Anatomy of a Chemical Attack

In the space of a little more than 24 hours Defense Secretary Jim Mattis learned all over again how to say, “Yes, sir,” explains Barry Kissin

By Barry Kissin Special to Consortium News

Analyzing certain aspects of the brief timeline between the date of the alleged chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Duma on April 7 and the date of the U.S. air strikes on April 13 in supposed retaliation, reveals a very curious sequence of events.

On April 8, a day after chlorine gas was allegedly used, President Donald Trump (with no time for investigation) blamed Syrian government forces for what he called a “mindless CHEMICAL attack” and warned there would be a “big price to pay.” He did not elaborate. In a series of tweets, Trump held Russia and Iran, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s chief sponsors, responsible.

On April 11 (at 3:57 AM), President Trump tweeted: “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”

The next morning, on April 12, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testified before the House Armed Services Committee. “I believe there was a chemical attack and we are looking for the actual evidence,” Mattis told lawmakers. “As each day goes by — as you know, it is a non-persistent gas — so it becomes more and more difficult to confirm it.” Mattis said he wanted inspectors in Syria “probably within the week.”

In an article titled “Mattis: US Wants Proof Before Striking Syria for Chemical Attack,” Military.com reported: “Currently, the U.S. and its allies ‘don’t have evidence’ that the Syrian regime carried out the attack last Saturday in the Damascus suburb of Duma that reportedly killed at least 40, Mattis said.”

In response to Congresswoman Nikki Tsongas (D-Mass.) Mattis testified: “We don’t have troops on the ground there so I cannot tell you we have evidence even though we certainly had a lot of media and social media indicators that either chlorine or sarin were used.”

Right after his testimony on Capitol Hill, Mattis attended a “closed-door White House meeting.” According to The New York Times, at this meeting, “Mattis pushed for more evidence of President Bashar al-Assad’s role in the suspected chemical attack …” Evidently, Mattis was overruled. Trump was already committed.

The Pentagon conducted a briefing immediately after the US strikes the next day, on April 13. One reporter asked: “What’s your evidence it was delivered by the Syrian regime? Are you quite clear it was?” Mattis dutifully responded: “I am confident the Syrian regime conducted a chemical attack on innocent people in this last week, yes. Absolutely confident of it.”

Another reporter queried: “So up until yesterday, and I’m going to quote you here, you said, ‘I cannot tell you that we have evidence.’ So when did you become confident that a chemical attack happened?

Mattis: “Yes, yesterday.”

Reporter: “Since yesterday, after you said that?”

Mattis: “Yes.”

And those inspectors Mattis had only the day before made clear to Congress would be coming “probably within the week?”  They were just hours away from starting their work in Duma when the first U.S. cruise missile hit its target.  

Barry Kissin is an attorney, musician and political commentator.




On the Reaction to the U.S. Strike in Syria

There are stirrings of an imperative anti-war movement in the wake of the U.S. strike on Syria, but mostly the Pentagon controlled the message, says Gilbert Doctorow.

By Gilbert Doctorow Special to Consortium News

The arguments between Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford before the Syrian air strikes, and between them and President Donald Trump and his ultra-hawk national security adviser, John Bolton, ended with “precision strikes” early Saturday morning in Damascus and near the city of Homs.

Some 103 tomahawks and other cruise missiles were launched from US navy vessels and British and American warplanes. Seventy-one of these were claimed by the Russian Ministry of Defense to have been shot down by Syrian air defense batteries. The more modern and effective Russian-manned S400 systems at their Tartus naval base and Khmeimim air base were not brought into play.

There was material damage to some Syrian military storage facilities and particularly to a research center, which the US-led coalition claimed was used for fabrication of chemical weapons. Employees at the site said they were producing antidotes to snake venom, not chemical weapons. No deaths were reported and only six people were injured. The targets were all well clear of known positions of Russian and Iranian personnel in Syria. And while the Pentagon denied Russia had been told the targets, there’s speculation that the missiles’ flight paths had been made known to Moscow.

Mission Accomplished?’

Mattis said the mission was over but the U.S. stood ready to strike again if Assad once more used chemical weapons, though whether he did last weekend in Duma, a Damascus suburb, has yet to be proven. The U.S.-led air strikes took place hours before a team of specialists from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were to begin its investigation at the site to determine if chemicals were used, and which chemicals they may been.

In his address to the nation when launching the

attack, Trump used the same unproven allegations and maudlin, propagandistic evocation of the horrors of chemical weapons that his ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, had used earlier in the day Friday when responding to specific charges of violating international law and a possibly non-existent chemical attack,which the Russian ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, had leveled against the U.S. in the UN Security Council chamber.

The narrowly focused and seemingly ineffectual nature of the strikes is unlikely to satisfy anyone in the U.S. political classes. Even those who have been encouraging Trump to stand tall in Syria and punish Damascus for the alleged, but unproven, use of chemical weapons, like New York Senator Chuck Schumer (D), gave him only tepid support for the action taken, complaining of no overall administration strategy for Syria or an end game.

Others posit that the timing of the attack was driven solely by Trump’s urgent need to deflect public attention from personal and political scandals, especially after the F.B.I. seizure earlier in the week of the papers and possibly his taped conversations in the offices of his lawyer, Michael Cohen.

For the Russians there could only be outrage. They were on the receiving end of what was a publicly administered slap in the face to President Vladimir Putin, who was named and supposedly shamed in Trump’s speech for providing support to the “animal” Assad. Putin had been calling upon the U.S. and its allies to show restraint and wait for the conclusion of the OPCW investigation in Duma.

Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, repeated after the attacks Moscow’s prior warning that there would be “grave consequences” for the U.S. and its allies. These were not spelled out. But given Putin’s record of caution, it would be surprising if Moscow did anything to exacerbate the situation.

What comes next?

That caution left the U.S. exposed as an aggressor and violator of international law. Since we are in a New Cold War, habits from the first Cold War are resurfacing. But the roles are reversed today. Whereas in the past, it was Washington that complained to high heaven about the Soviet military intervention in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, today it is Russia that will go on the offensive to sound off about US aggression.

But is that all we may expect? I think not. Putin has a well-earned reputation as a master strategist who takes his time with every move. He also knows the old saying that revenge is a dish best served cold. He has frequently advocated “asymmetric” responses to Western moves against Russian interests. The question of counter moves had already been on his mind since the U.S. Treasury introduced new and potentially harsh economic sanctions on Russia with effect from April 6.

In fact, Russian legislators were busy preparing to

introduce in the Duma on Monday a bill empowering the Russian president to issue counter-sanctions. These include an embargo on the sale of critical components to the U.S. aircraft industry which is 40 percent dependent on Russian-sourced titanium for production of both military and civilian planes. There is also the proposed cancellation of bilateral cooperation in space where the Russians supply rocket engines used for U.S. commercial and other satellite launches, as well as a total embargo on sales of U.S. wines, spirits and tobacco in the Russian Federation.

Aside from the withdrawal of titanium sales, these and other enumerated measures pale in significance to the damage done by the U.S. sanctions on the Rusal corporation, the world’s second largest producer and marketer of aluminum, which lost $12 billion in share value on the first day of sanctions. But that is to be expected, given that the United States is the world’s largest economy, measuring more than 10 times Russia’s. Accordingly its ability to cause economic damage to Russia far exceeds the ability of Russia to inflict damage in return.

The only logical outcome of further escalations of U.S. economic measures would be for Russia to respond in the one area where it has something approaching full equality with the United States: its force of arms. That is to say, at a certain point in time purely economic warfare could well become kinetic. This is a danger the U.S. political leadership should not underestimate.

Considering the just inflicted U.S. insult to Russia by its attack in Syria, Moscow may well choose to respond by hitting U.S. interests in a very different location, where it enjoys logistical superiority and also where the counter-strike may be less likely to escalate to direct crossing of swords and the unthinkable—possible nuclear war.

A number of places come to mind, starting in Ukraine where, in an extreme reaction, Russia has the option of removing the regime in Kiev within a 3-day campaign, putting in place a caretaker government until new elections were held. That would likely lead to armed resistance, however, and a Russian occupation, which Moscow neither wants nor can afford.

The Media Reacts

The media reaction to the air strikes has been distinct in the U.S. from Europe, and even more so, naturally, in Russia.

U.S. mainstream reaction, in particular in The New York Times, The Washington Post and the cable TV networks, has been an uncritical platform for the Pentagon view of what it achieved. Both papers barely made mention that the missiles rained down as the OPCW team was about to begin its work. Parading out their retired generals, often with unmentioned contracts as lobbyists for the military industry, the cable networks resumed their cheerleading for American war and materiel.

In France, Le Monde largely followed the Pentagon line in declaring the mission a success, while in Germany leading newspapers attempted a more independent line. Die Welt discussed how the U.S. and Europe used the mission to test the battleground effectiveness of some of their latest weaponry. The Frankfurter Allgemeine called the Pentagon “the last bastion of sense” in the Trump administration and reported that the Russians want to open a strategic dialogue with the U.S. over arms control.

A commentary in the British Guardian claimed that Mattis, and not Trump, “is calling the shots.” Another piece reported on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s call for a “check on military intervention” by insisting that Parliament vote on a War Powers act.

The Times of London ran fewer articles on the Syria strike and instead led with a piece predicting that to punish the United Kingdom for its role in the Skripal case and in Syria, Moscow will unleash a barrage of hacked, damaging confidential materials relating to government ministers, members of Parliament and other elite British personalities. In response, May’s cabinet is said to be considering a cyber-attack against Russia.

The TV station Euronews, whose motto is “Euronews. All Views,” unusually for Western media, gave Russians equal time to set out their totally diametrically opposed positions: on whether any chemical attacks at all occurred in Duma, and on the U.S. violation of international law.

On Saturday Euronews exceptionally gave nearly complete live coverage to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as he spoke in Moscow to the 26th Assembly of the Council of Foreign and Defense Policy. During this talk, Lavrov divulged the findings of the Swiss laboratory which had examined samples of the chemicals gathered in Salisbury in relation to the Skripal poisonings, findings which he said pointed not to Novichok, as was claimed by Boris Johnson, but to a nerve agent developed by the United States and produced also in Britain. Lavrov likened the faked attack in Salisbury to the faked chemical attack in Duma.

Letting the Russians deliver extensively their views on what happened in Syria without commentary by their own journalists might be considered extraordinary by Euronews or any other European broadcaster’s standards.

In Russia, the news channel Rossiya-1 on Saturday broadcast a special edition of the country’s leading political talk show hosted by Vladimir Solovyov. His panelists said that in Damascus, where the most modern air defenses are installed, including the latest BUK series, the Syrians shot down 100 percent of incoming missiles. This contradicts, however, the fact that a research facility in the center of Damascus was bombed. Elsewhere in the country, where there are older systems in place, fewer missiles were hit.

In the wake of the U.S.-led air strikes, Moscow has apparently now decided to supply the Syrian army their next to latest generation of air defense, the S300. It was reported earlier that because of the war, there was a great shortage of trained technicians on the Syrian side so that shipment of such equipment previously would have made no sense. However, now that the military situation of the Assad government has stabilized, the personnel problems are no longer so acute and the Russians can proceed with delivering materiel and training the Syrians to defend themselves. This will substantially change the equation with respect to Syrian defense capability should the U.S. and its allies think of returning.

Protests in the West

One must ask why there has been no anti-war protests in the West in reaction to the strike on Syria. That it lasted less than an hour may something to do with it. But the U.S. is at war in about seven nations and there is no sustained, anti-war movement. Part of the reason is the virtual collapse the anti-war Left in the West that fueled protests in America and Europe in the 1960s anti-Vietnam war movement and the 1980s protests against the deployment of cruise missiles in Europe to counter Soviet intermediate range SS20 missiles.

From the 1990s leftist political parties both in the U.S. and Europe have suffered terrible losses of voter support. What charismatic leaders emerge to challenge the centrist, global hegemony politicians have been almost uniformly categorized as extreme Right or populists. The peace movements have been nearly extinguished. So-called progressives are today notoriously anti-Russian and in step with the Neocons on what the legitimate world order should look like.

For these reasons, it is quite remarkable that early

reactions to the US-led bombing in Syria have come from social media and internet portals that may be loosely categorized as establishment left or progressive. Dislike for Trump, for Bolton and for the crew of madmen who constitute the administration has finally outweighed hatred for Putin, “the authoritarian,” the Alpha male, the promoter of family and Orthodox Christian values and the so-called thief who stole the U.S. election. On-line petitions now being circulated, even by the Democratic Party-friendly MoveOn.org, reveal some comprehension that the world has moved closer to utter destruction due to the U.S.-Russia confrontation.

Another sign that the antiwar movement may be stirring out of its slumber and going beyond virtual protests, is that the Massachusetts Peace Action chapter, heirs to the SANE franchise, the country’s largest anti-nuclear weapons organization from the middle of the first Cold War, called on its members to rally in Cambridge (home to Harvard University and MIT) to protest the U.S. strikes in Syria. It also calls on Congress to reclaim its War Powers.

These are admittedly small steps with little political weight. But they are encouraging sparks of light in the darkness.

Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. 




Attacking Syria: Thumbing Noses at Constitution and Law

It was a sad spectacle to see U.S. brass rubbishing the Constitution and trying to silence critics of the U.S. strike on Syria, says Ray McGovern in this commentary.

By Ray McGovern Special to Consortium News

The U.S. Constitution and international law suffered a stinging blow last night at the hands of an odd coalition that might be called Goldilocks and two moral dwarfs posing as Marine generals, together with a “Right Dishonorable” harridan and a young French poodle.

As was the case 15 years ago when the U.S. and UK launched a war of aggression against Iraq, the pretext was so-called “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) — this time the claimed use on April 7 of chlorine (and maybe the nerve agent sarin — who knows?) in Duma a suburb of Damascus.  And this time French President Emmanuel Macron was allowed to join, as junior partner, the gang that can’t lie straight.

The attacks by the Gang of Three came hours before specialists from the UN Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were to arrive in Syria to study soil and other samples in Duma. The question leaps out: Why could the Gang not wait until the OPCW had a chance to find out whether there was such an attack and, if so, what chemical(s) were used?

Sentence First, Verdict Later

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis could only say that he believes there was a chemical attack and that perhaps sarin, in addition to chlorine, was involved. Serving until now as the only available “evidence” are highly dubious reports from agenda-laden “social media.”  What is clear is that the U.S./UK/French Gang wanted to strike before the OPCW investigators had a chance to ascertain what happened.  Hmm.  All the earmarks of “Sentence first; verdict afterwards.”

Former Secretary of State John Kerry made a habit of advertising how “extraordinarily useful” social media can be.  He got that right.  Of the main alleged “chemical attacks” by Syria — on August 21, 2013; April 4,2017; and April 7, 2018 — the primary, if not exclusive — source of information was the “extraordinarily useful,” but notoriously unreliable, “social media.”

Marine Martinets

Briefing the media last night, after Goldilocks had set the stage announcing “retaliation” for the (unproven) use of chemicals by the Syrian government, were two four-star Marine generals, one of them (Mattis) retired, who seem to have mistakenly thought that the Marine motto had been changed to “Semper Lie.”  It was a very sad spectacle.

In 1961, when I was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, I took a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.  Also drummed into the heads of us newly minted officers was the obligation to tell the truth — always.

I had assumed — apparently naively — that Marines took the same oath and obligation.  The attack on Iraq 15 years ago destroyed that assumption.  I will cite just two examples that scandalized me.

Hear No Evil, Speak No Truth, Get Rich Quick

Marine Gen. Zinni was receiving an award at the Veterans for Foreign War convention on August 26, 2002, and decided to play Brer’ Rabbit as he listened to the main speaker, Vice President Dick Cheney, set the meretricious terms of reference for war with Iraq.

Zinni had been commander of CENTCOM and had retired two years before, but his continued role as fully cleared consultant had enabled him to stay up to date on key intelligence findings for Iraq.  Zinni later said he was shocked to hear Cheney’s depiction of intelligence (Iraq has WMD and is amassing them to use against us) that did not square with what he knew the accurate intelligence to be. “There was no solid proof that Saddam had WMD. … I heard a case being made to go to war,” Zinni told Meet the Press three and a half years later. (Emphasis mine.)

Earlier, Zinni enjoyed a reputation as a relatively straight shooter with a good bit of courage. And so, the question lingers: why did he not go public when he first heard Cheney’s lie?  THAT might have stopped the war.  What seems operative here, I fear, is an all-too-familiar conundrum at senior levels where people have been conditioned not to rock the boat, not to risk their standing within the Washington Establishment or their prospects for lucrative spots on the corporate boards of arms manufacturers.

Semper Fraud

Without the full cooperation of former Marine, Senator Pat Roberts (R, Kansas), who was Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee before, during, and after the attack on Iraq, Bush and Cheney would have had far more difficulty perpetrating that crime.  Because of Roberts’s participation in what easily qualifies as a criminal conspiracy, Bush and Cheney were able to run amok — until, finally, the Senate changed hands in 2006.

On June 5, 2008 Roberts’s successor, Sen. Jay Rockefeller announced the completion of a five-year Senate Intelligence Committee investigation — a study that had been continually sidetracked by Roberts.  Rockefeller introduced the study’s bipartisan findings with these words: “In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”

Fellow Marine and UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter found Roberts’s behavior shameful.  Ritter was unable to resist writing: “Semper Fraud, Senator Roberts.”

Against that background, it was particularly painful last evening to watch two Marine four-star generals peddling at the Pentagon a bogus casus belli for another unprovoked armed attack — this time on Syria.

Media people favored with a Pentagon pass were too timid to ask pointed questions about the evidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, for some strange reason known only to him, picked a time of near victory to “use chemical weapons against his own people” on April 7.  No one asked why the rush to judgment; why the gang of three (the U.S., its aging British cousin, and its young French poodle) could not have waited just a day or two for UN inspectors to arrive and discover whether the so-called “chemical attack” amounted to a true casus belli, or a casus belly-laugh.

Following Orders

Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford remind me of the generals of the Third Reich in “just following orders,” lying through their teeth about the pretext for attacking Poland — er, I mean Syria — as though the solemn oath they took was to the Fuehrer — er, I mean President — not the Constitution.  It seemed, at first, that President George W. Bush’s dictum still reigned at the Pentagon; i. e., “The Constitution is just a goddamned piece of paper.”But President Donald Trump and Secretary Mattis did not go as far as Bush. No doubt under White House orders, Mattis dutifully recited the key tenet of constitutional scholar Dick Cheney’s dubious “unitary executive” theory; that is, that the President is somehow not bound by Article I (Section 8) of the Constitution.  That Article I section may have been in mothballs since the attack on Pearl Harbor, but remains a very important part of the Constitution.  And the U.S. has gotten into a peck of trouble by those —administrations and members of congress, alike — who have chosen to circumvent this key provision, which reserves to Congress the power to declare war.  Our Founders wanted this to apply, if a King — er, I mean President — got it into his head to attack another country.  Syria, for example.

At the beginning of his speech, Mattis employed this dubious variant, without the slightest demurral from those wishing to retain their Pentagon passes: “As our commander in chief, our President has the authority under Article II of the Constitution to use military force overseas to defend important U.S. national interests.”

Those interested should re-read Article II.  They will look in vain for anything like the Cheney/Mattis variant.  All that part of Article II says is: “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.”

A Common Error With Budding Officers Too

An experience I had teaching a class at the Naval Academy in Annapolis 12 years ago suggests that students at U.S. military academies are led to think that Article II supersedes Article I. Lecturing to a third-year class of about 50 students about political/military events, I referred innocently to the solemn oath required of military personnel and asked what that oath was all about.  “Well, it is an oath to the President, of course,” said the first student who threw up his hand, with several others nodding assent.  I said that was quite wrong.  And it turned out to be like pulling teeth to find one student who knew that the oath was to defend the Constitution.

Last evening I found myself wondering what Attorney General Jeff Sessions thought of Mattis’s messing with Article I, Section 8.  For, not too long ago, there was one shining moment when Sen. Jeff Sessions did his best to challenge then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who pretended to be unfamiliar with the bedrock fact that the Constitution reserved to Congress the right to declare war.

Libya: Precedent for Syria

At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 7, 2012, then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, pursued this key issue with Panetta. Chafing ex post facto at the unauthorized nature of the war in Libya, Sessions asked repeatedly what “legal basis” would the Obama administration rely on to do in Syria what it did in Libya.

Watching that part of the testimony, it seemed to me that Sessions, a conservative Southern lawyer, was not at all faking when he pronounced himself “almost breathless,” as Panetta stonewalled time after time. Panetta made it explicitly clear that the administration does not believe it needs to seek congressional approval for wars like Libya. At times he seemed to be quoting verses from the Book of Cheney.

Sessions: “I am really baffled … The only legal authority that’s required to deploy the U.S. military [in combat] is the Congress and the President and the law and the Constitution.”

Panetta: “Let me just for the record be clear again, Senator, so there is no misunderstanding. When it comes to national defense, the President has the authority under the Constitution to act to defend this country, and we will, Sir.”

If you readers care about the Constitution and the rule of law, I strongly recommend that you view the entire 7-minute video clip.

Constitutionally, the craven Congress is a huge part of the problem. Only a few members of the House and Senate seem to care very much when presidents act like kings and send off troops drawn largely by a poverty draft to wars not authorized (or simply rubber-stamped) by Congress.

A Chill on the First Amendment

Secretary Mattis devoted his last minute last evening to a careful reading of the following warning:

“Based on recent experience, we fully expect a significant disinformation campaign over the coming days by those who have aligned themselves with the Assad regime.  And, in an effort to maintain transparency and accuracy, my assistant for public affairs, Ms. Dana White, and Lt. Gen. McKenzie, Director General of the Joint Staff here in Washington, will provide a brief of known details tomorrow morning — we are anticipating at about 9:00 in this same location.”A warning not so sotto voce: Criticize the craven behavior of Mattis, Dunford, or the Gang of Three, and you will be “aligning” yourself “with the Assad regime.”

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  He was an Army Infantry/Intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for a total of 30 years.



Trump Attacks Syria With Chemical Experts on the Way

President Trump ordered airstrikes on Syria as a team of experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was about to arrive on Saturday to determine whether a chemical weapons attack had even occurred, Joe Lauria reports. 

By Joe Lauria  Special to Consortium News

President Donald Trump on Saturday (Syria time) ordered air strikes against Syria in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack last weekend outside Damascus.

“I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapon capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad,” Trump said from the White House.

The strikes were carried out together with Britain and France, he said.  CNN reported explosions at a research facility near Damascus. At a news conference later, Pentagon officials said this “phase” of the missile strikes against three so-called chemical research targets, one in the center of the Syrian capital, were completed and “no additional attacks are planned.”

U.S. officials said Russia had been told of the military operation but Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told the press briefing Friday night (Washington time) that Moscow was not informed of the Syrian targets. Russia had vowed to shoot down incoming U.S. and allied missiles as Russian military personnel are embedded with the Syrian Arab army at various locations in the country.

U.S. military analysts say the U.S. wanted to avoid hitting Russian targets, but once unleashed, military action can lead to unintended consequences.

Pentagon officials said they only had reports that Syrian, but not Russian, anti-missile defenses had been engaged. Whether any U.S. missiles or planes were hit would be made plain on Saturday morning in Washington, they said.

OPCW Team Was on the Way

A team of experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was on its way to Syria after accepting an invitation from the Syrian government to study soil and other samples in Duma, the Damascus suburb where the alleged attack took place.

It’s not clear whether the U.S.-led operation would complicate their mission as the team was due to arrive later on Saturday. It is also not certain whether the timing of the U.S.-led attack was intended to prevent the team from gathering evidence to prove whether or not chemicals were used. The OPCW does not assess blame.

Trump had threatened earlier in the week, in perhaps his strangest Tweet yet, to send “smart” and “clean” missile strikes into Syria to attack “Animal Assad.” He also blamed Russia for supporting Assad, which may have been intended to get critics, who accuse him of being a Putin puppet, off his back. Indeed this latest display of American militarism may also be driven by Trump’s anti-Russian critics.

Trump had backed off his threat when it was revealed that his aides had not yet agreed to the attack.

In April 2017 the U.S. fired 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase that Washington believed was used to carry out a chemical attack. U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis later said the U.S. did not have concrete evidence that Syria was responsible.

No Proof Made Public

Likewise no public proof has been offered that Syria was behind the alleged chemical attack last weekend in Duma, where as many as 70 people may have been killed.

The gas allegedly used in the Duma attack is chlorine. In 2014 Syria was certified by the OPCW to have given up its entire chemical weapons arsenal in a deal with the United States and Russia. The chemicals were destroyed on a U.S. Navy ship.

Chlorine, however, is not on the OPCW list of banned chemicals, and is not classified as a chemical weapon. Any country, including Syria, is allowed to possess it, but cannot use it as a weapon. U.S. officials know this but say incorrectly that Russia had failed to give up chemical stocks that were on the OPCW banned list. The military strikes were, as usual, egged on by influential U.S. pundits, some masquerading as reporters. Christiane Amanpour said on CNN after the attack was launched that Russia had stopped President Obama from attacking Syria by agreeing to eliminate its chemical weapons.

“The allies have been forced into this,” Amanpour said, adding that they had no choice. “Russia promised that they would remove Syrian chemical weapons but they have chlorine,” she said, clearly uniformed that it was a joint-U.S.-Russia operation and that chlorine is not classified as a chemical weapon.

Consortium News this week published two pieces calling on Trump to obtain evidence of Syria’s guilt and legal authorization before launching an act of war. The U.S. has neither demonstrated that it is acting in self-defense nor did it get U.N. Security Council approval, making tonight’s actions clearly illegal. Nor has Trump received authorization from Congress, making it illegal under U.S. law. Several Congressmen complained of this after the attack, but Dunford told the Pentagon briefing that Trump acted legally because U.S. interests were involved.



America’s Long History of Trying to Determine Who Rules Syria

The CIA organized its very first coup in Syria in 1949 to overthrow a democratically elected president and install a military dictator. The U.S. has never given up trying to determine who rules Syria, comments Caitlin Johnstone

By Caitlin Johnstone

caitlinjohnstone.com

One interesting and completely undeniable fact that we don’t talk about nearly enough is how Syria has been a target for regime change by the US-centralized power establishment since long before the uprising in 2011.

Proponents of US military interventionism in Syria will avoid addressing this known fact like the plague. They’re more than happy to dispute claims about false flags and the White Helmets, but if you start asking them “Hey don’t you think it’s a little odd that the government we’re all freaking out about right now just so happens to be one that’s been a target for regime change by US defense and intelligence agencies since long before any of this started?” they get real squirmy all of a sudden.

It’s true though. Let’s go over five key items in the mountain of evidence for this, starting with the most recent and working our way backward:

The Roland Dumas Statement

Roland Dumas is the former Foreign Minister of France, and he stated that he was made aware of the violence in Syria in 2009, two years before it started.

“I’m going to tell you something,” Dumas said on French station LCP. “I

was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business. I met with top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria. This was in Britain not in America. Britain was organizing an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer minister for foreign affairs, if I would like to participate. Naturally, I refused, I said I’m French, that doesn’t interest me.’’

‘’This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned,” Dumas added. Prepared, preconceived, and planned.

The 2006 William Roebuck Cable

A December 13, 2006 cable published by WikiLeaks reveals how five years prior to the beginning of the violence, the US government (USG) was seeking out weaknesses of the Assad government which could be exploited to undermine it. William Roebuck, an official at the US embassy in Damascus, said this in his summary of the cable:

“We believe Bashar’s weaknesses are in how he chooses to react to looming issues, both perceived and real, such as the conflict between economic reform steps (however limited) and entrenched, corrupt forces, the Kurdish question, and the potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists. This cable summarizes our assessment of these vulnerabilities and suggests that there may be actions, statements, and signals that the USG can send that will improve the likelihood of such opportunities arising.”

This excellent Truthout article from 2015 goes into further details about the cable’s examination of the ways Syria and its relationship with Iran could be undermined, and documents the recurring theme of the US government’s plan to provoke a rash overreaction from Assad against the various oppositional factions in Syria using psyops to foment paranoia about coup plots. The theme of Assad “overreacting” to demonstrations in 2011 has been loudly trumpeted by the western mass media ever since the violence erupted, which the US and its allies were involved in creating from the very beginning.

The General Wesley Clark Statement

General Wesley Clark made the following statement on Democracy Now in 2007 about a conversation he had with a general in 2001:

About ten days after 9/11, I went through the Pentagon and I saw Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz. I went downstairs just to say hello to some of the people on the Joint Staff who used to work for me, and one of the generals called me in.

He said, “Sir, you’ve got to come in and talk to me a second.”

I said, “Well, you’re too busy.”

He said, “No, no.”

He says, “We’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq.”

This was on or about the 20th of September. I said, “We’re going to war with Iraq? Why?”

He said, “I don’t know.” He said, “I guess they don’t know what else to do.”

So I said, “Well, did they find some information connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda?”

He said, “No, no.” He says, “There’s nothing new that way. They just made the decision to go to war with Iraq.” He said, “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments.” And he said, “I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”

So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan. I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?”

And he said, “Oh, it’s worse than that.” He reached over on his desk. He picked up a piece of paper. And he said, “I just got this down from upstairs”?—?meaning the Secretary of Defense’s office?—?“today.” And he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.”

Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran.

The 1986 CIA Memo

A CIA document declassified last year exposed a plot to overthrow the Syrian government by provoking sectarian tensions all the way back in 1986.

Here are a few juicy excerpts:

“Although we judge that fear of reprisals and organizational problems make a second Sunni challenge unlikely, an excessive government reaction to minor outbreaks of Sunni dissidence might trigger large-scale unrest. In most instances the regime would have the resources to crush a Sunni opposition movement, but we believe widespread violence among the populace could stimulate large numbers of Sunni officers and conscripts to desert or mutiny, setting the stage for civil war.”

Sound familiar? Here’s some more:

“We believe that a renewal of communal violence between Alawis and Sunnis could inspire Sunnis in the military to turn against the regime.”

“Sunni dissidence has been minimal since Assad crushed the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s, but deep-seated tensions remain–keeping alive the potential for minor incidents to grow into major flareups of communal violence… Excessive government force in quelling such disturbances might be seen by Sunnis as evidence of a government vendetta against all Sunnis, precipitating even larger protests by other Sunni groups.”

“Mistaking the new protests as a resurgence of the Muslim Brotherhood, the government would step up its use of force and launch violent attacks on a broad spectrum of Sunni community leaders as well as on those engaged in protests. Regime efforts to restore order would founder if government violence against protestors inspired broad-based communal violence between Alawis and Sunnis.”

“A general campaign of Alawi violence against Sunnis might push even moderate Sunnis to join the opposition. Remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood–some returning from exile in Iraq–could provide a core of leadership for the movement. Although the regime has the resources to crush such a venture, we believe brutal attacks on Sunni civilians might prompt large numbers of Sunni officers and conscripts to desert or stage mutinies in support of dissidents, and Iraq might supply them with sufficient weapons to launch a civil war.”

Oh and don’t forget this important little detail:

“In our view, US interests would be best served by a Sunni regime controlled by business-oriented moderates. Business moderates would see a strong need for Western aid and investment to build Syria’s private economy, thus opening the way for stronger ties to Western governments.”

The First Ever CIA Coup

A lot can change in seventy years, but it says a lot about Syria’s

strategic significance that the CIA has been attempting to stage coups there since the 1940s. In a 1969 interview CIA officer Miles Copeland confirmed statements he’d made in his memoirs that the Central Intelligence Agency had attempted to overthrow the Syrian government 20 years earlier. In 1956 there was the “anti-communist” intervention called Operation Straggle followed byOperation Wappen, and in 1957 there was a CIA/MI6 assassination plot.

So we know for an absolute fact that the defense and intelligence agencies of the US-centralized empire have been salivating over regime change in Syria literally for generations. And we’re meant to believe that this same government that has been targeted for hostile takeover by the western empire generation after generation due to its strategic importance and refusal to kowtow to imperialist interests just so happens to be the greatest threat to humanity right now? That Bashar al-Assad, who was never spoken of as a vicious dictator prior to 2009 and was even nominated for honorary knighthood by Tony Blair in 2002, just spontaneously developed a sick“addiction” to gassing children in the last few years?

Come on.

We’re being lied to. We’re being lied to about a key strategic asset that the western empire is trying desperately to secure as it hurtles toward post-primacy in a rapidly shifting world. It’s so obvious. Keep pushing back on the lies and open as many eyes to what’s going on as you can before these bastards drag us into a conflict with Syria, Russia and their allies that there may be no coming back from.

Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium. Follow her work on FacebookTwitter, or her website. She has a podcast and a new book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers. This article was re-published with permission.




International Lawyers: Strike Against Syria Would Be Illegal

In this statement released Wednesday, a group of international law experts warn that a U.S. military strike on Syria would be illegal if not in self-defense or with U.N. Security Council authorization. 

We are practitioners and professors of international law. Under international law, military strikes by the United States of America and its allies against the Syrian Arab Republic, unless conducted in self-defense or with United Nations Security Council approval, are illegal and constitute acts of aggression.

The unlawful killing of any human being without legal justification, under every legal system, is murder. And an act of violence committed by one government against another government, without lawful justification, amounts to the crime of aggression: the supreme international crime which carries with it the evil of every other international crime, as noted by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1946.

The use of military force by a state can be used in self-defense after an armed attack by another state, or, with the approval of the United Nations Security Council. At present, neither instance would apply to a U.S. strike against Syria.

We understand the urge to act to protect innocent civilians. We strongly condemn any and all violence against civilians, whoever the perpetrators. But responding to unlawful violence with more unlawful violence, bypassing existing legal mechanisms, is a road to a lawless world. It is a road that leads to Hell.

Accordingly, we urge the United States and its allies to refrain from illegal conduct against Syria. We must point out that for the last several years, as is now common knowledge, the United States has armed rebels/insurgents to overthrow the current government of Syria. This is illegal under international law.

In 1986, in The Nicaragua Case, the International Court of Justice reprimanded the United States for arming and supporting contra militias and combatants, and for mining Nicaragua’s harbors, as acts which violated the U.N. Charter and international law. Perhaps the Syrian crisis would look differently today if the United States and its allies had consistently respected law for the last several years. They have not.

We take pains to note what should be obvious: our demand that the United States and its allies immediately comport themselves with their international legal obligations is not a justification, excuse, or some type of free pass on the investigation and accountability for international legal violations committed by other actors who may be involved in this sad affair. But our point is a simple one: the only way to resolve the Syrian crisis is through commitment to well-settled principles of international legal norms.

We urge the United States to abide by its commitment to the rule of international law and to seek to resolve its disputes through peaceful means. These means include recourse to the use of established and legitimate institutions designed to maintain international peace and security, such as the U.N. Security Council or the International Court of Justice. Unilateral action is a sign of weakness; recourse to the law is a sign of strength. The United States must walk back from becoming the very monster it now seeks to destroy.

 

Inder Comar

Executive Director

Just Atonement Inc.

 

Dr. Ryan Alford

Associate Professor,

Bora Laskin Faculty of Law, Lakehead University

 

Marjorie Cohn

Professor Emerita

Thomas Jefferson

School of Law

 

Jeanne Mirer

President

International Association

of Democratic Lawyers

 
Dr. Curtis F.J. Doebbler

Research Professor of Law

University of Makeni

UN Representative of International-Lawyers.org

Abdeen Jabara

Civil Rights Attorney and Co-Founder of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

Ramsey Clark

66th Attorney-General of the United States

 

 




Taking the World to the Brink

As American drums beat again for war, Rick Sterling steps back to contemplate the possible consequences this time.

By Rick Sterling Special to Consortium News

Western neoconservatives and hawks are driving the international situation to increasing tension and danger. Not content with the destruction of Iraq and Libya based on false claims, they are now pressing for a direct US attack on Syria.

As a dangerous prelude, Israeli jets flying over Lebanese airspace fired missiles against the T4/Tiyas Airbase west of Palmyra following reports on Sunday of a chemical weapons attack in Douma, a suburb of Damascus under rebel control.

As reported at Tass, the Chief of Russia’s General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, predicted the alleged use of chemicals almost a month ago. The report from March 13 says, “Russia has hard facts about preparations for staging the use of chemical weapons against civilians by the government forces. After the provocation, the US plans to accuse Syria’s government forces of using chemical weapons … furnish the so-called ‘evidence’ … and Washington plans to deliver a missile and bomb strike against Damascus’ government districts.”

Gerasimov noted that Russian military advisors are staying in the Syrian Defense Ministry’s facilities in Damascus and “in the event of a threat to our military servicemen’s lives, Russia’s Armed Forces will take retaliatory measures to target both the missiles and their delivery vehicles.”

The situation is clearly fraught with the risk of sliding into international conflict between the two biggest nuclear weapons powers with all that that implies. Civilization itself is being put in peril so that the West can continue supporting sectarian armed groups seeking to overthrow the Assad government, in violation of international law and the UN Charter.

The most powerful country in the world is now led by a real estate, hotel and entertainment mogul without political experience. Behind the scenes, there is an entrenched foreign policy establishment determined to maintain and reclaim U.S. unilateral “leadership” of the world. American leaders fear that the U.S. is losing influence, prestige and power around the world. Israel and Saudi Arabia are seeing their designs on regional dominance failing.

East Ghouta, Damascus

East Ghouta is a district of farms and towns on the north-east outskirts of Damascus. For the past six years, various armed factions controlled the area. On a nearly daily basis, they launched mortar and hell cannon missile attacks into Damascus, and have killed thousands of civilians. This author personally witnessed two such mortar attacks in April 2014.

Embed from Getty Images

By the end of March most of East Ghouta had been retaken by the government. With the peaceful evacuation of armed militants, civilians flooded into the humanitarian corridors and then government camps for the displaced. The campaign was proceeding quickly with minimal loss of life as the Russian Reconciliation officers negotiated agreements which allowed the militants to keep small weapons and be transported to Idlib in the north.

Journalist Vanessa Beeley documented the situation including the happiness and relief of many civilians as they finally made it to safety. One described the feeling as “like being reborn”. Robert Fisk of Britain’s Independent newspaper was on site and reported what he saw first hand in stories titled Watching on as Islamist fighters are evacuated from war-torn Eastern Ghouta and Western howls of outrage over the Ghouta siege ring hollow.

As reported at the Russian Reconciliation Centre, by the end of March, 105,857 civilians had moved into government controlled areas while 13,793 militants, plus 23,433 family members had been transported north. Those who wanted to stay, including former fighters, were welcomed. They could rejoin Syrian society with the same rights and obligations as other Syrians.

The last remaining opposition stronghold was the town of Douma, controlled by the Saudi-funded Jaish al Islam. Negotiations were prolonged because Jaish al Islam did not want to go to Idlib, which is dominated by another militant opposition group, Jabhat al Nusra also known as Hayat Tahrir al Sham. It is the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria.

The Chemical Incident

On Saturday, April 7, video and stories claiming a chemical weapons attack in Douma were broadcast. The video showed dozens of dead children. On Sunday the story grabbed western mainstream media headlines. U.S. President Trump quickly came to a conclusion: “President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay”.

There has been no objective investigation. The media claims are based on statements and videos from members of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and the White Helmets. Both organizations receive significant funding from the US government and are not neutral as aid organizations should be. They both call for Western intervention in Syria.

Chemical weapons have emerged as the quick and easy justification for aggression. One year ago, in April 2017, it was the incident at Khan Sheikhoun. That resulted in a US attack on a Syrian air base just days later. As reported here by Consortium News‘ late founder, Robert Parry, the subsequent investigation discovered that dozens of victims had shown up in hospitals in diverse locations and up to 100 kms away from the scene of the crime before the event happened. Indicative of apparent bias by the investigators, this red flag pointing to fraud was not probed further. If it was just a few victims or just one location, it might be a mistake in time record-keeping. However in this case there were dozens of discrepancies in multiple locations, clearly raising the possibility of fraud.

Now we have the incident in Douma. The armed opposition is in retreat. They are losing the war and are desperate. They have tried since 2012 to pressure the U.S. and NATO to intervene directly on their side. The rebels have access to chemical weapons in East Ghouta and they have a motive. They also have thousands of prisoners. This group put hundreds of prisoners, primarily women and children, in cages on the streets of Douma.

Who Benefits?

The timing of the chemical weapons incidents is also noteworthy. As documented here, one year ago on March 30, 2017, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said U.S. policy was no longer focused on getting Assad out. Five days later the chemical incident at Khan Sheikhoun happened, followed quickly by blaming the Syrian government without evidence, then the U.S. attack on a Syrian air base and a then restoration of the demand that “Assad must go.”

On March 29 this year, Trump said that U.S. forces will withdraw from Syria “very soon.” This was followed by outcries from the media and political establishment. Once again, following Saturday’s incident, the U.S. is again threatening to intervene. The chemical weapons incidents have consistently resulted in the reversal of a proposed change in hostility toward Syria.

Neoconservatives and the supporters of ‘regime change’ foreign policy have various theories why the Assad government would perpetrate a chemical weapons attack. Senator John McCain says the Syrian President was “emboldened” by Trump’s call to withdraw. Juan Cole, an academic who promoted the assaults on Libya in 2011, has a different theory. He says “Chemical weapons are used by desperate regimes that are either outnumbered by the enemy or are reluctant to take casualties in their militaries. Barrel-bombing Douma with chem seems to have appealed to the regime as a tactic for this reason. It had potential of frightening the Douma population into deserting the Army of Islam.”

In contrast with his theory, chemical weapons were used extensively by the U.S. in Vietnam and Iraq when they were far from desperate. As evidenced in the flow of civilians into government held areas, most of the civilian population are happy to get away from the sectarian and violent Army of Islam (“Jaish al Islam”). Cole seems to be basing his theories on inaccurate western media coverage just as he did regarding Libya where sensational claims about a looming massacre in Benghazi were later shown to be fraudulent.

It’s clear who benefits from sensational media coverage about a chemical weapons incident: those who seek to want the U.S. to intervene militarily. Every time there is an incident, and well before an investigation has even begun, it is seized on by governments and organizations who’ve sought regime change in Syria since the start of the war, and perhaps even earlier.

Manipulating Public Opinion

The manipulation of western opinion about the Syrian conflict using fake events is not theory; it has been proven. A good example is the fake kidnapping of NBC reporter Richard Engel in December 2012. Engel and his media team were reportedly kidnapped and

threatened with death by “shabiha” supporters of the Syrian president. After days in captivity the American team was supposedly rescued by Free Syrian Army “rebels” after a shootout. In 2015 it was confirmed this was a hoax perpetrated by the FSA and their American supporters. The entire charade was carried out by the “rebels”. The goal was to demonize the Assad government and its supporters, and to romanticize and increase support for the armed opposition. Neither Engel nor NBC confessed to the reality until it was about to be exposed years later, pointing to duplicity and collusion in the deception.

Four and a half years ago, on August 21, 2013, the most famous chemical weapons incident occurred. The Syrian government was immediately accused of launching a sarin attack which killed hundreds of children and civilians. Over the next six months investigations were carried out. The conclusions of Seymour Hersh, Parry and the research site whoghouta.com concluded that the attack was almost certainly not from the government but actually from one of the ‘rebel’ factions with support from Turkish intelligence services. Two Turkish parliamentary deputies held a press conference and publicly revealed some of the evidence. The intent then, as now, was to provide justification and provocation for the US and NATO to bomb Syrian government installations.

The Drums are Pounding

Today there is the imminent possibility of a major attack based on the allegations of a clearly biased source, with international law and legal due process tossed aside. Why is violence being threatened before there is a serious, independent investigation of the chemical incident? If the accusations against Syria are true, why not let it be investigated, especially now that the area was liberated on Monday and safe access can be provided?

The drums of war are pounding. After over one year of incessant Russia bashing and disinformation, is the public ready to go to war with Russia over Syria? Neoconservative hawks and their Israeli and Saudi allies do not seem alarmed by this prospect. Their plans and predictions for Iraq, Libya and Yemen were delusional fantasies with the price paid in blood by the people of those countries and in treasure by Americans as well. Sadly, there has not been any accountability for the media and political establishment that promoted and launched those wars. Now they want to escalate the aggression by attacking Syria, causing vastly more blood to flow and risking confrontation with a country which can fight back.

Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He can be contacted at rsterling1@gmail.com




On Bolton’s First Day on the Job, a Look Back at Some of His Angry Outbursts

Today is John Bolton’s first day as national security adviser. Here Paul Pillar recalls the infamous temper that White House staff, and perhaps many regions of the world, may have in store.

By Paul R. Pillar

John Bolton has a glaring record of extreme and bombastic views and behavior.  First-hand recollections of that record include, for example, former State Department officer Greg Thielmann’s description of Bolton’s performance as one of the most enthusiastic promoters of the Iraq War.

The following passage from my 2011 book Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy describes how, even compared to other proponents of that disastrous expedition, Bolton was exceptionally heavy-handed in trying to crush opposing viewpoints and distort intelligence.  While reading it, think about how one of the most important functions of the job of national security adviser, to which Bolton has been appointed, is to ensure that the president receives all relevant options and insights and the best possible information before making policy decisions.

The most egregious recent instances of arm twisting arose in George W. Bush’s administration but did not involve Iraq. The twister was Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton, who pressured intelligence officers to endorse his views of other rogue states, especially Syria and Cuba.

Bolton wrote his own public statements on the issues and then tried to get intelligence officers to endorse them.  According to what later came to light when Bolton was nominated to become ambassador to the United Nations, the biggest altercation involved Bolton’s statements about Cuba’s allegedly pursuing a biological weapons program.

When the relevant analyst in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) refused to agree with Bolton’s language, the undersecretary summoned the analyst and scolded him in a red-faced, finger-waving rage.

The director of INR at the time, Carl Ford, told the congressional committee considering Bolton’s nomination that he had never before seen such abuse of a subordinate—and this comment came from someone who described himself as a conservative Republican who supported the Bush administration’s policies—an orientation I can verify, having testified alongside him in later appearances on Capitol Hill.

When Bolton’s angry tirade failed to get the INR analyst to cave, the undersecretary demanded that the analyst be removed.  Ford refused.  Bolton attempted similar pressure on the national intelligence officer for Latin America, who also inconveniently did not endorse Bolton’s views on Cuba.

Bolton came across the river one day to our National Intelligence Council offices and demanded to the council’s acting chairman that my Latin America colleague be removed.  Again, the demand was refused—a further example of how such ham-fisted attempts at pressure seldom succeed.

There was even more to the intimidation than has yet been made public, but I leave it to those directly targeted to tell the fuller story when they are free to do so.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




What Did Israel Bomb in the Syrian Desert in 2007?

Israel last month admitted that it was responsible for bombing a building in Syria in 2007 that it says was a nuclear reactor under construction but there are strong doubts about what the building was for, argues Ted Snider.

By Ted Snider

In September 2007, in the dark of night, warplanes crossed the Syrian border and bombed a covert nuclear reactor. Recently, Israel took responsibility for the bombing mission that obliterated the Syrian reactor.

The Israeli announcement was unnecessary if it was intended to be an admission of responsibility. The origin of the bombers had never been a mystery. As early as 2008, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh began a report on the bombing with the line “Sometime after midnight on September 6, 2007, at least four low-flying Israeli Air Force fighters crossed into Syrian airspace and carried out a secret bombing mission.” Even the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) report on the bombing said that the building had been “destroyed by Israel in September 2007.”

That the nuclear reactor was bombed by Israeli planes is clear. That the building the Israeli planes bombed was a nuclear reactor is far less clear.

The Nontechnical Questions

If Syria was building a nuclear weapons program, they were doing it entirely without the knowledge of the CIA. CIA Director Michael Hayden told President Bush that the CIA knew nothing about the Syrian reactor. That the CIA missed a secret nuclear program is not impossible to believe or even entirely unprecedented. What is more unbelievable is that they missed it when it was right out in the open. The Syrians made no attempt to conceal their biggest secret. The highly sophisticated U.S. satellites missed what a commercial satellite easily picked up.

It is hard to make sense of that. In fact, it is hard to make sense of a lot of nontechnical features of the Israeli story. Even to the layman with no technical knowledge of enrichment or nuclear reactors, a number of features made no sense. Hersh picked up on these nontechnical anomalies in his early investigative report of the strike, “A Strike in the Dark.” A former State Department intelligence expert told Hersh that many of the features that one would see around a nuclear reactor were missing from the site. There was not even any security around it.

Former senior IAEA inspector Robert Kelley expanded on this anomaly in a personal correspondence. He said there was “no security whatever: no fences, no guards, no perimeter road, no security on the river pump house, water lines run under a public highway.” A nearby agricultural desert water station pump house had more security, he told me. He called the lack of security “a pretty big deal.” So did Syria’s then U.S. ambassador, Imad Moustapha, who told a Washington press conference in 2008:

“An allegedly strategic site in Syria without a single military checkpoint around it, without barbed wire around it, without anti-aircraft missiles around it, without any sort of security surrounding it, thrown in the middle of the desert without electricity, plans to generate electricity for it, with out major supply plans around it? And yet, it is supposed to be a strategic installation? And people don’t even think of it. Yesterday, in the White House presidential statement, it was stated to the letter that that was a secret location. And yet, every commercial satellite service available on earth was able to provide photos and images of this so-called secret Syrian site for the past five, six years.”

There were other details that didn’t fit the Israeli narrative either. The nuclear reactor was supposed to be based on a North Korean design, and North Korea was cast as a key player in the construction of the clandestine nuclear reactor. A North Korean ship called the Al Hamed attracted a lot of the spotlight. It was claimed to have brought the Syrians nuclear equipment from North Korea. But, the problem was that, in his investigation, Hersh found that neither maritime intelligence nor the ship’s transponder gave any indication that the Al Hamadhad recently docked in North Korea.

At least two people I spoke to were also struck by the absence of people and the lack of activity at the site. You need a program, one person told me. You need bureaucratic support. Building a nuclear reactor is a huge project. Kelley says “there were very few workers as in there are no busses and just a few motorcycles. That is a pretty big clue this is not a big deal. About to start up a super critical facility? No workers?”

Pursuing a different line of nontechnical questioning, one person I spoke to asked why, when war broke out in Syria, and America accused Assad and Syria, of everything from chemical weapons to barrel bombs, why did it never return to the illegal nuclear weapons program if it had real evidence that it had had one?

But, perhaps the most telling thing is not that the CIA missed what was out in the open for commercial satellites to pick up, not that they didn’t “have any proof of a reactor – no signals intelligence, no human intelligence, no satellite intelligence,” as a former senior US intelligence official who had access to the current intelligence told Hersh. What is, perhaps, more telling is that when they were provided with the intelligence, despite signing on to the Israeli narrative, they actually assessed only “low confidence” that the targeted site was part of a Syrian nuclear weapons program. And they weren’t the only ones. Mohamed ElBaradei, then director-general of the IAEA, said that their “experts who have carefully analyzed the satellite imagery say it is unlikely that this building was a nuclear facility.”

The IAEA Verdict

Despite the inconsistencies and the low confidence, by May 2011, the IAEA had rendered a verdict, repeated in their September 2014 report, that “based on all the information available to the Agency and its technical evaluation of that information, it was very likely that the building destroyed at the Dair Alzour site was a nuclear reactor which should have been declared to the Agency.” The Background section of the report informs that the information they had been provided with alleges that the bombed building was “a nuclear reactor that was not yet operational and into which no nuclear material had been introduced.”

But if the IAEA verdict is correct, why did Israel cross into Syrian air space and bomb the building in what was almost certainly an act of war? Joseph Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund and a leading expert on nuclear weapons, told me that he has no reason to doubt the IAEA’s verdict. But, he said, their verdict was only that it was “an unfueled nuclear reactor under construction,” and that, he said, is “only an initial step” “towards Syria developing a nuclear weapons capability.” Cirincione told me that “there was no imminent risk; no justification of an illegal Israeli attack” because Syria was still “a very long way from assembling the technical, industrial and financial capabilities needed to support a nuclear weapons program.” He said that, at this point in Syria’s development of a nuclear weapons program, the “matter should have been brought to the United Nations, not the Israeli Defense Force.”

The Technical Questions

But there were also reasons to doubt the IAEA’s verdict. More problematic for the Israeli-American-IAEA story than the nontechnical questions were a host of technical questions. There were three topics of technical questions.

The Photographs

The first was the photographs provided by Israel’s Mossad. There were two problems with the photographic evidence. The first was that Hayden never asked the Israelis how they got the photographs even though the CIA Director knew that at least one of the photographs had been photo-shopped to make the case more convincing, as investigative journalist Gareth Porter reports. The second was that the CIA was provided a bunch of photographs from inside a potential nuclear reactor and a bunch of photographs of the outside of the targeted building in Syria, but “nothing that links the two,” as former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter has pointed out. The former were potentially of a nuclear reactor, but were the latter?

The Bombed Building

The second set of technical problems involves the building itself. The first is that the building is the wrong size. The weight of the claim that the Syrian building was a nuclear reactor rests on the Israeli-CIA insistence that the building looks like the North Korean reactor at Yongbyon upon which they claim it was modeled. It is a type of reactor known as a gas-cooled graphite-moderated (GCGM) reactor. If it looks enough like that nuclear reactor, it could be a nuclear reactor; if it doesn’t, it wasn’t. But it doesn’t: the Syrian building didn’t fit the blueprint. Hersh pointed out this crucial inconsistency early. He says that nonproliferation expert Jeffrey Lewis told him that “even if the width and the length of the building were similar to the Korean site, its height was simply not sufficient to contain a Yongbyon-size reactor.”

Porter’s later investigation confirmed the contradiction. Porter relied on Yousry Abushady, the top IAEA specialist on North Korean reactors. Abushady knew GCGM reactors better than anyone at the IAEA, and “the evidence he saw in the video convinced him,” Porter reports, “that no such reactor could have been under construction” in Syria. And the first reason, again, according to Abushady was “that the building was too short to hold a reactor like the one in Yongbyon, North Korea.” According to Abushady the building bombed in Syria was only “a little more than a third as tall” as the supposed North Korean archetype.

But there were other problems. The North Korean reactor required at least twenty supporting buildings, but the Syrian site had few or none even though Israeli intelligence insisted that it was only a few months from being ready to operate. The reactor was supposed to be a gas-cooled reactor, but there was nothing in place to cool the gas: there was no cooling tower. Porter reports that Robert Kelley also pointed to a lack of facility for treating the water in the imaging. That means the water arriving in the reactor would be full of “debris and silt.” Kelley has said elsewhere that “the IAEA’s analysis of the water linesthat purportedly would in the future have supplied cooling water to the bombed building ignored a number of relevant features.” Kelley told me there was no support for fuel fabrication of reprocessing. There was also no building for a spent fuel pond. But, Abushady says that every GCGM reactor ever built has a separate building to house the spent fuel pond. Building after building is missing from the imaging, but the nuclear reactor was supposed to be on the verge of going operational.

The Environment

But the most serious problem is the third: the environmental inconsistencies: there were three damning environmental inconsistencies: the first had to do with barite, the second with uranium and the third with graphite.

The IAEA says that Syria purchased “large quantities” of barite, which can be used, amongst other uses, to “improve radiation shielding properties of concrete.” Since the IAEA did not believe that Syria sought the barite for use in rooms in hospitals that use radiation, it said that it “cannot exclude the possibility” that the barite was intended for use in the nuclear reactor. But Ritter says that the imagery of the site makes it clear that the “shield” would already have been in place. That means that the barite would already be there. In fact, he says, nearly 2,000 tons of it would be there. So, when the building was bombed, barite would have been scattered all over the site. But sensitive environmental sampling revealed none. Robert Kelley says that “none of the concrete samples analyzed . . . contain any barite”: a fact that he says that the IAEA analysis conveniently “failed to report”. Ritter concludes that “The lack of Barite, especially when logic dictates its presence if the [Syrian] facility was in fact nuclear related, is a strong indicator that there was no nuclear function, especially that associated with the operation of a nuclear reactor. . . .”

The second crucial ingredient missing was uranium. If the bombed Syrian building was a nuclear reactor, there should have been uranium in the environmental samples the IAEA took. But there wasn’t. Mohamed ElBaradei said that “so far, we have found no indication of any nuclear material.” Every sample that was actually taken from the ground in the area of the Syrian building tested negative for uranium and plutonium.

Gareth Porter says that “Tariq Rauf who headed the IAEA’s Verification and Security Policy Coordination Office until 2011, has pointed out that one of the IAEA protocols applicable to these environmental samples is that “the results from all three or four labs to have analyzed the sample must match to give a positive or negative finding on the presence and isotopics or uranium and/or plutonium.” And they did: they all gave a negative finding. There was no uranium at the Syrian site.

Strangely, though, Porter reports, uranium was found in an additional sample that was taken in violation of IAEA protocol. That anomalous result was used as evidence that a nuclear reactor had sat on that land. But, that sample was problematic. Why did it disagree with the protocol compliant samples the IAEA had taken?

Every sample taken from the ground around the bombed building had tested negative for uranium. But, the positive sample wasn’t taken from the ground around the building. It was taken from a “toilet” or, according to David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security, from “a changing room in a building associated with the reactor.” But why did the sample from inside the changeroom analyze positive for uranium?

The Syrians say the uranium came from the bombs the Israelis dropped on the site. The IAEA has rejected this explanation as having a low probability. But, Ritter says that the penetration bombs likely used by Israel could well have had uranium in them. He says that bombs dropped by the US in Kosovo led to the detection of uranium. Kelley agrees. He says that the IAEA assumed that the uranium in the bombs would have to be depleted uranium, and, since the uranium they found was not depleted, they said the uranium they found could not have been introduced by Israeli bombs. “But,” Kelley has argued, “that assumption and the conclusion that followed it are incorrect. They fail to take account of the fact that natural uranium, of which Israel has an abundance based on what is known about its nuclear program, can be used as a strong nose in an earth-penetrating bomb (of the kind that was used at Dair Alzour) with precisely the same effectiveness as depleted uranium.” Kelley goes on to say that the uranium that would be detected from such earth-penetrating bombs “would be similar to those found” in Syria. Kelley told me that the scientific reasoning the IAEA used was “kindergarten nonsense.” Intriguingly, Ritter says that “through its admitted morphology studies” on the uranium collected, the IAEA could answer questions about the source of the uranium. He says that “The fact that the IAEA is withholding the specific properties of the anthropogenic nuclear particles . . . suggests that this issue is being used more for political purposes than scientific.”

Kelley, who was still with the IAEA at this time, told me that the IAEA handling of the uranium question was “embarrassing.” Stories had surfaced that there may have been traces of uranium found in Lebanon from Israeli earth-penetrating bombs. When “Israel began dropping earth penetrators in Gaza,” Kelley says he “went to IAEA management and suggested we get samples.” But, he told me that the IAEA refused. “So an opportunity to compare samples from three sites, Lebanon, [Syria] and Gaza passed.” And with it passed the opportunity to resolve the Syrian claim that uranium could have been left by Israeli bombs.

Ritter also says the uranium could have been “brought in by the IAEA inspectors, . . . suggesting the presence . . . of cross-contaminated equipment.” That might explain why uranium was found only inside the one site and not outside on the ground all around. And, that, Robert Kelley says, is exactly what probably happened.

In a comment he made on a previous article of mine, Kelley said “the IAEA samples were almost certainly cross-contaminated.” He told Gareth Porter a lot more. Kelley told Porter that a “very likely explanation” is that the uranium found in the change room was the result of “cross contamination” from the IAEA inspector’s clothing. According to Kelley, the Syrian case would not be exceptional: this type of cross contamination had occurred a number of times before, including in Iraq.

But the barite and the uranium were not even the biggest problem. The biggest environmental inconsistency came not from testing for barite or uranium but for graphite. After all, the Syrian site was supposed to be a gas-cooled graphite-moderated reactor. If it was, then when the building exploded, it should have sent graphite everywhere, according to former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter. Ritter says there would have been thousands of pounds of graphite in the facility already. But, he says, “there’s no evidence in the destruction. . . . If it had been bombed and there was graphite introduced, you would have a signature all over the area of destroyed graphite blocks. There would be graphite lying around, etc. This was not the case.” According to Porter, this inconsistency is what bothered Abushady the most too. He says the bombing of the reactor “would have spread particles of nuclear-grade graphite all over the site.” But none of the samples taken by the IAEA showed even a trace of graphite: graphite that would have to be there and that “would have been impossible to clean it up,” as nuclear expert Behrd Nakhai told Porter. Abushady says that “these results are the basis to confirm . . . that the site cannot [have been] actually a nuclear reactor.”

It is presumably because of the lack of uranium and graphite in the sampling that the IAEA said that “based on all the information available to the Agency and its technical evaluation of that information, it was very likely that the building destroyed . . . was a nuclear reactor” but that it was a reactor that “was not yet operational and into which no nuclear material had been introduced.”

But there are two seemingly damning problems that seem to finally refute the Israeli-American-IAEA charge against Syria. The claim, presumably, is that there was no graphite in the environmental sampling because the nuclear reactor was not yet operational. But Scott Ritter told me in a recent correspondence that

“The graphite is an integral part of the reactor that would need to be in place prior to any nuclear material being inserted. According to the Israeli-provided images, the construction stage was pre-concrete pour, meaning graphite columns would logically be in place. Even if the graphite hadn’t been installed, it should have been present at the site awaiting installation given the alleged advance state of construction. Of course, the Israeli provided images could have been falsified, in which case no graphite would have been present. . . .”

Graphite bricks and tiles would have been part of the core structure of the building if it was a nuclear reactor. Ritter says there would have been about 30,000 bricks containing around 325 tons of graphite. If a building incorporating such bricks blew up, there would be graphite everywhere. There wasn’t. So, the nonoperational solution wilts.

So does the “into which no nuclear material had been introduced” solution. Saying that no nuclear material had yet been introduced was presumably supposed to make sense of the failure to find uranium in the environmental analyses. But rather than throwing a problematic result back at the Syrians, it only placed the problem right back in the Israeli-American-IAEA narrative. What is not given enough attention – and maybe even none – is that if no nuclear material had been introduced to the Syrian site, there should have been no uranium found in the additional sample taken outside of protocol from the inside of the change room of the associated building. If there was uranium brought into the change room before the Syrians had brought uranium into the site, then that means it was brought in by the inspectors who found it or from some other non-Syrian source. The anomalous uranium must have been the result of cross contamination.

And that, it seems, leaves little evidence of a nuclear reactor in the middle of the Syrian desert. No uranium, no barite and not even any of the graphite that a graphite-moderated reactor would have to be made of. Only a square building that doesn’t even look like the building whose resemblance is supposed to prove that the Israelis bombed a Syrian nuclear reactor in the dark of night in September 2007.

Ted Snider writes on analyzing patterns in U.S. foreign policy and history. [This article originally appeared at Antiwar.com. Reprinted with permission.]




None of This Month’s Craziest Nuclear Stories Involved North Korea

With the North Korea nuclear standoff still making headlines, other nuclear-related stories – including those involving Saudi Arabia, Israel and Syria – have largely gone unnoticed, Ted Snider explains.

By Ted Snider

The past week featured two crazy nuclear stories. And neither of them involved North Korea.

Saudi Arabia

The first involved Saudi Arabia. Although this highly significant story passed almost uncovered by the media, White House officials confirmed that talks between President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “included critical discussions” about Saudi Arabia’s “nuclear aspirations.” Apparently, talks between Energy Secretary Rick Perry and the Saudis have been going on quietly for some time.

The crazy part isn’t that Saudi Arabia aspires to a nuclear program. Article IV of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty guarantees every country the right to a civilian nuclear program for energy and medical purposes. The crazy part also isn’t Saudi Arabia’s insistence that it would be allowed to enrich its own uranium: the same article promises that right.

The crazy part is that while Trump was continuing “to engage with our Saudi partners on their plans for a civil nuclear program and possible US supply of nuclear equipment and material,” the Crown Prince was simultaneously openly declaring Saudi Arabia’s willingness to use that aid to build a nuclear bomb. Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, told a CBC interview that “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we would follow suit as soon as possible.”

The Saudi cabinet recently passed a national policy program that limits nuclear activities to peaceful purposes. However, MBS’s open declaration shows the fragility and flexibility of that cabinet promise.

The danger in MBS’s declaration is not in the way it is formulated. It is formulated as a conditional: if Iran builds a nuclear bomb, Saudi Arabia will build a bomb. The conditional holds no danger because Iran is not building a bomb, as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly certified since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear agreement went into effect.

But there is danger in the declaration. Firstly, because Saudi Arabia claims the right to define its own terms of breaking out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. MBS’s logic makes it clear that Saudi Arabia’s nuclear program could bleed from civilian to military if it feels threatened by an enemy of its choosing. Perhaps Iran is not building a bomb. But, what if Saudi Arabia should identify Pakistan or Israel as a threat? By the Crown Prince’s logic, that would justify using America’s “nuclear equipment and material” to build a nuclear bomb.

Secondly, the conditional takes advantage of a special American-Israeli-Saudi logic that is different than the logic found in text books. Iran never had to actually be building a bomb to suffer the sanctions and isolation of the claim that it was building a bomb. The Saudi logic, therefore, is not If Iran builds a bomb, we will build a bomb; Iran is building a bomb; therefore, we will build a bomb. Rather, it is the special and dangerous logic that if Iran builds a bomb, we will build a bomb; we claim Iran is building a bomb; therefore, we will build a bomb. In other words, the conditional justifies the breakout to nuclear weapons at any time of Saudi Arabia’s choosing.

And those are the terms under which Trump is discussing a Saudi nuclear program with Mohammed bin Salman.

Israel and Syria

The second crazy nuclear story was Israel’s announcement that it was Israel that bombed the Syrian nuclear reactor in September of 2007.

There are two parts that are crazy about the Israeli announcement. The first is that everyone always knew it was Israel who bombed the nuclear reactor. Seymour Hersh’s 2008 article that came quickly in the wake of the strike began with the words, “Sometime after midnight on September 6, 2007, at least four low-flying Israeli Air Force fighters crossed into Syrian airspace and carried out a secret bombing mission.”

The second is that it almost certainly wasn’t a nuclear reactor.

If Syria was building a nuclear reactor, Michael Hayden’s CIA knew nothing about it. And he told that to President Bush. That the CIA missed a secret nuclear program is not impossible to believe or even entirely unprecedented. What is more unbelievable is that they missed it when it was right out in the open, that their highly sophisticated satellites missed what a commercial satellite easily picked up.

A number of nontechnical features just didn’t fit the Israeli story. Seymour Hersh picked this up in his early investigative reporting of the strike, “A Strike in the Dark.” A former State Department intelligence expert told Hersh that much that one would see around a nuclear reactor was missing from the site. There was not even any security around it. Syria’s then ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha marveled at the same point. He wondered:

“An allegedly strategic site in Syria without a single military checkpoint around it, without barbed wire around it, without anti-aircraft missiles around it, without any sort of security surrounding it, thrown in the middle of the desert without electricity, plans to generate electricity for it, without major supply plans around it? And yet, it is supposed to be a strategic installation? And people don’t even think of it. Yesterday, in the White House presidential statement, it was stated to the letter that that was a secret location. And yet, every commercial satellite service available on earth was able to provide photos and images of this so-called secret Syrian site for the past five, six years.”

Other facts didn’t fit the Israeli narrative either. North Korean was said to have been a key helper in the construction of the secret reactor. A North Korean ship, the Al Hamed, was said by the Israelis to have delivered nuclear equipment for the reactor. But Hersh’s investigation found that neither maritime intelligence nor the ship’s transponder gave any indication that the Al Hamad had recently docked in North Korea.

But, perhaps the most telling thing is not that the CIA missed what was out in the open for commercial satellites to pick up, not that they didn’t “have any proof of a reactor – no signals intelligence, no human intelligence, no satellite intelligence,” as a former senior U.S. intelligence official who had access to the current intelligence told Hersh. What is, perhaps, more telling is that when they were provided with the intelligence, despite signing on to the Israeli narrative, they actually assessed only “low confidence” that targeted site was part of a Syrian nuclear weapons program. And they weren’t the only ones. Mohamed ElBaradei, then director-general of the IAEA, said that their “experts who have carefully analyzed the satellite imagery say it is unlikely that this building was a nuclear facility.”

The problem was that the technical questions were even bigger than these nontechnical questions. There were three topics of technical questions.

The first was the photos provided by Israel’s Mossad. There were two problems with the photographic evidence. The first was that Hayden never asked the Israelis how they got the photographs even though the CIA Director knew that at least one of the photographs had been photo-shopped to make the case more convincing, as investigative journalist Gareth Porter has reported. The second was that the CIA was provided a bunch of photographs from inside a potential nuclear reactor and a bunch of photographs of the outside of the targeted building in Syria, but “nothing that links the two,” as former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter has pointed out.

The second set of technical problems involves the building itself. The first was that the building was the wrong size. The Israelis and the CIA claimed that the Syrian nuclear reactor was modeled on the North Korean reactor at Yongbyon. It is a type of reactor known as a gas-cooled graphite-moderated (GCGM) reactor. But the Syrian reactor didn’t fit the blueprint. Hersh pointed out this inconsistency early. He says that non-proliferation expert Jeffrey Lewis told him that “even if the width and the length of the building were similar to the Korean site, its height was simply not sufficient to contain a Yongbyon-size reactor.”

Gareth Porter’s later investigation confirmed the contradiction. Porter relied on Yousry Abushady, the top IAEA specialist on North Korean reactors. Abushady knew GCGM reactors better than anyone at the IAEA, and “the evidence he saw in the video convinced him,” Porter reports, “that no such reactor could have been under construction” in Syria. And the first reason, again, according to Abushady was “that the building was too short to hold a reactor like the one in Yongbyon, North Korea.” According to Abushady the building bombed in Syria was only “a little more than a third as tall” as the supposed North Korean archetype.

But there were other problems. The North Korean reactor required at least 20 supporting buildings, but the Syrian site had not one even though Israeli intelligence insisted that it was only a few months from being ready to operate. The reactor was supposed to be a gas-cooled reactor, but there was nothing in place to cool the gas.

Porter reports that former senior IAEA inspector Robert Kelley also pointed to a lack of facility for treating the water in the imaging. There was also no building for a spent fuel pond. However, Abushady says that every GCGM reactor ever built has a separate building to house the spent fuel pond. Building after building is missing from the imaging, but the nuclear reactor was supposed to be on the verge of going operational.

The most serious set of problems is the third: the environmental inconsistencies. There were two damning environmental inconsistencies – the first to do with uranium and the second to do with graphite.

If the bombed Syrian building was a nuclear reactor, there should have been uranium in the environmental samples the IAEA took. But there wasn’t. Mohamed ElBaradei said that “so far, we have found no indication of any nuclear material.” Every sample that was actually taken from the ground in the area of the Syrian building tested negative for uranium and plutonium. That’s a problem for the Israeli narrative.

But, it wasn’t even the biggest problem. The biggest environmental inconsistency came not from testing for uranium but for graphite. After all, the Syrian site was supposed to be a gas-cooled graphite-moderated reactor. If it was, then when the building exploded, it should have sent graphite everywhere, according to Scott Ritter.

Ritter says there would have been thousands of pounds of graphite in the facility already. But, he says, “there’s no evidence in the destruction. … If it had been bombed and there was graphite introduced, you would have a signature all over the area of destroyed graphite blocks. There would be graphite lying around, etc. This was not the case.”

According to Porter, this inconsistency is what bothered Abushady the most too. He says the bombing of the reactor “would have spread particles of nuclear-grade graphite all over the site.” But none of the samples taken by the IAEA showed even a trace of graphite: graphite that would have to be there and that “would have been impossible to clean it up,” as nuclear expert Behrd Nakhai told Porter. Abushady says that “these results are the basis to confirm … that the site cannot [have been] actually a nuclear reactor.”

So, North Korea did not even feature in the craziest nuclear stories of the past few days. The craziest stories featured Saudi Arabia and the States and Israel and Syria: the nuclear weapons program that the Saudis could have and the one the Syrians never did.

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history. This article originally appeared at Antiwar.com. Reprinted with permission.