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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Seymour Hersh's Believe It or Don't

Repetition is at the heart of the Assad-Putin propaganda method, what might also be called the RT method. It is widely supported by the "non-(NATO) interventionist" Left. You make up a lie and you keep repeating it. Lack of proof is not an obstacle, just keep repeating it. Anonymous sources won't impeach its credibility as long as you keep repeating it. Even after it has clearly been disproven, you pay that no nevermind and you keep repeating it. So given how thoroughly he has embraced this method, it should surprise no one that the latest offering from Seymour Hersh, The Red Line and the Rat Line, London Review of Books, 6 April 2014, is essentially a rehash of his earlier LRB piece, Whose Sarin?, in which he first marshalled out his collected conspiracy theories about how Assad's opposition gassed themselves and Obama knew it. I responded to that at the time with Whose Seymour Hersh?, and since I have already refuted Hersh's arguments in that and other pieces, it now seems that I too will have to repeat myself, so please bear with me.

Seymour Hersh brings no new evidence to the table in his new piece, in fact the main thing new is his focus on Turkey as the "bad guy", a theme that is very topical with the Assad propaganda crowd these days, as can be seen from the #SaveKessab campaign.

Seymour Herst's Question has been Answered

The question he made the title of that earlier piece has since been answered definitively by the United Nation on 5 March 2014 in the 7th report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. On page 19, it says:
The evidence available concerning the nature, quality and quantity of the agents used on 21 August indicated that the perpetrators likely had access to the chemical weapons stockpile of the Syrian military, as well as the expertise and equipment necessary to manipulate safely large amount of chemical agents.
That is a very definitive answer to Hersh's question "Whose sarin?", and from a very authoritative body. That is an answer to which one would think that Sy Hersh must respond to in any subsequent attempt to push his thesis that Assad is innocent and the 21 August sarin attacks in Damascus were the result of rebels using home-made sarin and home-made rockets. So how does he deal with this UN declaration?

Did I mention that ignoring inconvenient facts is another tenet of the Assad-Putin school of propaganda? So nevermind about that. Sy Hersh neither acknowledges nor responds to this UN report. He has his own source, "the [anonymous] former intelligence official." 

In fact, practically everything in this article is based on the word of this anonymous ex-agent, "the former intelligence official", a phrase he uses an astounding 31 times in this 5858 word article. All of Hersh's other sources are just as anonymous and unverifiable, like "a US intelligence consultant", "an American foreign policy expert", "a former US official","a senior Turkish diplomat", etc. None of his sources have names.

Almost none of Hersh's claims can be independently verified because they are secrets that reference unpublished secret papers that few have seen. For example, we are told to trust information from an anonymous Russian source because "the former intelligence official" tells us he is "a good source – someone with access, knowledge and a record of being trustworthy." This only works if you trust Sy Hersh about the trustworthiness of "the former intelligence official" and you trust "the former intelligence official's" judgement about the Russian chap. In short, this article rest entirely on your trust in Seymour Hersh. We are given no way to fact check what he is telling us.

The Former Intelligence Official

Since so much is this article depends on the word of "the former intelligence official," what do we know about him? Sy Hersh tell us a lot just from what he knows about a lot of matters generally kept secret. 

"the former intelligence official":
  • Knows what "many in the US national security establishment" are thinking
  • Knows "White House rejected 35 target sets provided by the joint chiefs of staff"
  • Knew "Every day the target list was getting longer,"
  • Knew "the president had given the Joint Chiefs a fixed deadline for the launch"
  • Knew what a "Russian military intelligence operative" was passing on to "British military intelligence"
  • Knows what US Intel knows and doesn't know about "which batches [of Soviet-manufactured chemical weapons] the Assad government currently had in its arsenal"
  • Knows that in "studies done by Western intelligence" in the spring, "The word “sarin” didn’t come up." -- this is a remarkable statement because it implies that "the former intelligence official" has a comprehensive knowledge of all such "studies done by Western intelligence" and since no such studies are cited or linked to, we have to assume most are secret or classified.
  • Knows what "the Syrian opposition clearly had learned"
  • Knew what "the consulate’s only mission was" in Benghazi
  • Knew that "the joint chiefs had been sceptical of the administration’s argument" and opposed the attack because they thought it "would be an unjustified act of aggression" [Where was this 'moral' joint chiefs of Hersh's imagination from Vietnam through Iraq?]
  • Knew how "The president’s decision to go to Congress was initially seen by senior aides in the White House"
  • Knew what "The joint chiefs asked the White House"
In looking at the extraordinary range of closely-held material coming from Seymour Hersh's "former intelligence official" we have to conclude he is someone with extremely high level access. What could be more secret than the traffic between the president and his military command? And yet Hersh's "former intelligence official" is all up in their business. He knows what's going on inside the White House and he knows the technical details of a number of countries' chemical weapons facilities. Sy Hersh has himself a real master spy here. Imagine what his access would be worth to foreign governments? But what does it mean that he is a "former intelligence official"? We aren't talking "Burn Notice" here, are we? Because then he wouldn't have all that fabulous access.

APAP Rule #1: Don't let facts get in the way

Other Assad/Putin AgitProp questions are raised by Sy Hersh's other unnamed sources, for example Sy Hersh says:
A person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria told me that there was evidence linking the Syrian opposition to the first gas attack, on 19 March in Khan Al-Assal, a village near Aleppo. In its final report in December, the mission said that at least 19 civilians and one Syrian soldier were among the fatalities, along with scores of injured. It had no mandate to assign responsibility for the attack, but the person with knowledge of the UN’s activities said: ‘Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.’
Could that "person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria" be Carla Del Ponte? If so, there are very good reasons why Hersh might want to keep her identity a secret. Carla Del Ponte has a long and chequered career as a UN functionary. As a member of the UN commission of inquiry in May 2013, she made the provocative accusation that the rebels were the ones using sarin in Syria. Just hours after she went on Swiss TV and said,
"Our investigators have been in neighbouring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals.

"According to their report of last week, which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated."
“This was use on the part of the opposition's fighters, not by the government authorities.”
her UN panel issued a statement "to clarify that it has not reached conclusive findings" and no such findings were included in their final report. But it doesn't matter that Carla Del Pointe spoke out-of-court and immediately had her statement rebuked, all the pro-Assad propagandists can ignore those details and continue to claim that a UN official said the rebels did it. If they make it known that they are referring to Del Pointe's statement, it has already been well exposed, but Hersh keeps his "person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria" a secret so we either believe Hersh or we don't.

And again we see that Hersh simply ignores evidence he doesn't like, for while he uses an anonymous  "person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria" to put responsibility for the 19 March sarin attack in Khan Al-Assal on Assad's opposition, he ignores the official published UN findings, which says the Assad regime did this attack:
128. In Al-Ghouta, significant quantities of sarin were used in a well-planned indiscriminate attack targeting civilian-inhabited areas, causing mass casualties. The evidence available concerning the nature, quality and quantity of the agents used on 21 August indicated that the perpetrators likely had access to the chemical weapons stockpile of the Syrian military, as well as the expertise and equipment necessary to manipulate safely large amount of chemical agents. Concerning the incident in Khan Al-Assal on 19 March, the chemical agents used in that attack bore the same unique hallmarks as those used in Al-Ghouta.
So in both the 21 August attack in Ghouta and the 19 March attack in Khan Al-Assal, the official UN commission, using personnel and labs known to us, say that the sarin used was of a "professional" grade that came from Assad's arsenal and was delivered by a professional army with the expertise to handle large amounts of CW, and not the "home-made" sarin, delivered by "home-made" rockets of Sy Hersh's alternate reality. So how does Hersh deal with that gaping contradiction? Easy, in his world, that UN report doesn't exist and never gets mentioned. He has his mysterious alternate sources and he asks us to believe them instead.

more madness to his method

Frankly, I am also suspicious of this bit Sy Hersh gets from an unnamed "Defense Department consultant":
US intelligence has long known that al-Qaida experimented with chemical weapons, and has a video of one of its gas experiments with dogs.
This sounds suspiciously like the phony Syrian Rebel Gas Test on Rabbits Video posted on YouTube and promoted on Alex Jones' Infowars with the headline Shock Video Shows ‘Syrian Rebels’ Testing Chemical Weapons and on PressTV and many other pro-Assad outlets. It was clearly designed to frame the rebels for testing poison gas but was so fake that it was called out by comments like "this vid is total fake, and demonstrates an intent to use chemical agents and blame it on rebels" and "just a bunch of DESPERATE assad supporters staging a FAKE JIHADIST VIDEO" on YouTube and was exposed in my blog here and by Syrian Man in a video critique. Sy's guy has dogs dying in his video, not rabbits, so presumably it is a different video, and since it is not one that has been posted to YouTube, but is instead a secret US intelligence video, we are not in a position say whether it looks real or as fake as the rabbit video.

At another point Sy Hersh show us how a technically truthful statement can communicate a lie. He does a lot of that, for example he writes:
Last May, more than ten members of the al-Nusra Front were arrested in southern Turkey with what local police told the press were two kilograms of sarin.
While no one can account for "what local police told the press", many published reports quoted Hüseyin Avni Cos, the governor of Adana, where the arrest were made, as saying:
"We cannot reveal any organisation names right now, but their links will be evident after the questioning, there is no gas or anything of that sort captured as claimed."
Of the twelve people originally arrested, six where released outright and six were charged with suspicion of producing sarin gas. Five of those charged had their charges dropped before trial and the last one was freed at trial. No evidence of sarin or sarin production was ever found in spite of what certain pro-Assad newspapers claimed they were told by local police. But none of this history will stop unprincipled Assad supporters from repeating over and over again with a straight face "than ten members of the al-Nusra Front were arrested in southern Turkey with what local police told the press were two kilograms of sarin." If you need more details on this incident and the propaganda around it check out my blog post, More False Reports of Sarin Usage by Assad's Opposition in Syria, 3 June 2013.

Sy Hersh's theme, that the chemical attack was a false-flag attack stage by the rebels is not original and goes back to the very earliest gas attacks at the end of 2012, eight months before Obama's "red-line" was drawn.
According to Russia Today, Syrian rebels have obtained chemical weapons from Libya and are planning on using them on civilians, and then blaming it on Assad. This is an effort between the Syrian rebels and their allies in Turkey, alongside cooperation with Libyan rebels under Abdel Hakim bel Haj.
Does the name Michael Maloof ring a bell?

While Hersh doesn't tell us who "the former intelligence officer" is, it does sound like it could very well be Michael Maloof, a former intelligence officer that writes on the neo-con website WND. With regards to the chemical attacks in Syria, he has been singing the same tune as Hersh. Or is it the other way round? For example, 6 months before Hersh's most recent offering, Maloof wrote in WND:
Former U.S. intelligence analysts claim current intelligence analysts have told them Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was not responsible for the Aug. 21 poison gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria, which killed 1,429 people, of whom more than 400 where children.

They claim the “growing body of evidence” reveals the incident was a pre-planned provocation by the Syrian opposition and its Saudi and Turkish supporters.

“The aim is reported to have been to create the kind of incident that would bring the United States into the war,” one former U.S. intelligence analysts said.
He also claims to have obtained classified documents that sound like the ones shown to Sy Hersh, saying:
in a classified document just obtained by WND, the U.S. military confirms that sarin was confiscated earlier this year from members of the Jabhat al-Nusra Front, the most influential of the rebel Islamists fighting in Syria.

The document says sarin from al-Qaida in Iraq made its way into Turkey and that while some was seized, more could have been used in an attack last March on civilians and Syrian military soldiers in Aleppo.
If Michael Maloof is "the former intelligence officer" that has been informing him, Sy Hersh has good reason for keeping his identity a secret. Michael Maloof was a Pentagon intelligence officer and part of a two-man team created after 9/11 to find links between al-Qaeda and Iraq. He had his security clearance revoked [Burn Notice?] in 2003 amidst allegations that he was involved with a Lebanese-American businessman, Imad El Haje, in a gun-running scheme to supply a West African civil war. Imad El Haje also "approached Maloof on behalf of Syria to seek help in arranging a communications channel between Syria and the Defense Department" eleven years ago. According to Warren P. Strobel of Knight Ridder Newspapers, 6 Nov 2003:
Those close to him contend that his clearances were pulled in retaliation for challenging the official assessment that there were no operational terrorist links between al-Qaida and Iraq.
So we can see that Maloof's love of conspiracy theories goes way back. But it gets worst than that because Maloof tell us who his source is and he names none other than Ray McGovern, a former analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency, and his Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). I debunked their theories on how Assad didn't do it and the rebels gassed themselves in my blog post My dare to Ray McGovern & VIPS on Syria CW attack 7 Sept 2013, and in Secret Intel Source of Ray McGovern & VIPS Revealed!, 11 Sept 2013, I show that their theory was plagiarized from one Yossef Bodansky who, as it turns out, is an ally of Bashar al-Assad's uncle, Rifaat al-Assad. Is this the ultimate source of Sy Hersh's exclusive intel?

Many others have critiqued Sy Hersh's latest piece, among the best are:
From EA Worldview
There is No Chemical Weapons Conspiracy — Dissecting Hersh’s “Exclusive” by Scott Lucas 8 April 2014
Dissecting Hersh’s “Insurgents Did Chemical Weapons Attacks” — A Sequel by Scott Lucas 8 April 2014

From Brown Moses Blog
Seymour Hersh's Volcano Problem by Eliot Higgins 7 April 2014
What Does Seymour Hersh Knows About Volcano Rockets? by Eliot Higgins 7 April 2014

From War in Context
Seymour Hersh’s alternate reality by Paul Woodward 6 April 2014
Does Seymour Hersh understand how hexamine fits into Syrian sarin? by Paul Woodward 7 April 2014
Seymour Hersh as Dorian Gray by Louis Proyect 9 April 2014

From Arms Control Wonk
Turkey’s Syria Policy: Why Seymour Hersh Got it Wrong by Stein 8 April 2014

From NOW
Hersh and the Red Herring by Dan Kaszeta 8 April 2014

My blogs on Assad's use of CW in Syria:
Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria


  1. I clicked on Democracy Now on Monday, hearing an actual feature story on SYRIA~ an extreme rarity for D.N. apparently not considered a high priority to cover the greatest humanitarian disaster of this century INCLUDING the IRAQ WAR.

    After 5 words from Hersh I threw the TV through the windows and went to Facebook to call him human filth for desecrating the 426 dead children laying in mass graves in Damascus.

    At least this bastard is limited to fringe cringe-worthy lame brained conspiracy nut panderers, that just want a conspiracy to gab about, totally ignoring the sickening spectacle of the monster that murdered 1529 people with banned chemical weapons free to kill heroic patriot FSA and BOMB terrified civilians (50% children) at will under the 'Disarmament' Agreement, certain to drag out through 2014.

  2. Democracy Now only covers Syria to the extent they are forced to by coverage in the mainstream media and then they cover it in such a way as to support Assad.

    I consider Amy Goodman and Democracy Now to be big barriers to building a really robust Left in the US.