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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Dr. Postol's "correction" shows he still needs Reading Comprehension 101

Doctor Theodore A. Postol, Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology issued a "correction" yesterday. This correction didn't explain the apparent contradiction between his earlier theory that jihadist terrorists set off a chemical pipe-bomb in the street and his current support for claims by the Russians and the regime that they bombed a terrorist arms depot that stored chemical weapons. Nor did he resolve the contradiction between his identification of video uploaded at 7:59am as true images of the attack and the Russian/regime claims that the attack took place around 11:30am. This "correction" only addressed the weakest of his arguments, which was based on a misreading of the French report, Chemical Attack in Syria - National Evaluation presented by Jean-Marc Ayrault following the Defense Council Meeting (26 April 2017). As I wrote in Friday's blog post:

He is so confused in his haste to respond. He probably didn't take the time to read it twice before he added, with his empathise:
The French Report instead claims that there were at least three munitions dropped from helicopters in the town of Saraqib, more than 30 miles north of the alleged sarin release crater identified by the WHR.

The WHR claims that a fixed wing aircraft was the originator of the airdropped munition at the alleged dispersal site. The French Intelligence Report alleges that a helicopter was used to drop sarin loaded grenades at three different locations in Saraqib.

Both reports cannot simultaneously be true.
Actually they can. The French were talking about an attack on Saraqib that took place 29 April 2013. In that attack, the Assad regime dropped sarin grenades from a helicopter. One of the grenades failed to explode and was recovered. The French were able to compare that sarin with the sarin used on Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017, almost 4 years later. This is how the French intelligence report referenced the attack on Saraqi.

Elliot Higgins commented on Postol's confusion too. The ridicule on social media was at once merciless and well-deserved. He had to do something. I ended my post by saying this isn't rocket science, it's reading comprehension 101.

Now in reading his "correction," I am forced to the conclusion that one of us still has some basic issues with reading comprehension, and I don't think it's the guy who never even went to M.I.T.
He begins his "correction" with this rather lame excuse:
In my effort to understand the exotic claims of the French Intelligence Report (FIR) I missed that the report was in fact focused on an event that occurred not on April 4, 2017 but instead on April 29, 2013.
Now, one of us is not reading it right, because I thought it said:
Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, spoke following the restricted meeting of the Defense Council at the Elysée on April 26. He presented the national evaluation providing evidence of the use of sarin gas and the Syrian regime’s responsibility in the chemical attack carried out in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4.
You can see it in big letters on the report's landing page. At least, I'm not alone in thinking this report is focused on events in Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017:

In the critique of the French Report he is now correcting, Dr. Postol said that, the way he read it, it sounded like the French were describing another attack entirely. I am beginning to feel like he is reading another French Intelligence Report entirely. In his "correction," he goes on to say this about it:
It does not report on the details of the attack on April 4 but instead focuses on past attacks which it alleges leads to a strong conclusion that the Syrian government was the perpetrator of the April 4 attack.
I turn to the report, and I see:
1. – Technical analysis of the chemical attack on 4 April

a) France has deployed the required resources to obtain its own samples from the alleged sarin attack on 4 April 2017 in Idlib Governorate.

b) The analyses carried out by French experts on the environmental samples collected at one of the impact points of the chemical attack at Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017 reveal the presence of sarin, of a specific secondary product (diisopropylmethylphosphonate – DIMP) formed during synthesis of sarin from isopropanol and DF (methylphosphonyl difluoride), and hexamine. Analysis of biomedical samples also shows that a victim of the Khan Sheikhoun attack, a sample of whose blood was taken in Syria on the very day of the attack, was exposed to sarin. France therefore independently and categorically confirms that sarin was used on 4 April. The United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey and the Director-General of the OPCW have also established that sarin was employed on the basis of analysis of biomedical samples.

c) According to the intelligence obtained by the French services, the process of synthesizing sarin, developed by the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) and employed by the Syrian armed forces and security services, involves the use of hexamine as a stabilizer. DIMP is also known as a by-product generated by this process.
Then it goes on for a couple of pages of what I would call "details," and it does briefly talk about the 29 April 2013 sarin attack in Saraqib because that is where they got the Syrian sarin to match with the Khan Sheikhoun samples, but that is far from making it the focus of the paper. Then it moves on to:
2. – Militarily analysis of the tactical situation around 4 April 2017

a) The 4 April attack came after the Syrian armed forces and security services and their supporters launched a counter-offensive in the sector of Hama, responding to the progress of armed groups and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham in the north of Hama since 22 March. On 23 March, Syrian elite forces, the Qawat Al-Nimr, along with Hezbollah and the Iranian Quds Force, were redeployed to the area. Syrian and Russian air support has also been focused on this sector. On 2 April, the Syrian armed forces and security services and their supporters pushed back the front line, although Damascus failed to fully win back the territory captured by the armed groups in March. Since then, the regime has largely regained territory in the Hama sector and continues to pressure the opposition: further conventional bombing has been observed in the Hama region.

b) The French services are aware in particular of a Sukhoi Su-22 bomber which took off from the Shayrat Airbase on the morning of 4 April and launched up to six strikes around Khan Sheikhoun.

And that goes on, and then there is another section on the capabilities of armed groups in the area, and a fourth section about the continuation of a clandestine Syrian chemical weapons programme. So in my reading of it, I thought it was entirely focused on the Khan Sheikhoun sarin attack of 4 April 2017, and had quite a few details about the attack. I don't see how there can be any confusion about that. So, I think the good doctor still could use a little help with Reading Comprehension 101.

Also related:
Please Re-Tweet as Ted Postol beats a hasty retreat
Noam Chomsky on Democracy Now says Assad now best for Syria
Sincerely yours, Theodore A. Postol
A valuable admission: Russia controls Syria & Putin runs the war
Why is Russia Today attacking Rep. Maxine Waters?

Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

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Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria
Click here for a list of my other blogs on Libya


  1. Question: how do we know that the "control sample" from the "29 April 2013 sarin attack in Saraqib" came from the SAA sarin stockpiles and not from "those" of the so-called rebels? How do we establish the 'fact' that both 'samples' from both attacks are, as you put it, "Syrian sarin?"

    1. According to the French report, they know that the sarin came from helicopters and only the SAA flies them over Idlib. The sarin from East Ghouta has also been chemically matched to the sarin Assad turned over in the UN deal.

      Since there has never been a single case of either the rebels or the jihadists using sarin against Assad forces, and since sarin can only be made in building size labs fitted with millions of dollars of specialized equipment, the particular conspiracy theory you are barking up involves somebody having gone through all the trouble to acquire sarin, used it against their own people in 2013, stored it for 4 years without ever using it in battle, to use against their own people again in 2017.

      Sure, right..