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Sunday, August 20, 2017

How UN-OPCW Falsely Fingered Syria for the Ghouta Attack

Ghouta Chemical Massacre
How UN-OPCW Falsely Fingered Syria for the Ghouta Attack
August 20, 2017

It's now been four years since the infamous Ghouta chemical massacre of August 21, 2013 killed a reported 1,400-1,700 people. By visual evidence, it killed at least 3-400 people, and was clearly the single deadliest incident of the entire war, even up to now. Confident blame was widely and swiftly set on the Syrian government, despite the obvious negative motive they would have, and despite many serious questions.

Now with four years of time to consider it, the best evidence has been established to  suggest that blame was falsely set. There are different notions of what truly happened, but as I see it, the best explanation remains what I settled on within the first months of study; Ghouta was a false-flag incident, with hundreds of civilians held hostage by rebel/terrorist forces, murdered en masse for the event in improvised gas chambers, using a variety of poisons that generally doesn't seem to include sarin. (best single link to explain this)

As it happens, I'm in the middle of a review of the rocket firing directions. I'm still not convinced the "volcano" rockets really had anything to do with any sarin, or with any of the mass casualties. I still suspect they were used as fuel-air explosive weapons (see initial reasons here) with the sites contaminated later, leading to the sarin-positive environmental samples taken more than a week after the incident. But the rockets still matter in at least some regard, and in the time since, I've gotten better at reading clues like where each one impacted, and from what direction - things we never did cover very well. 

That analysis is ongoing (with sub-posts and overview collected and developing at this masterlist), with some revision of accepted estimates. The latest draws on six gelocated impacts, carefully placed on the map, (mostly just now in recent weeks) and 3 other sites unplaced (two of those just now added).  With the new findings thus in the works and their implications unclear, I'll mark the date with one important finding that helps expose the fraud behind perpetually blaming Assad.

This comes from what irked me into re-examining this; stumbling across a bad error or a motivated lie "buried" in the UN's first report in September, 2013. Just as the U.S. and others were pushing the idea the Syrian government must have launched the sarin rocket attack, as alleged by science-impaired Islamist activists, the supposedly impartial UN quietly "confirmed" that, with supposedly science-based findings of the OPCW investigators. But the celebrated findings turn out to be totally bogus. I hadn't noticed at the time how problematic or annoying this was until recently, and so now I'm writing about it.

Pointing "Precisely" at Syria
United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, report released Sept, 16 (UN PDF link - alternate):
Of the five impact sites investigated by the mission, three do not present physical characteristics allowing a successful study of the trajectories followed by the rockets involved, due to the configuration of the impact places. However, Impact site number 1 (Moadamiyah) and Impact site number 4 (Ein Tarma) provide sufficient evidence to determine, with a sufficient degree of accuracy, the likely trajectory of the projectiles.
It seems they actually claim 3 of the five impacts do show a direction, with two of them in the distant Moadamiya attack in West Ghouta, using M14 artillery rockets instead of the larger rockets used in Zamalka. They specify only one: "Impact Site Number 1" but go on to mention an "Impact Site Number 2" nearby, with a similar and consistent reading, both pointing north to Mt. Qassioun about 10km distant.

site #4, looking along wall, rocket tail: nowhere near parallel
So... this is impact sites 1 AND 2, besides #4, for a total of three that show direction, of the five sites total they looked at. This leaves only three sites possible in the East Ghouta area, out of a supposed 12. These would be the rooftop impact (must be site 3, visited at the same time as #4, and just 170m away, on August 28), and another home interior they're seen examining (not placed, must be site #5, visited Aug. 29). 
All 5 sites they visited:
  • Sites #1 and 2 in Moadamiya (details not relevant here)
  • Site #3 Ain Tarma, rooftop: UN 8/28: no reading. My #3: current reading app. 315-320°  (see firing directions part 3)
  • Site #4 Ain Tarma field - UN 8/28: "precisely" 285°. My #1: current reading app. 320° (see firing directions part 1)
  • #5 Interior, Zamalka? - UN 8/29: no reading. My #7: current reading: none yet (not placed, directions unclear)
That's only one field site, which they're also seen at. They're clearly seen at no other sites except going to or from their vehicles or driving around.  So there can be no confusion which rocket they refer to here - the one I and most others have listed as #1.

It's relatively easy to place, but the suggested firing direction is more flexible: taking it as relative to the almost E-W running wall, I and others have estimated in the range of 60-70 from parallel (or 30-30 from perpendicular to it). but with some help from Michael Kobs and his carefully set-up scene analysis, I now feel around 40 or 45° from parallel is correct.  

But the UN's report - widely accepted as factual - suggests it would be about 8 degrees from parallel with the wall (red line runs 285 degrees on the compass). 
The projectile, in the last stage of its trajectory, hit the surface in an area of earthy, relatively soft, ground where the shaft/engine of the projectile remained dug in, undisturbed until investigated. The said shaft/engine, presenting no fonn [form] of lateral bending, pointed precisely in a bearing of 285 degrees that, again, represent a reverse azimuth to the trajectory followed by the rocket during its flight. It can be, thus, concluded that the original azimuth of the rocket trajectory had an azimuth of 105 degrees, in an East/Southeast trajectory.
It seems this really is their reading. Elsewhere in the report, they say the rockets appear to have come from an unspecified "northwest," which seems accurate enough. But the 285 only direction they published is barely northwest, just 15 degrees north of due west. Anyone can see, once it's mapped out, how drastically wrong that is. All reasonable readings with visual explanations involved are in the range of 315-347°, broadly and accurately, if not "precisely." If any of us had been there to measure it, we'd have a more exact answer almost surely in that range.

But the UN-OPCW folks seem to have a different kind of science less related to the 3D world we inhabit, and so they failed to do that. They measured it as nearly parallel to the wall and assure us if we had been there, we could see that plainly from the way it was aligned. We can see how you can't see it on a video of them being there, so I guess it's simply being there in person, with Islamist minders looking over your shoulder and NATO folks, Turks, Saudis, and Israelis breathing down your neck. It seems a special and privileged kind of science emerges in such conditions. It's this kind of science that seems to matter to all the powerful folks who matter. Untrained outsiders cannot understand it nor, obviously, can they challenge it.

Finger-Pointing Accepted as "Not Pointing Fingers" 
In fact, it stretches the imagination that they would honestly err by such a margin - some 30-40 degrees. I see no good reason, except to point at a Syrian military base - approximately anyway. This line followed out intersects with the southern part of the Republican Guard's 104th brigade base on Mt. Qassioun. That's about 9.6 km from the Zamalka impacts, and 9.5 km to the Moadamiya impacts, as Human Rights Watch maps it. (right). (The same UN report claims impacts there also showed direction clues pointing to the same base).

The report isn't explicit on this point (that is, it doesn't specify a distance of flight), but the direction was taken, by HRW and others, as meaning the Zamalka-Ain Tarma rockets flew from that base almost 10km away. But no one has shown from the visuals of the scene how that's a good reading, because of course they can't, even though they would like to. And as noted expert "Sasa Wawa" at the Who Attacked Ghouta? blog pointed out at the time:
"There are 2 major problems with the trajectory assumed for it: The range of a rocket with such poor aerodynamics, a large 60kg warhead, and a relatively small engine could never reach the 9km implied here. (Update: the UMLACA is now reliably estimated to have a range of 2.5 km).
This refers to the famous Lloyd-Postol report,  as first published by McClatchy News in January, 2014. These findings stand unchallenged as far as I know, and were soon accepted by Eliot Higgins (his turnaround explained here) and anyone else following the case. No one of any credibility would any longer claim these things flew any further than 2-2.5 km. The original, widely-accepted, and never-retracted implications place the firing spot 4-5 times further away than these things could possibly fly. The UN and its helpers were ridiculously out-of-range with their finger-pointing. And the second big problem:
The report states the rocket points at azimuth 285. However, as shown here this implies a 5 degree angle to the wall, which the screenshots below show cannot be the case:"
I get 8 degrees, which is still about as far off - around 30 degrees or more - from all reasonable readings.  

But before these and other problems were known, the direction claim and its implications were hungrily swallowed and defecated by the mainstream media's presstitutes. They all knew the investigators were supposed to just follow the facts and not to pin blame, letting them credit the numbers as factual and not political. But instead, it seems the investigators, or someone interpreting their findings for this important report, strayed from the facts and wound up leaving a pin right next to the blamed party, ready for anyone else to notice and pin in place.

So just as the U.S. and allies were using that pre-decided blame to exert leverage on Syria, along came these "precise" bearing apparently based on the science of falsely assigning blame. Then the unexplained specifics "buried" in the report were dug out easily and interpreted as implicating the government. The pin was jabbed in repeatedly over the following days by a number of useful idiots.

Kevin Drum, Mother Jones, Sept 17
The report doesn’t try to affix blame for the attack, but the facts it provides make it vanishingly unlikely that it was launched by anyone other than the Assad regime.
Drum cites a map by BruceR who was quoted concluding:
The chances of this being some kind of attack by someone outside the Syrian government, already slim, basically have to drop to zero now, assuming you trust the UN’s facts as presented. That sounds about right. Added to all the other intelligence pointing in the same direction, there’s really no longer any case to be made that this was some kind of false-flag rebel operation. It was a chemical weapons attack mounted by the Assad government. Sorry, Rush (Limbaugh).
Human Rights Watch's Josh Lyons was able to write on the 17th:
The UN inspectors investigating the chemical weapons attack on two suburbs in Damascus last month weren’t supposed to point the finger at the party responsible for the killings. But even so, the Sellstrom report revealed key details of the attack that strongly suggest the government is to blame, and may even help identify the location from which the Sarin-filled rockets that killed hundreds of people on August 21 were fired."
And HRW was there to notice it and pin away and to produce the widely re-used graphic. And now they'll never retract it, even though it's a baseless claim with a range that's scientifically impossible, and an angle that's plainly contradicted by the visual evidence.

At the New York Times, C.J. Chivers on the 18th heralded: "some of the strongest findings to date that suggest the government gassed its own people"  were simply "buried" (not planted) in  the report from investigators "instructed to investigate the attack but not to assign blame." Still, they "listed the precise compass directions of flight for two rocket strikes that appeared to lead back toward the government’s elite redoubt in Damascus, Mount Qasioun..."

It's not a real compass heading, we now realize, but some other kind of line they decided to draw. But a retired Lebanese general, Elias Hanna, told Chivers it pointed to "the center of gravity of the regime, "... the core of the regime." That sounds like John Kerry's "the heart of regime territory." Remarks, Sept 4: "We are certain that none of the opposition has the weapons or capacity to effect a strike of this scale – particularly from the heart of regime territory."

At first, they said this was based on "satellite detections" suggesting small rockets, but no big missiles, were fired from inside government areas about 90 minutes before anyone mentioned a chemical attack. (WH press office, Aug 30) When you think about it for a moment, that's not very convincing cause to think the ones responsible for the attack were also launched from there. They don't even mention seeing those. Or did everyone really wait 90 minutes to start suddenly pouring out reports by the minute? 90 seconds I would easily believe, and maybe even 9 minutes. But 90 minutes?

But later, these "precise" but grossly wrong readings were provided by UN investigators, and used to widely reinforce the false claims that Assad was to blame. How and why does this happen?

Special Attention on Al-Jazeera's Help 
Who else was there to help? The US, the UN, HRW, and no surprise, Qatari propaganda outfit Al Jazeera. In a November, 2013 documentary (Youtube posting), they claim to show two rocket trajectories that bear out that reading. I had missed this at the time, but Higgins' Brown Moses caught it as 'new key evidence'). "Thank to the UN report we have an idea of the direction the rockets came from," he said in error (their angle is not based on the actual evidence, and he knows the suggested origin is far out of range). "... a recent Al Jazeera Arabic documentary about the August 21st attack might even provide more information," that, he did not note, is at least as sure to be misleading. 

As he noted, this program shows two rocket strike spots that are otherwise unseen (that would be nine sites total with visual supports - Higgins knew of 8, including these). The program claims both had similar heading to the UN report's 285°, which the Assad-blaming Qataris seem enamored of: one site read 290°, and the other one 307°, it's reported. But the impacts are not placed on the map anywhere in the program, which is probably convenient. (they also don't seem easy to geolocate by the short snippets of footage.)

It's in Arabic, and if there were English captions, I didn't notice. So I won't consider what's verbally said here and focus on the visuals, which are interesting. We see some kind of Arab investigators in their own hazard suits, not OPCW folks, at each site, measuring the rockets and/or the damage and using some kind of protractor and compasses. 

There's no guarantee the readings mean anything, but let's just say maybe, map them out, and see how it fits. Here's the presenter showing these carefully-derived angles: 307 and 290° to firing spot, with an opposite direction of flight of 127 and 110°. 

The program - apparently working closely with the UN investigators - suggests these two rockets flew on those lines the full 10km from the 104 brigade base. Presumably they drew their own conclusions in this regard, like other Assad-blaming media have.

Higgins, reviewing a couple months later, after the Lloyd-Postol report, knew better. He only took the direction, not the distance, as likely valid: responding to a comment criticizing the unreliable source and its errors, Higgins said "it's possible for their range calculations to be wrong, even if the azimuths (direction to launch spot) are correct." And that's true. I suppose there were no "range calculations," just a desired distance on a fake line that was chosen. It's not just possible but necessary that this will be wrong. Still, the compass work could be valid.

As for how it maps out - they don't show this, but doesn't come out very well. The spot indicated by the UN, as read by HRW et al. (9.6 km from impact 1/site #4, bearing 285), would be in the southern part of the sprawling 104 brigade base (depending: HRW's map shows it extending past what Wikimapia does, but the latter has random military areas there, with a brigade 104 "bus assembly" area within it - also, the military residence area and nearby shooting range at the base's SW corner are on the right line, but about 11km from impact site #4).

Now, if we take that spot at 9.6 km, other rockets fired from there and hitting at the given angles must have landed roughly along the black lines here. Note that this would put them well outside the area of 12 impacts mapped (not very well) by Human Rights Watch, marked roughly in orange here. The same basic area contains all 6 actually geolocated impacts (just the three furthest out are shown here, to frame the area without cluttering it). None are remotely far enough south or west to be on these lines, especially the far-off 307.

And of course, this is just if the rockets could fly 5x further than they could, which of course they couldn't. This Al-Jazeera's help, with their well-researched and carefully-framed nonsense.

Not that the angles they give are at all impossible. In fact, readings even right around 285° come up - at the northern edge of the impacts area (impact 6, dud/wall), not at its southern edge, where the UN's widely-misread site #4 is. Angles kind of like 307 actually seem to predominate.

All the NW angles vary over space in such a way that they seem set to converge, probably in or fairly near the black circle here (app. working area per Michael Kobs, and it seems pretty good to me, at least for impacts 1, 3, and 6, likely for #4 and 5, but maybe not for #2). (Note: this graphic is a bit off: the black circle should be further north, and these lines should run from there - impact 1 at bottom runs ~320, so the 307 line shouldn't be so close. This is not right yet, but closer than we have been.) If we take these two new headings and have them originate here, it makes a lot more sense - both lines run right through the established attack area (more across the middle or north part of it than shown). That would be at least 5 of the rockets fired from around that spot (which seems to be very near the front lines at the time, but probably in insurgent hands - for my part, this will take a little more review).

The fact that these do not line up with the Mt. Qassioun story suggests they weren't made up for that purpose. Therefore, I find it likely these are real readings, maybe incorrect but logical. What's misleading is how they're presented in a placeless context that makes them almost meaningless as supports for the UN report's unsupportable fake angle.
So 290 and 307 might be real damage lines for two scenes we don't yet have placed. If one could find fresh damage along these lines, that might be the locale of the impact. I looked briefly, and found no obvious match. But I did notice a spot of interest almost on the 290 line; about 1.5 km from the possible highway firing spot, is a patch of ground possibly darkened between Feb. 20 and Aug. 23, 2013, with a new black dot added, in an open lot next to a mosque. But it's not the clearest, and doesn't seem to fit with either scene shown (both seem to be in or at structures, not in an open lot).

However it could be another impact on about the same line, so I'll show it here. Consistent with patterns so far, it's encouraging that HRW's map does not include this spot, but does have an impact mapped quite nearby to the east (bottom: my spot in the red circle, theirs are red dots.

In time, we may have these spots identified, and in the meantime, I'll add them to the masterlist as impacts 8 and 9, unplaced, but already with alleged directions attached.

While this post is titled "How UN-OPCW Falsely Fingered Syria for the Ghouta Attack," the method outlined and exposed here isn't the only way.

As noted, they got similar readings in Moadamiya (Western Ghouta) that I haven't analyzed, and that could be correct. But by being falsely lumped with the wrong reading into a neat story of one government-held firing area for the whole attack, it would be deceptive. Even if those Moadamiya shells were fired from that base (as a different weapon with a different range, as far as I know that could be), the "volcano" rockets used in East Ghouta (Zamalka and Ain Tarma) could not have been. So we're dealing with two different firing areas, with one having to be around the front-lines, where the government allegedly used these crude weapons to launch their sarin attack for no logical reason. 

The investigators also made other errors and questionable decisions I don't have a full cataloging for (comments open for anyone who wants a point noted). But one stumper is how they chose not to sample a single fatality of the attack. AS UN disarmament chief Angela Kane explained it, “there were so many victims who are still alive that there was really no need to exhume bodies.” Her bizarre and completely incorrect reasoning: “a dead body can’t tell how the person dies … a living person can tell you that.” (see "sarin myth"

On video, the dead do not look like sarin victims, but rather like folks gassed with chlorine or carbon monoxide, depending. An autopsy or a sampling of their tissues could perhaps prove that it was sarin anyway. But the UN investigation decided they were all killed by sarin, in contradiction of the visual record, with no biological samples to back it up. They took samples, and those did show sarin. But those came only from alleged survivors, people who were screened and provided by opposition sources, who could be misleading stand-ins, who brought unproven stories about the events, and who seem to have been exposed to low doses, perhaps on a voluntary basis.

It's far from proven that the UN-OPCW were completely faked out with the sarin results by area-contamination and voluntary low-dose propagandists. But it can't be disproven either, because the investigators chose a shoddy method for discerning the truth. Considering how they also managed to mangle the rocket forensics to the same end, it seems to me they did that to avoid learning or helping to spread the truth, in favor of sticking to the script and blaming Assad like always.

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