chances of seeing any secret 'formulas' for sarin production and deployment, in detail?** Perhaps a 'leak' can emerge from OPCW/UN, or maybe the upcoming progress reports will give some flesh to the bones of what is known in this area -- a better understanding of the "mixing and filling" facilities/mobile "mixing and filling" equipment (six of these reported via the OPCW already). A bit more information on this might enable a more powerful synthesis of facts in hand and allow some assumptions to be shed.

      The weight of the WG objection to Dan Kaszeta's argument seems to rest with a disagreement over 'what is to be expected' in the signatures of sarin reported by the OPCW.

      I think this is worth thrashing out, even though Dan has bowed out of direct engagement with WG/SW and this blog (unless and until, I guess, WG/SW provides bona fides as suggested above).

      On the subject of scenarios, it would be an excellent thing if someone could lay out a narrative story of the events of August 21, corresponding to the "Rebels DId It" notions. At the very least, the gaps in that scenario would shine clearly.


      ** from my earlier posting, a note on the details now with the OPCW:

      Syria has submitted:

      -- site diagrams and process flow diagrams for certain chemical weapons production facilities (CWPFs);

      -- information on the nature of activities conducted and current status of CWPF buildings and equipment, including fixed and mobile mixing and filling facilities

    13. William,
      Interesting. I guess we shouldn't expect too much info from the OPCW then. Too bad.
      Can you explain what you mean in the last paragraph ("on the subject of scenarios...")?
      BTW - I don't have a problem revealing my identity to some trusted third party if it would help get Dan more involved.

    14. There may be leaks of some kind, since as I read all the confidentiality strictures in several places, secrets and details from internal reporting are distributed to what the OPCW calls "States Parties" -- this would include Russia and the USA. Someone may be tempted to subvert the quite picky rules and give what we would hope to see made public (since Syria must provide details of the processes and particular armaments). It is really hard to know if leaks are likely or not.

      By "on the subject of scenarios ... " I mean a fully fleshed narrative of what you and some others deem more-than-plausible -- a rebel operation.

      By gaps I mean such tottles as where and by what processes were chemical precursors prepared by rebel-affiliated chemists -- or, by what means and at which times the chemicals/precursors were transported to launch sites; under whose command and control the chemicals and/or precursors were fixed. Which armaments were used, how the chemical warheads were prepped, filled, what types of mixing/filling equipment was utilized ...

      And much more ...

      It's just that I haven't seen a narrative that tries to sketch out the entire operation, with all its entailments. I could try for something like that after I get to where I want on the current exchanges.

      (as for your hopes to provide Dan with what he needs to know, I suggest a direct approach. If you cannot do that or satisfy him, he is not the only credible and/or expert dude on earth. Perhaps someone else with a similar familiarity and expertise could be approached. I seem to remember a person named DDTea in your comments and at Brown Moses)

    15. Thanks. Good Idea.
      DDTea was very helpful and disappeared at some point. No idea what happened. If you can find another organic chemistry expert, would be great.

    16. Further to my point about confidentiality, Zanders's analysis of the OPCW reports is plain:

      Syria’s initial declaration is apparently 714 pages long. Most of the information is confidential, and will formally remain so until Syria explicitly authorises its release.

      -- on another subject, the 'recipe' posted above (Appendix - Sarin Production Process), can you please add a citation? It's not immediately apparent where the recipe came from.

      It would be useful to expand that recipe into a more detailed process of each step, especially if the details include facts about just what facilities would be necessary for the stages (ie, containment vessels, venting, disposal).

      -- just one more thought and question: although you, Sasa Wawa, remain convinced of a rebel/opposition responsibility for the Aug 21 attack, I note again the language used by the OPCW in its Nov 5 announcements: "verification of the functional destruction of critical specialised equipment at all of the declared chemical weapons production facilities and filling and mixing plants both stationary and mobile in Syria.

      -- does this (and similar language elswhere from the OPCW) suggest to you that the Syrian CW armaments may have been mixed 'just in time' (meaning just prior to launch)? Further, to return to a rebel/opposition seizure of UMLACAs scenario, would you surmise that the rebels filled their seized munitions in a 'just in time' process, or do you think that the only possible kind of filling/mixing process is 'in flight'?

      Re DDTea, it looks like he or she posted last on Sept 26th. One downside of strict internet anonymity in this situation is that there is no way to contact contributors.

    17. William,

      The recipe is a combination of several sources. One thing you can do is start from 'sarin' on wikipedia, click on the chemicals used to synthesize it and repeat until reaching the basic chemicals.

      From the data provided by OPCW so far we can only learn that Syria has a binary process. It's hard to tell whether it's in-flight or JIT.

      The rebels definitely used a JIT process, since we know the UMLACA is not a binary weapon (designed for White Phosphorus, and has no spin mechanism or removable barrier).

  10. Weapon manufacturing in Syria

    Euronews, No Comment program, Oct 21, 2013:

  11. There are obviously large amounts of ordinary Isopropanol in Syria. However, the Syrian Government stocks Isopropanol seems to be special - perhaps your surmise that it is high grade is correct?

    1. Good point. I'll add it now. Thanks!

    2. I attached a video that is old but may be of interest to some folks. This video show a live test of 155mm, thick cased, live GB agent filled, bursting projectiles. The target array consist of different types of fortified structures/positions and live test subjects (goats). In this video you get a good visual idea of how an attack with GB filled munitions might unfold in its initial stages. Additionally, you can see the type signature a functioning, GB filled, bursting type projectile produces when it impacts a target including the signature produced by large bulky chunks of frag from the projectile casing skipping outward away from the projectile detonation point. You also will see the typical effects, you would expect, from a lethal dose of GB on the test subjects (goats).

  12. Re "The [sarin] recipe is a combination of several sources," I understand. Can you give your sources/references for the recipe, though, in the interest of open source, transparency?

    What would be useful is an elaboration of the recipe 'steps' -- for those of us not steeped in chemical weapons manufacture processes -- that give indications of what is necessary at each step in terms of containment, outgassing, (possible/necessary distillation/purification), the kinds of vessels necessary for the various steps, etc.

    1. Sorry. I should have been more clear: The main source is Wikipedia: Just go to 'sarin' and work your way backwards through the production process. I then augmented it with the Aum Shinrikyo process described above (see diagram).

      Wikipedia also provides details of the chemical processes involved, but I did not include them. Feel free to prepare a more detailed process and contribute it.