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Monday, August 26, 2013

Chemical weapons in Syria: Whodunnit?

Well, John Kerry may have achieved his "Colin Powell at the UN" moment...
In some of the administration’s most strident language, Mr. Kerry accused the Syrian government of cynically seeking to cover up the use of the weapons, and he rejected its denial of responsibility for a “cowardly crime.”
But where's the evidence? We're going to need something very, very, very convincing, given the history of prevarications that have been used to gin up wars in our recent (and not so recent) past.

From Moon Over Alabama a few days ago...
Videos of the incident show many people, including children, with respiratory problems. But non of the first responders and medical personal in those videos wear any protection against chemical weapons.

Real chemical weapons, like Sarin, are persistent agents. They stick to the cloth of the victims and any contact with those victims would practically guarantee to kill the people who try to help them unless those people take serious precautions. Whatever happened in Syria today is therefore unlikely to be the consequence of military grade chemical weapons. Many other chemical agents, like insecticides based on organophospate or some industrial process chemicals, could induce the observed symptoms.

It would of course be totally irrational for the Syrian government to use chemical weapons just the moment that chemical weapon inspectors arrive in the country. But it makes a lot of sense for the insurgents and their foreign supporters to create such an incident, as the did previously, and to use it to renew their propaganda campaign against the Syrian government. It is therefore no surprise that the British government immediately jumped all over the case.
(Emphasis added.) It's more than a little odd that the Syrian government would resort to such a measure at this time, when the rebels seem desperate...

See this blogger for a vigorous (and rather foul-mouthed, even by my standards) argument that the "attack" video constitutes a fake. Obviously, there are real victims here, and they were hit by something terrible -- but what, exactly, hit them?

An apparently well-informed person named Dan Kaszeta has offered an interesting report (pdf) on the attack near Damascus. Although Kaszeta does not offer conclusions on the "whodunnit" question, he does believe that the chemical agent was not sarin or any other nerve agent.
In the videos, people are standing around both the dead and injured. Medical providers, both professional and obvious amateurs are handling injured people and their clothing, with no protective equipment. Many dead bodies are handled with no gloves. If some of the dead and injured were contaminated with even minute amounts of nerve agent, other people would be getting ill very quickly.
a. Some victims appear to have miosis (pinpointed pupils), but some of them are clearly having a bright light shined in their eyes. Some of the supposed examples are not pronounced. (I examined my own pupils in the mirror while shaving to form a basis of comparison.) Diagnosing miosis merely by watching videos is very troublesome and inaccurate. (Note to medics: Use the dimmest light you can and creep in from the side of the eye, avoiding shining the light into the pupil itself.)

b. In the event of nerve agent use, pinpoint pupils would be nearly ubiquitous among the affected population. The people with more serious symptoms would also have pinpoint pupils. Some of the people in the videos with serious symptoms appear to have miosis, while others do not. In fact, some pupils appear dilated. (This can be a sign of atropine administration.)
Various witness accounts I have seen in the media have reported the following phenomena, some of which are inconsistent with nerve agents. It should be noted that, at the time of writing, all of these circumstances should be considered strictly anecdotal.
a. Burning sensations
b. People appearing to be dead “coming back to life” after some hours
c. Odor of sulfur. (Sarin is odorless. All of the nerve agents are odorless except at concentrationsthat are quickly lethal.)
d. Odor of “cooking gas” (cooking gases are odorless, but artificial scents such as mercaptans are added to indicate leaks)
e. Odor of vinegar
f.Odor of rotting fish
g. Drowsiness
h. Itchiness
i. Reddening of eyes
Taken in toto, these symptoms don't match any chemical agent known to Kaszeta. Later in the paper, he speculates on the possible use of a Toxic Industrial Chemical.

And now we get to what I consider the most important indicator (so far) that we are being hornswoggled. In the following, the initials "FSA" refer to "Free Syrian Army"...
Reuter published the following report, which was repeated elsewhere:
“Not all of the missiles appeared to have carried chemical warheads, the FSA spokesman said, but those that did were suspected to have contained sarin, a Russian-made nerve agent called SC3 and liquid ammonia supplied by Iran.” 7
I view this as highly suspect. It is nonsensical to me. The following reasons make this statement seem very strange to me:

1. I have made numerous inquiries among experts I know and have conducted extensive research in the various books and documents at my disposal. I can find no reference to any substance Russian/Soviet or otherwise, known as SC3. My inquiries continue and I have reached out to some former Soviet-bloc countries for more information.

2. SC3 is a nonsensical designation for an allegedly Russian chemical compound. S and C are the same character in the Cyrillic alphabet used in Russian language. (I studied Russian language for 3 years in university and for a bit in graduate school as well.) Is this a transliteration error?

3. It is patently absurd to mix Sarin and liquid ammonia. Liquid ammonia reacts very quickly with Sarin due to its extreme pH. Liquid ammonia will inactivate Sarin within seconds or minutes depending on the concentration. Even someone with a basic knowledge of nerve agent chemistry ought to know that basic pH levels decontaminate Sarin. It seems perverse that someone would construct a device in this manner.
And it seems extremely telling that this "FSA" source felt obliged to get the Iranians into the story. As if Iran wants to get involved!

How on earth could anyone from the FSA know this stuff?

That unnecessary dig at Iran is the best evidence that we've entered Disinfo-land. Disinformation campaigns often injure their own credibility by taking things one step too far.

When I saw that Iran reference, my first reaction was straight out of Wrath of Kahn"LeDEEEEEEN!!!" And sure enough, our old friend has indeed been trying to link the planned regime change in Syria to the allegedly more pressing need for regime change in Iran. (As you will recall, Iran is Mikey's bete noir.) Here's the latest from Mikey's blog:
There are thousands of Iranian killers in the front lines, hailing from the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force and from Hezbollah, long the regime’s foreign legion. Iranian advisers tell Assad’s loyalists where and how to attack, and if the Syrians have indeed used chemical weapons, you can be sure the Iranians approved it, and were probably involved in the operations.
Do we really need to hear more? Sounds to me like that "FSA" statement quoted by Reuters was written in a certain office in Georgetown...

A word about the video/podcast embedded above: It comes from a source (the Corbett Report) that, under normal circumstances, I might not endorse. But in this instance, the information seems quite valid, and I strongly suggest that you give it a listen.

The interview brings up the possibility of a chlorine attack by the rebels. After some initial investigation, I've come to the tentative belief that the "chlorine theory" fits the symptoms listed above somewhat better than does the semi-official "sarin theory." But the matter still requires much further research.
I read this morning that Doctors Without Borders had stated that the patients they saw had evidence of neurotoxin exposure. They didn't cite Sarin specifically, so I guess that leaves the field wide open. On the other hand, I too read that certain gases, Sarin in particular, clings to clothing, hair etc., contaminating the remains, making examination of said victims very dangerous, even deadly without proper HAZMAT gear. Yet, we've all seen the bodies and healthy people handling the corpses without ill-effect.

I'm on the fence with this one. The bloodshed of the population is appalling and the refugee situation is just as bad. But how is the US striking with warheads suppose to better the situation??? The rebels are losing to Assad's military. He's hardly a pussycat but the remnants of the rebel forces aren't any better. In fact, they may be worse. I just don't see how our involvement is going to change anything for the population caught in the crossfire. Civil wars are a bloody, ugly business. Ours certainly was with 600,000+ war dead.

Getting involved militarily at this point, doesn't make sense to me. Providing humanitarian care--food, water and medical supplies--seems the more rational, humane route.

When I hear pols beating their breasts and talking about "restoring America's credibility," I think oh no, here we go again.

We never seem to learn. Anything!

The part of the whole propaganda campaign that appealed to me was when (sometime over the weekend?) the BBC posted a photo of alleged victims of chemical warfare, and it turned out the picture was taken in Iraq ten years ago. I'm sure it was just an honest mistake by the BBC, the same kind that is made on Johnny Jerk's BlogSpot. I'm waiting for reports that Assad has been buying yellow cake from Niger and has ordered his army to start killing babies in incubators. (Wait. I think that last one has already gone around.)
Sarin is not persistent. It degrades rapidly in warm temperatures, particularly in the presence of water. From the NIH WISER (Wireless Information System for Emergency Responders) page at:

"Two soil persistence studies conducted by the US Army found that 90% or more of sarin added to soil will be lost in the first five days(1); one study found that the disappearance rate increased with increases in soil moisture(1)"

"According to a model of gas/particle partitioning of semivolatile organic compounds in the atmosphere(1), sarin, which has a vapor pressure of 2.9 mm Hg at 25 deg C(2), is expected to exist solely as a vapor in the ambient atmosphere. Vapor-phase sarin is degraded in the atmosphere by reaction with photochemically-produced hydroxyl radicals(SRC); the half-life for this reaction in air is estimated to be 9.6 hours(SRC)"

Sarin's non-persistence is one of the major reasons why it has been superseded by more "modern" agents like VX.

See also, the National Response Team quick reference for Sarin, where it is classified as "Very Low Persistence".

Good information, Prop. Guess the rule is: always double check the facts, no matter who or what the source. It would be helpful if we had a reliable press [sigh].

Hornswoggled may be an understatement, Joseph. Pepe Escobar (Asia Times) quoted a story in an Arabic-language paper in Lebanon (As-Safar) stating that the Russian ambassador to the UN Security Council had provided documents based on Russian satellite images that allegedly show two rockets "carrying toxic chemicals" that were fired from Douma (rebel-held territory) into East Ghouta, the poisoned village. Sorry I can't provide a link. No support from the UN for the War Party this time, except the usual lapdogs.
Thanks for quoting me. "Well informed" is one of the kinder things people have said about me of late.
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