“This distinguishes this case (Salisbury) from that in Syria, where it could be determined that the sarin used in Khan Sheikhun most probably came from Syrian army stocks due to contamination in the investigated warfare agents and by means of comparative samples.”
Stefan Mogl — Former Spiez Lab (OPCW) Scientist
“Obama’s change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August  attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal.”
Seymour Hersh — The Red Line and the Rat Line
Based on the analysis of the sarin samples collected at Khan Shaykhun, the UN and various governments — the US, UK and France — have attributed the attack to the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. At first, the analysis appears compelling. But have we been told the whole truth? Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today
RELATED POST: Forensic science — FBI Bullet-Lead Technique Dead Wrong
The Khan Shaykhun chemical attack took place on 4 April 2017 in the town of Khan Shaykhun, Idlib Governorate of Syria. At the time of the attack, the town was under the control of Tahrir al-Sham, previously known as the al-Nusra Front.
The OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism — as well as the governments of the United States, United Kingdom, and France — have attributed the attack to the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In a recent post [Syria — A Commentary on the Khan Shaykhun Chemical Attack Intelligence], I have explained that the OPCW scientists have confirmed that the sarin — used at Khan Shaykhun on April 4 2017 — was produced by the binary route, in which DF is combined with isopropanol in the presence of hexamine.
According to the French Intelligence, this process of synthesizing sarin was uniquely developed by the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) and employed by the Syrian armed forces and security services.
On the basis of the OPCW analysis, it appears reasonable to suspect the Syrian regime for the attack.
Then again, things could be a bit more complicate. In an other recent post [Forensic science — FBI Bullet-Lead Technique Dead Wrong], I told you that, for over four decades, FBI scientists have grossly exaggerated the probative value of a forensic method known as “Comparative Bullet Lead Analysis” (CBLA).
A major flaw in that method was the narrow comparison of impurities. If only a few of these ‘listed’ impurities had similar concentration, the FBI would conclude that they had a “match” EVEN IF a major contaminant — not listed in their protocol — appears in one crime sample but not in the reference sample!
What does this mean for the Khan Shaykhun attack? If the OPCW — or anyone else — wanted to establish whether the sarin used in Ghouta and Khan Shaykhun matched the Syrian military stocks of DF that were destroyed on the Cape Ray, they could easily do so by comparing the full mass spectrometry profiles, based on hundreds of trace impurities.
So we are left with a few simple questions. Did the scientists from the OPCW — and/or the scientists from the US, UK, and the French national Laboratories — perform such a full mass spectrometry measurement?
If they did, what are the results? If they did not, why? And what are they waiting for?
Actually, I find it very difficult to believe that such full comparison has not been performed by these laboratories. Thus, we must be wondering why the results were not revealed?
Surely, if this full comparison had implicated the Syrian regime, the results would have been trumpeted to the skies as a justification for the military strikes against Syria.
In fact US journalist Seymour Hersh has written — long ago — that such comparison was done at Porton Down in 2013, and relayed to Dempsey in time for him to force President Obama to call off the attack on Syria.
In December 2013, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh dropped a bombshell allegation.
In a story titled ” Whose sarin? ” published by the London Review of Books, Hersh claimed that President Obama had not been honest to the American people when he blamed Bashar al-Assad for a sarin-gas attack in Syria.
Let us now look back at what Hersh exactly wrote about the analysis of the sarin samples made at Porton Down, UK.
In a follow-up published in April 2014 — “The Red Line and the Rat Line” — Hersh offered a few very valuable pieces of information.
“Last August, after the sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, he was ready to launch an allied air strike, this time to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the ‘red line’ he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons. (…) Obama’s change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August  attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal.”
“At this stage, Obama’s premise – that only the Syrian army was capable of deploying sarin – was unravelling. Within a few days of the 21 August attack, the former intelligence official told me, Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta. They analysed it and passed it on to British military intelligence; this was the material sent to Porton Down. (A spokesperson for Porton Down said: ‘Many of the samples analysed in the UK tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.’ MI6 said that it doesn’t comment on intelligence matters.)
The former intelligence official said the Russian who delivered the sample to the UK was ‘a good source – someone with access, knowledge and a record of being trustworthy’. After the first reported uses of chemical weapons in Syria last year, American and allied intelligence agencies ‘made an effort to find the answer as to what if anything, was used – and its source’, the former intelligence official said. ‘We use data exchanged as part of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The DIA’s baseline consisted of knowing the composition of each batch of Soviet-manufactured chemical weapons. But we didn’t know which batches the Assad government currently had in its arsenal. Within days of the Damascus incident we asked a source in the Syrian government to give us a list of the batches the government currently had. This is why we could confirm the difference so quickly.’ ”
“The UK defence staff who relayed the Porton Down findings to the joint chiefs were sending the Americans a message, the former intelligence official said: ‘We’re being set up here.’ (This account made sense of a terse message a senior official in the CIA sent in late August: ‘It was not the result of the current regime. UK & US know this.’) By then the attack was a few days away and American, British and French planes, ships and submarines were at the ready.
The officer ultimately responsible for the planning and execution of the attack was General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs. From the beginning of the crisis, the former intelligence official said, the joint chiefs had been sceptical of the administration’s argument that it had the facts to back up its belief in Assad’s guilt. They pressed the DIA and other agencies for more substantial evidence. ‘There was no way they thought Syria would use nerve gas at that stage, because Assad was winning the war,’ the former intelligence official said.”
“Dempsey’s initial view after 21 August was that a US strike on Syria – under the assumption that the Assad government was responsible for the sarin attack – would be a military blunder, the former intelligence official said. The Porton Down report caused the joint chiefs to go to the president with a more serious worry: that the attack sought by the White House would be an unjustified act of aggression. It was the joint chiefs who led Obama to change course.”
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Khan Shaykhun chemical attack — Wikipedia
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